10 Common Idioms That Are Tough for New English Learners

It has commonly been said that English is one of the hardest languages to learn. Seriously, there are a lot of weird rules and sayings that actually make no sense, especially for new English learners. It’s also full of common idioms that seem perfectly normal if you grew up with the language, but if you’re just learning it, will leave you scratching your head.

Common Idioms and How to Crack Them

Each language has its own way of expressing different things in a way that’s unique, and has developed over time through the culture. If you’re not a native speaker, these can be some of the toughest things to pick up on. Knowing this list of idioms will give you a leg up on communicating with others. A leg up on? Oh, that means you’re getting ahead of the competition.

"When life gives you lemons" is a common idiom that can be exciting for new English learners to understand.
“When life gives you lemons” is a common idiom that can be exciting for new English learners to understand.

Over My Dead Body

No, this person is not actually saying that they are going to die. This means that if whatever they’re referring to was to happen, they’d have to be dead before they allowed it. You think you’re going to steal my pepperoni pizza from me? Over my dead body you are.

An Arm And a Leg

Someone says geez, a gallon of gas costs you an arm and a leg these days. And you’re like, what? I have to sell off my arm and my leg to fill my tank of gas?

While you feel like that might be the case, this is just an expression used to convey thoughts of this nature. Usually, it’s used when you’re saying something is very expensive. That designer purse really cost them an arm an a leg. An arm and a leg are pretty valuable things, so you might be able to see where this phrase was coming from.

Under the Weather

Aren’t we always under the weather? We’re physically underneath rain when it’s raining and snow when it’s snowing, right? Nah, it means that we’re feeling sick, of course.

Usually, it’s not used to describe someone who’s extremely ill. If you’re in the hospital, you’re not under the weather. But if you’ve been feeling a bit sniffly and not yourself, you’re under the weather.

Break a Leg

This popular American idiom is used mostly when someone has a performance. You might think that if someone is telling you to break a leg, they actually hate you. Why would you want someone to break their bones?

This remark is actually born from the idea that if you wished someone good luck in show business, the evil spirits would come and spite their performance. So they used some reverse psychology on them, and wished a terrible thing would happen to them so that it actually did not happen.

It’s a Piece of Cake

You probably wish it was actually a piece of cake. But it’s not. It just means that something is easy.

There’s also “it’s as easy as pie.” Because apparently, all pastries and delicious things are easy. So if you want to say something wasn’t a difficult time, say it was something sweet. The term was first used in print in 1936, and likely came from the fact that cakes were handed out as prizes.

Bite the Bullet

When someone bites the bullet, it means that they’re sucking it up and enduring something painful. Rudyard Kipling was actually the first person to make recorded use of the term in 1891, so it’s been around for a while. Have to go talk to your mother in law? That’s biting the bullet.

You Can Say That Again

Like, literally, you can say it again. Someone agrees so much with what you’re saying that they would have you say it again, and they would agree with you. There’s usually an ironic tone that would go along with someone saying this. Like, what you’ve said to make them say this popular idiom is so obvious that it’s like you didn’t need to have said it at all.

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

Communication is important, but it can be done in many ways. Sometimes, saying things with words is important. Other times, something that can be conveyed in an image or an action speaks louder than any words can. That’s what the English idiom a picture is worth 1,000 words means. A still image can convey a depth of meaning just with visual imagery, and get across a message that would take a lot of speaking or writing to deliver.

Once In a Blue Moon

This common English idiom means that it doesn’t happen very often. Once in a blue moon? That thing’s pretty rare. A blue moon happens about every thirty-two months. So if the thing that you’re referring to happens once every thirty-two months, you’re using this phrase literally. Most people don’t ever do that.

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, they say. But you say, my friend just bought me lunch. That was a free lunch. No, you technically paid for that lunch in your friendship. You also probably paid for the gas to get there, and technically once paid for your car. It’s not so fun to look at it that way, is it? Basically, when people say this, they’re saying that nothing in life is free. And they’re right. Which is sort of a sad way to look at things.

Become a Better Communicator

All this stuff is hard, isn’t it? Become a better communicator with help from PronunciationPro. The course can get you through all the tricky stuff with language, and even help with your accent. It’s a 12-module program that helps not only with fluency, but also with pronunciation. You even get to know the little details, like what all these weird idioms mean.

It’s a no-risk process for you, because you get a free seven-day trial. After that, once you see how much it helps, you’ll want to keep on going. You’ve basically got absolutely nothing to lose, and a new confidence to gain.


English Pronunciation & Fluency Expert
Annie Ruden M.S.CCC-SLP
CEO | Accent Reduction Trainer

[email protected]

Be Understood. Be Confident.