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12 English Idiomatic Expressions You Need To Learn

Idioms are a great way to make your conversation engaging and enhance your English language skills. The main feature of such phrases is that their meaning is different than the actual definitions of the word. You may have learned about idioms in your O Level English classes.

However, you may still not have a good grasp of these phrases. The good news is you don’t have to look far if you want to learn English idiomatic expressions. Here are the top phrases you must know.


  1. Under The Weather

Many people use this phrase to tell someone that they are ill. Being under the weather means that you are sick or not feeling good. So if someone says this idiom in front of you, it is best to tell the other party to get well soon or feel better.

Remember that physical and mental illnesses can come under this category. When some people feel gloomy due to an incident in their life, and they don’t want to do things such as go out, they may tell you they’re under the weather.

This common idiom is spoken in most countries, especially the US and UK. You can use it to flaunt your English skills in front of other beginners or encourage them to learn this language.

Example: “I cannot go shopping with you because I am under the weather.”


  1. A Blessing In Disguise

The phrase "a blessing in disguise" is difficult for many people to understand because of its meaning. The idiom is used to characterize something that was a bad outcome but turned out to be good. This may be a decision such as being forced to move to a different country because of an ill parent.

A prime example to understand this idiomatic expression is that sometimes a heavy rainstorm can nourish the plants of farmers and offer them a good harvest. This is especially true if that region was suffering a drought. So the heavy rain can be a blessing in disguise for many people.

You may also use this expression for not getting a promotion for a job that requires you to give less time to your family. The main thing is that the blessing can be an object, outcome, or person.

Example: “My car broke down, but it was a blessing in disguise because an accident happened on the road ahead a few seconds later”


  1. The Ball Is In Your Court

The ball is in your court is a famous idiom that many people use in the UK. It is used to signify that the next move is supposed to be your decision. Most people use it for dating. They may confess their feelings to you and then tell you that the ball is now in your court.

This means that now it’s up to you to decide whether you will date them if you have similar feelings or you will reject their confession and stay as friends. Of course, this is not the only way you can use this expression.

You can also use the phrase for other important decisions in your life. The idiom is generated from sports because when a player has the ball, they have to decide whether they will carry it forward or pass it to another player. So the idiom replaces sport with life decisions.

Example: "My wife liked a new grill at the store, so I told her that the ball was in her court since we were on a tight budget."


  1. Beat Around The Bush

Beating around the bush is a famous idiom that many people use when learning the English language. The primary meaning of this phrase is saying things indirectly. For example, if you broke your mother's favorite vase, you may try to tell her about it by talking about different things at once to avoid suffering from her wrath.

You may also not want to say something due to confidentiality and other reasons. The best thing is that this idiom can be used in many ways. A person may ask you why you are beating around the bush if they catch on that you are trying to avoid something directly.

Another way to use this phrase is by telling someone to stop beating around the bush, especially if you become frustrated during the conversation. You may say this to bring their focus to the main topic and find out the right thing.

Example: “John told the hospital staff to stop beating around the bush and tell him what happened to his wife during the operation.”


  1. Bite The Bullet

You may think biting the bullet means actually biting it, but that is not the case. This may be a misleading idiom, but you will understand it with the next example easily. The main meaning of this phrase is to do something that you cannot avoid.

For example, if you want to break up with your longtime girlfriend but may be afraid of her reaction, you should bite the bullet and get done with it. The phrase originated from British Empire’s period in India because soldiers who were reluctant to open bullets were told to bite them.

So they were told to do something that was unavoidable since they were soldiers and had to use guns. Some people also believe that the origin of this phrase is from the act of biting down on something when in pain while undergoing a simple medical treatment.

Example: “I decided to bite the bullet and told my boss that I’m quitting the job due to personal reasons.”


  1. Cut To The Chase

Many people relate cut to the chase to the idiom beating around the bush. This is because it can be used as a direct reply to the latter phrase. The meaning of cut to the chase is to get to the point. You may say this to someone if they are telling you something but prolonging the conversation unnecessarily instead of getting to the point.

This means someone may be beating around the bush in front of you. So you can tell them to cut to the chase and get a faster reply. During earlier times, filmmakers mainly used this phrase to hear other interesting parts of a story faster.

People use this phrase often these days to encourage others to get to the point directly. It saves time from an unnecessarily long conversation and helps you act faster.

Example: “I didn’t want to talk to that guy in the bar without knowing his marital status, so I cut to the chase and asked him the question outright.”


  1. Break A Leg

Some idioms are fun to hear, but you may get offended on hearing other phrases. Break a leg is a common expression that makes non-native speakers angry in the US, Singapore, and other countries. However, there is nothing to get offended about when you hear this idiom.

The unusual phrase is used to wish someone luck. If a person says this idiom to you, they want the best for you and are wishing you good luck indirectly. This expression originated after because performers who used to bow after a great show used to break their legs sometimes.

If you want to make things clear to someone when using this phrase, you may give a thumbs up while saying the line. This will show the other party that you are not threatening.

Example: “I told Sara to break a leg since she was going to audition for a major part in a film in a few minutes.”


  1. Through Thick And Thin

You may take this idiom literally and think that it means passing through thick and thin things, but that is not the case. The primary meaning of this idiom is to be loyal regardless of all things. Most people use it when they are signifying their familial bond.

Friends also use this phrase for loyalty. For example, if your friends say you will get through thick and thin together, it means that you will get through good and bad times together. This shows their loyalty towards you and your friendship.

Another meaning of this expression is enduring hardships regardless of the situation. Hearing this phrase during a tough time can uplift your spirit and help you get through the period more easily.

Example: "I told my wife, who was suffering from cancer, that we will get through thick and thin together."


  1. Cutting Corners

Cutting corners is an idiom that is easier to understand than most other phrases. This is because it means doing things quickly or cheaply by taking shortcuts. It can also be used for doing something the easiest way.

The phrase mainly has a negative meaning because it may be used to signify the quality of your poor work. You may cut corners to make money by doing illegal things or gambling instead of getting a job and earning it the right way.

If you cut corners, you are mainly doing a task less thoroughly, so it can decrease the quality of the overall result.

Example: "I told my son not to cut corners by learning cheating tactics and instead study for the exam."


  1. Get Bent Out Of Shape

Getting bent out of shape means getting upset over something. Many people fail to understand this idiom because they cannot relate the meaning with the expression. However, the phrase is not that unusual, and it has significance in real life.

When you beat a pipe for a long time, it will eventually get bent out of shape due to the hammering. Similarly, if life presents you with tough circumstances often, you may get upset. This is why someone can use bent out of shape to signify your situation.

The phrase can be used in various ways, some of which you may not like. For example, a person can use it to criticize for getting upset over every little thing in life.

Example: “My teacher told me that it was just a small spelling mistake in the test, so I should not get bent out of shape about it.”


  1. Add Insult To Injury

Adding insult to injury may sound like a unique idiom to you because of its meaning. The phrase is used to signify something that makes a bad situation worse. A prime example of this phrase is someone making fun of you after a failure, such as not passing a job interview.

So they are making your injury worse by making fun of you or insulting you. However, this can also happen unintentionally if someone passes a comment without knowing your situation. It can also be used if you’re upset about something and someone does or says something to make you sadder.

Example: “Asking our members to pay more for a subscription after cutting down their major club amenities adds insult to injury.”


  1. Once In A Blue Moon

Once in a blue is the easiest idiom to understand for most people. This is because it is used for signifying a rare thing. It is no secret that a blue moon appears after two or three years. This means that they happen rarely.

You can use this phrase to tell someone about things that you rarely do. For example, you may tell your fitness enthusiast friend that you hit the gym once in a blue moon only. This will help them understand that you do not share the same passion as them.

Example: “I stay at a hostel in a different city for the majority of the year, which is why I see my family once in a blue moon only.”


Final Words

These are the top 12 idiomatic expressions that you must learn when in Singapore or other countries. The main purpose of idioms is to make your conversation more interesting. It also allows you to say things without prolonging the talk.

If you’re a non-native speaker or want to improve your skills, it is best to get English tuition in Singapore to sharpen your language. The best thing is that tutors will help you learn many more idioms and teach you how to use them in your daily life easily.

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Tutor City's blog focuses on balancing informative and relevant content, never at the expense of providing an enriching read. 

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Resident author - Mr Wee Ben Sen, has a wealth of experience in crafting articles to provide valuable insights in the field of private education.

Ben Sen has also been running Tutor City, a leading home tuition agency in Singapore since 2010.