21 English Idioms With Example Sentences You Must Know By Heart

English Idioms? Why not learn a few with them meanings and use them in your everyday conversations? Using Idioms will make you look like an Oxford graduate(practice your British accent a little though! eh mate?).

Have you ever come across a certain statement or sentence in English and felt that(wait!) there can be more than one meaning? Then again, have you ever felt that a group of certain words that are fixed in a particular sentence probably should not have been there in the first place? The uneasy feeling when you face complex English sentences & Grammar?!

Well, being a student it is your duty and responsibility to improve your English yourself or with the help of a tutor which can be found on several free English learning platforms. If you come across any such statements or absurd phrases, then you might as well have crossed the path of sentences that are known as Idioms. That guy you know who reads a ton of books use idioms!

What are Idioms?

Idioms are phrases that are used in a certain manner to convey a message which needs to be deciphered because they literally do not mean what they actually portray. Confused? Idioms are sentences that convey a hidden meaning almost figuratively, and one needs to know and understand their literal meaning before understanding them and then using them correctly.

For the longest time, English literature has been using idioms to enrich their texts in the most artistic and different ways. Hence, it is no surprise that most of these idioms that we so commonly use today have an origin and a history of their own.

Without beating about the bush, let us dive straight into the world of idioms and phrases and understand the rich history around them.

Also, read – 5 Biggest Reasons to Sign Up Your Child for Online English Classes

21 Idioms You Must Know

Here’s the list of the 21 Idioms, in case, you’re in a hurry and want to jump on one! Learning idioms could be a great after school activity for middle and high school students.

1. Play it by the Ear

2. Raining cats and dogs

3. Bigwig

4. Turn a blind eye

5. Biting the bullet

6. Breaking the ice

7. Cat catch your tongue

8. The cold shoulder

9. Let her hair down

10. Once in a blue moon

11. Head in the clouds

12. Mad as a Hatter

13. Drive someone up the wall

14. Knight in shining armor

15. Call it a day

16. Larger than life

17. Extend the olive branch

18. To sleep tight

19. Flying off the handle

20. Barking up the wrong tree

21. Winning hands down

1. To Play it by the Ear

Who doesn’t enjoy music? Music is created based on notes and tones. Taking a cue from the same activity, the idiom plays it by ear means planning something based on how the other influencing factors pan out.


In other words, it means sticking to a plan and then going about your day-to-day activities based on the same plans. One of the examples of how this idiom can be used is:

“When can I go back to reading my Harry Potter book? Let’s see how quickly you are able to finish your course and play it by ear.”

                                                                        .  .  .

2. Admiring the rain that is pouring like cats and dogs

Have you noticed that one of the first questions that people tend to ask people they are meeting for the first time is about the weather? Britishers are known to have an obsession with the weather(Sweet! Sweet! London) and that’s just where this idiom has also originated from.

It was first used in 1651 by Henry Vaughan who elaborated that it rained so hard that the dead animal remains also got washed away.

“It seriously has been raining cats and dogs today.”

                                                                        .  .  .

3. Being a bigwig

During the 17th century, wearing wigs became an important part of fashion and styling. It was a luxury that not many people could provide and only the rich and affluent people could afford to do so.


Taking its cue from this very occurrence using the phrase bigwig means talking about someone important and influential.

“The second movie of Avatar will star all the bigwigs of the Hollywood industry.”

.  .  .

 4. Turning a blind eye

Indebted in the pages of history, this phrase has been taken from way back in 1801 when in the Battle of Copenhagen an admiral raised a telescope to the eye from which he could not see, so as to let the warning of withdrawal from war go unnoticed. This idiom mostly means ignoring something which is relevant and pretending that it never happened in the first place.

“The teacher caught the student cheating in the exam but turned a blind eye to it.”

.  .  .

5. Hiding the pain by biting the bullet

Back in the days when there was no anesthesia the patents were told to bite a bullet to keep them from screaming in pain during any surgery or dressing.


Similar to the same context, this idiom means to endure something that is unpleasant and difficult.

“The only way she could endure the pain of losing her legs was by biting the bullet.”

.  .  .

6. Make friends by Breaking the Ice

Around the 1580s it was a trend to have men make gaps in the ice blocks so as to let the ships pass through and make way. Taking the meaning from the same instance, this idiom more or less means breaking the barrier between strangers and building a rapport.

“The first day of the training involved the trainer getting people to warm up by breaking the ice.”

.  .  .

7. Letting the cat catch your tongue

A rather painful and ancient Egyptian practice is the reason why we have this idiom. Earlier in the days any person who was found saying a lie had to go through the pain of having their tongue cut off and then thrown to the cats.


In the case of this idiom, it specifically means to go speechless.

“She had a cat caught your tongue moment when he finally proposed to her for marriage.”

.  .  .

8. Giving the cold shoulder

When a guest comes home it is a welcome sight to be welcomed with something warm and delicious. However, if there are times when some guest is served with a cold cut of meat that is given without heating it means that the guest is not welcome. Based on the same funda, this idiom means avoiding someone and ignoring them.

“Even though they met after years, Micheal was given a cold shoulder from his once upon a time best friend.”

                                                                          .  .  .

9. Letting one’s hair down

In the earlier days, women were expected to be well dressed with tied back hair that was bunned and pinned up. The only time when they were allowed to let their hair loose was when they were washed.


Similar to the context this idiom means relaxing and being yourself.

“On her 31st birthday, Simone decided to take a break from work and let her hair down for a night of fun.”

                                                                            .  .  .

10. Once in a blue moon

Contrary to the indication of the color blue, it has nothing to do with the color of the moon. This idiom bears resemblance to the fact that a full moon is something that one gets to see very rarely. Quite similar to this, the idiom once in a blue moon means something that happens very rarely.

“With her hectic schedule reading and writing had become a once in a blue moon activity.”

                                                                            .  .  .

11. To have their heads in the clouds

This idiom has no particular timeline to when it started getting used, however, in the earlier days those people who were fanatics and lived in an imaginary world were said to have their heads in the clouds.


This idiom means someone who fails to see the reality and keeps believing in something that won’t happen.

“She has her head in the clouds still waiting for something that will never happen.”

.  .  .

12. Getting Mad as a Hatter

Based on the fictitious and literary works of C.L Lewis and her book Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter was a character who was a little off the hook and crazy. Similar to this usage of the idiom Mad as a Hatter is done when someone gets completely crazy.

“The moment India lost the World Cup, he went Mad as a Hatter.”

.  .  .

13. To drive someone up the wall

Though the emergence of this is unknown this idiom is said to bear resemblance to someone who looks at avoiding certain situations.


In the case of this idiom, it means a certain activity or task that annoys someone a lot.

“It’s driving me up the wall trying to find out who did what?!”

.  .  .

14. Calling it a day

The act of ending a day at work even before it has actually ended is said to have given way to this idiom calling it a day. This idiom also means to stop something and giving it up either completely or for the time being.

“I think we have done enough work today, I am feeling tired now, let’s call it a day

.  .  .

15. Knight in shining armor

as per the older England historical mentions, a knight was an imaginative person who came to help all those women who were helpless and in distress.


Owing to the same thing this idiom means someone who comes to the rescue of a woman who needs help and is stuck in some kind of trouble.

“John is like a knight in shining armor to Jane since he paid her credit card bills.”

.  .  .

16. Living a larger than life

Back in the 20th century, this term was used precariously for the wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. As per this idiom, it is meant to describe a person who looks very different from the others and has a certain flamboyant way of living life.

“Throughout his career, the actor has always seemed larger than life.”

.  .  .

17. To extend the olive branch

In biblical times, there has been mention where extending an olive branch meant a sign of peace offering.


And, based on the same beliefs is the meaning of this idiom. This idiom means taking a step towards peace and giving up enmity and becoming acquaintances.

“I don’t agree with the way John handled the situation with his boss, but it was an effort to extend the olive branch.”

.  .  .

18. To sleep tight

In the earlier days, people used to sleep on mattresses made from ropes and when someone said sleep tight, it meant to make sure that the ropes were tied tight enough to let someone sleep.


The modern-day reference means to wish that someone has a sound and undisturbed sleep.

“Chris whenever you say sleep tight to me then that night I surely have nightmares.”

.  .  .

19. Flying off the handle

It is a known fact that in the earlier days one of the weapons to be used as an ax, and this idiom comes from the incident when due to no proper make the ax would literally fly off the handle. In modern times this idiom means losing one’s temper and becoming enraged.

 “My wife flew off the handle when I said she spent way too much money on ridiculously expensive designer clothes.”

.  .  .

20. Barking up the wrong tree

Earlier days the hunters took their hunting dogs with them. When they shot the game of their choice the dogs used to go and bark at the same location where the hunted game fell.


In the case when they barked at the wrong location, that’s when it meant barking up the wrong tree. In the modern-day scenario, it can be used when a person follows an incorrect course of action.

“My reporting manager always barks up the wrong tree every time there is a problem with the system.”

.  .  .

21. Winning hands down

during the era of the horse races, those horse riders who won the race after removing his hands from the reins is said to have won the race hands down. This was coined in the 19th century, and in the present-day context, it means getting something done without much of an effort or trying.

“Indian Cricket Team seemed to be unprepared for the last game, the Australian team won hands down.

.  .  .

PRO TIP For You!

So, you must have got a pretty good idea about the idioms. Learning English and especially advanced grammar is a difficult task for students and professionals. Studying with a tutor or a teacher is undoubtedly a great way to learn the concepts thoroughly. Finding an expert subject tutor for English near you used to be a difficult task. CrunchGrade is an online tutoring platform where you can find subject matter experts for Math, English, Science and many more subjects.

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