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Idioms: English Expressions

Learn 20 idioms in this lesson. Study 10 idioms. Then practice speaking with them by answering the questions below. Be sure to use your idiom in your answer. Then study 10 more idioms.


don't be a martyr
don't sacrifice yourself (spoken casually)
Don't be a martyr. Tell your manager that you're overworked.

light at the end of the tunnel
the end or positive outcome after long endurance
This project was so huge, I thought I would never finish. But now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

water under the bridge
something that cannot be changed--that is in the past
My mother and I used to argue when I was a teenager, but that's water under the bridge. We're friends now.

blood is thicker than water
relatives (people who share "blood") are more important than or have priority over others
Don't make me take sides in your argument. You may be my old friend, but he's my brother. Blood is thicker than water.

it takes all kinds
there are many different personalities (usually an expression of frustration or empathy)
She always comes to work late, and the manager doesn't care. It takes all kinds!
I know you don't like our neighbors, but it takes all kinds and we need to get along with them.

to come out of thin air
to come from nothing (can be positive or negative)
That job offer came out of thin air--I'm so lucky!
My book didn't come out of thin air. It took me years to write it.

drown out
to cover with noise, make impossible to hear
Can you say that again? The music was drowning you out.

get your feet wet
to try something or get started by taking small steps
When starting a new job, it is a good idea to get your feet wet by attempting small projects.

dive in / dive right in
to start immediately (no small steps)
At some workplaces, new employees are expected to dive in and prove their value.

back to the trenches
back to work; back to the hard, laborious tasks
It was good to see you, but now I have to study more for my exams--it's back to the trenches for me.

Answer the Questions

1. When could you tell someone you know "don't be a martyr?"

2. Did you have a long project or difficult goal? When did you see the light at the end of the tunnel?

3. What is something bad that happened in the past that is now water under the bridge?

4. Do you think blood is thicker than water? Why or why not?

5. Do you think it takes all kinds to make a world? What does this mean for you?

More Questions

6. Did you get any news that seemed to come out of thin air?

7. Do you like going to places where the music drowns out conversation?

8. Do you generally prefer to get your feet wet when you are trying something new--or do you like to dive right in?

9. When would you normally say "back to the trenches?" Do you have regular work or study that is very laborious?


put your foot down
to make a firm choice, to take an authoritative stance
My daughter was spending too much money on clothes. I had to put my foot down and tell her to take two months off from shopping.

play it by ear
to make choices as things happen, like improvisation in music
I'm not sure about my plans for today. I think I'll relax and play it by ear.

short end of the stick
the unwanted role or task
Sorry you got the short end of the stick, but somebody has to make all the phone calls.

take it with a grain of salt
do not believe entirely, realize there could be errors or opinions
Don't believe everything you read in that article. Take it with a grain of salt.

stick one's neck out
to put oneself in a dangerous position, usually to help another person
I stuck my neck out for her all the time, but when I needed her help, she pretended she didn't understand.

dog eat dog world
a tough, competitive world
I'm sorry you didn't get the job, but don't get depressed. It's a dog eat dog world--fix your resume and practice for next time.

in the doghouse
being disliked or unwanted
I had an argument with my manager two weeks ago. I've been in the doghouse ever since!

down to earth
normal, humble, everyday
That professor is highly intelligent and famous in his field, but when you talk to him, he's down to earth.

head in the clouds
imaginative, not realistic
My youngest brother always has his head in the clouds. He has a lot of dreams, but never has any practical plans.

in a nutshell
a brief summary; essentially
I could talk all day about current politics. In a nutshell, I'm voting Democrat.

Answer the Questions

1. Did you have to put your foot down recently?

2. When you have a day off, do you like to plan your day or play it by ear?

3. When was the last time you got the short end of the stick?

4. Do you think people should take TV news with a grain of salt? Why or why not?

5. Have you ever stuck your neck out for someone?

More Questions

6. Do you think it's a dog eat dog world?

7. Have you ever been in the doghouse with your parents, your manager or your significant other?

8. Is your personality down to earth or do you have your head in the clouds?

9. In a nutshell, what are your future goals?

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