10 popular English idioms you should know

An idiom is a phrase whose direct meaning and metaphorical meaning are different – they are used for their metaphorical meaning. We are pretty sure you have such phrases in your language too! For foreigners who try to decipher them word by word they are confusing, but for native speakers – used to their metaphorical meaning – the meaning is obvious. So, why not learn the most popular English idioms?

You don’t need to know every English idiom out there. However, there are a bunch of idioms that are common and simple to use. Not only will you sound more proficient, but also you will be able to express your thoughts – be it in speech or in writing – in an unconventional, interesting way. If you have trouble with using them – don’t worry, it’s normal at first. At least try to remember their meaning.

In this article, we will explain the 10 most popular English idioms and their meanings.

1. A piece of cake

If something is a piece of cake, it’s super easy to do, to make, to learn, etc.

That English test was a piece of cake!

I can repair your laptop, it will be a piece of cake.

2. It’s raining cats and dogs

If it’s raining cats and dogs it means the weather is bad, and it’s raining very heavily.

Why are you going outside? It’s raining cats and dogs!

We planned to go out this weekend, but it was raining cats and dogs, so we stayed home.

3. Feeling under the weather

Let’s continue with the weather topic. Do you know this feeling when you are about to become sick? It feels bad: you’re lazy, tired, your body might hurt. And this is how you feel when you feel under the weather.

Sorry I can’t go with you guys, but I’m feeling under the weather today. I should stay home.

It’s no wonder you are feeling under the weather – it was raining cats and dogs yesterday.

4. Break a leg!

If that’s your first time hearing this idiom, you might think you must really hate somebody to wish them to break a leg. It’s actually the other around! If you wish someone to break a leg, you wish them good luck. Usually it’s used when the other person is about to go through something important for them, some kind of trial – like a job interview, a performance, an exam, etc.

The exam’s today? Okay then, break a leg!

You practiced so much, you will do just great. Break a leg!

5. Spill the beans!

You can either ask someone to spill the beans or to not spill the beans no matter what. So what does it mean? To spill the beans means to let a secret out. As you probably figured, “Don’t spill the beans!” means “Don’t tell anybody!”

How was the date with Phil? Come on, spill the beans!

This will be a surprise party, so don’t spill the beans.

6. To stab somebody in the back

As Taylor Swift sings in her song Bad Blood: “(I) still got scars on my back from your knife”. Obviously, it’s a figure of speech, and it’s linked to the idiom “to stab somebody in the back”. It simply means to betray somebody.

I loved you, but you stabbed me in the back. I can’t trust you anymore.

I can’t believe he stabbed me in the back! I thought he was my friend.

7. To cost an arm and a leg

If you are a student and don’t earn a lot yet, you might think everything costs an arm and a leg. Fortunately, you don’t need to give those away. This idiom simply means that something is very expensive.

How could she afford this bag? It costs an arm and a leg!

I really want to buy him that guitar he likes so much, but it costs an arm and a leg.

8. To call it a day

You might hear this idiom sometimes from your boss or your manager – but not only. If you call it a day, it simply means you are finishing for today. It can apply either for work or for studies – basically when you finish doing something which required your effort for a long time.

Let’s call it a day, we managed to get a lot of things done. We will continue tomorrow.

I can see you are tired, we’ve been working 10 hours with no breaks. Let’s just call it a day.

9. Speak(ing) of the devil

No exorcism here, don’t worry. Sometimes you talk with somebody about your friend or your colleague – and then, that person pops up or phones you. Ever been in that situation? If this happens to you, you can say out loud, “Speak of the devil!”. It means that just a moment ago you were talking about that person (in a positive or negative way, it doesn’t matter).

Speak of the devil! We were just talking about your audition, how did it go?

I was telling my wife that I wished Alex never called us again – and then speak of the devil, who called us? Alex!

10. To kill two birds with one stone

If you are able to kill two birds with one stone, it’s good for you! If we are talking about an idiom, that is. To kill two birds with one stone means that you are able to get two things done with just one action.

If you invite her out, you will kill two birds with one stone – you will have a prom date, and you will make your ex-girlfriend mad.

Learning a language abroad is like killing two birds with one stone. You can learn a language in a natural environment, plus you can travel around and see new places.

Were those idioms difficult for you? Or were they a piece of cake? If you like to learn English online and study comfortably at home with a cup of your own coffee, book a trial class with italki’s English teacher. You will kill two birds with one stone – not only will you save money on the cost of commuting to classes, but also get a professional, personalized English tutoring.