Hi, I'm Vanessa from SpeakEnglishWithVanessa.com.
Are you ready to level up your vocabulary?
Let's do it.
Having a good vocabulary level is essential for being able to express yourself completely,
and have your true personality show when you're speaking English.
I would love to share with you today, 50 most important English idioms, according to me.
These are idioms that I use regularly and that are commonly used in daily conversation.
Idioms are expressions that are not exactly literal.
When we talk about a calm before the storm, we're not talking about the weather.
This has another meaning that's more figurative.
So all of these expressions will help you to understand spoken English better when you're
watching movies and they're talking about the calm before the storm, or you want to
up the ante, you want to get the ball rolling.
What in the world are people talking about?
I hope that this will help you with your understanding and listening skills, and also with your speaking
so that you can express yourself.
I created this video because at the end of all my email newsletters, I write, "You rock."
And at least two or three times a week, I get a reply to my email asking, "Vanessa,
what does you rock mean?"
So I thought that I would reply to this question and also up the ante, an expression we're
going to talk about in just a minute.
And give you 49 other expressions as well.
Are you ready to get started?
I broke these 50 idioms into different categories, depending on what kind of words were used
in those idioms.
Our first category that we're going to look at are idioms with nature related words in
And that leads us to our first expression, which is, you rock.
This means you're great.
Thank you for watching my cats while I went on vacation, you rock.
Number two, the calm before the storm.
This is referring to a quiet period before there's some chaos or craziness.
You might say, I like to wake up at 6:00 AM before my children wake up, because this is
the calm before the storm.
I can drink my tea in quiet.
I can just reflect on the day, and what's going to happen and just be alone with my
This is the calm before the storm.
Under the weather.
This means you feel a little bit sick.
You might say, I wish I could go apple picking with you, but I feel a bit under the weather
We often add the expression, "A bit," just to make this a little softer.
I feel a bit under the weather.
You're not extremely sick, but you just don't feel so great.
I feel a bit under the weather.
When it rains, it pours.
This means that when bad things happen, they happen all at the same time.
If you've watched my weather video, you can check out that weather video up here.
You know that to pour means to rain a lot.
Here, we're talking about not just a couple bad things happening, but a lot of bad things
happening at one time.
For example, you might say, between COVID, and protests, and riots, and then the presidential
election, 2020 is a crazy year.
When it rains, it pours.
It seems like everything happened in this year.
Hopefully, 2021 will be a peaceful time.
We don't know yet.
But when it rains, it pours.
Rain or shine.
This means that you're doing something in any weather.
This idiom is a little bit more literal because we're actually talking about rain, or snow,
or bad weather.
Or shine, which means sunshine, good weather.
So you might say, my family likes to go hiking every Friday, rain or shine.
That means if it's wonderful weather, we'll go hiking.
But also if it's awful weather, we try to go for at least a little hike.
We will do it, rain or shine.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
This means that there is something good in every bad situation.
You might say, lockdowns were really tough this year, but I guess every cloud has a silver
I got to spend some quiet time doing some enjoyable things with my family.
We often add, I guess, before this idiom.
I guess every cloud has a silver lining.
And that means that it's not 100% good.
Of course, lockdowns were not 100% good.
There was a lot of awful things that happened because of lockdowns.
But we could say, well, there's a little bit, there's a silver lining.
There's a little bit of good that we can try to find in this difficult situation.
The cloud is the difficult situation.
There's a silver lining.
Well, I got to have some quiet family time together.
To go with the flow.
And this means that you're able to adapt to whatever happens.
You might say, when you have kids, you need to be able to go with the flow every day.
You can have a schedule, a plan, an outline, but do you know what?
When you have kids, things change, things happen that you don't expect.
So you need to be able to be flexible and adapt to every situation.
This is an expression that I try to think about every day, because sometimes I have
certain things that I want to get done every day, certain goals or tasks, but I have two
There's other things going on in life that might change my plans.
So I need to be able to go with the flow.
To adapt depending on whatever's happening.
Let's just go with the flow.
Down to earth.
This is someone who is practical, relatable.
You feel that they are really human.
We often use this for people who are celebrities or famous, people who seem larger than life.
So you might say, when the movie star came to give a speech at my school, even though
she is a celebrity, she seemed really down to earth.
This means I felt like she was just like me.
I could relate to her.
She is down to earth.
This is generally seen as a really positive character quality or personality trait when
people can relate to you.
Even if they think that you are larger than life.
Tip of the iceberg, this is something small that's part of something bigger.
And it's usually something negative.
So you might say, when a parent yells at their child at the park, this is probably just the
tip of the iceberg.
Their parenting is probably much more aggressive at home when other people can't see them.
What you see in public is just the tip of the iceberg.
We often use the word just, in front of this expression.
Just the tip of the iceberg.
You can only see the top when you see that parent yelling at their child in public.
Well under the water, there's probably a lot more negativity that's happening at home when
you can't see.
It's just the tip of the iceberg.
Nip it in the bud.
Nip it in the bud means that you are stopping some bad behavior right when it starts.
A bud is a flower that's closed and it hasn't opened yet.
So we can imagine a rose bud is a closed rose.
And if you nip it in the bud, that means that you're cutting off the rose bud before it
But let's take that to talk about a negative situation.
If there is something negative that's happening, before it becomes a big deal, you need to
cut that off.
For example, we might say, when my three-year-old son first lied to me, I knew that I needed
to nip it in the bud.
So, that that behavior didn't continue.
Here, the word it, in the middle of this expression is his behavior.
Nip it, nip his behavior in the bud.
But we usually just say this fixed idiom, nip it in the bud.
We don't usually exchange it for something else.
This is true.
This happened to me a couple of weeks ago.
It wasn't such a serious situation, but I felt like I needed to nip it in the bud.
My three-year-old was building a huge Lego tower in the other room, and it crashed and
And he was really upset.
And he said, "Mommy, why did you do that?"
The problem was that I wasn't even in the room.
I was in the kitchen.
So there's no way that I could have done that.
And I knew that this behavior, blaming something that isn't the cause, when you're upset, just
lashing out and blaming something else.
This is not good behavior.
He's only three-years-old.
He's just learning.
I didn't make a big deal of it, but I just said, "Hey, you know what?
It's okay to be upset when your tower crashes, but I don't want you to blame something that
isn't the reason.
Don't blame me for your Lego tower crashing.
You can just say, why did that crash?
I'm so upset.
You can be upset, but it's not good behavior to blame something that's not responsible."
Just a little lesson.
But I knew that I needed to nip that behavior in the bud.
Beat around the bush.
This is to speak indirectly without getting to the main point.
Sometimes we do this if we are uncomfortable, if we're talking about something that's a
little bit difficult to talk about, or maybe something we don't really want to talk about.
So you might say, for example, stop beating around the bush.
Tell me, do you want to date me or not?
Someone is being too indirect about this.
We often use this with words like, don't beat around the bush.
Stop beating around the bush.
Why are you beating around the bush?
We usually use this in these kinds of negative ways, because it's usually not seen as a good
thing to beat around the bush.
You should just get to the point.
The best of both worlds.
This is an ideal situation.
For me, my husband and I work from home.
And we also share the job of taking care of our children.
This is the best of both worlds, because we can be fulfilled by our job and also fulfilled
by taking care of our children.
Get wind of something.
This is to hear news about something that's secret.
If the media gets wind of the political scandal, they are going to be talking about it for
Plain as day.
This is something that's obvious to see.
It's plain as day that she loves you.
Why don't you ask her on a date?
Up in the air.
This is talking about having no definite plans.
I want to visit Switzerland next year, but because of COVID, our travel plans are up
in the air.
I don't know when they will become definite, if they will ever become definite, but I hope
But right now they are just up in the air.
Call it a day.
This is when you stop working on a project for the day.
Great job, team.
You did it.
Let's go call it a day.
We often use this at the end of a work day when you've been working really hard.
Or if you're feeling really tired after working, you might say, I'm so tired.
I'm ready to call it a day.
The next category of idioms are animal idioms.
There are only three of these that I included, but they are essential in daily conversation.
The first one is, to go cold Turkey.
And this means to quit something completely.
I looked up where this expression came from and it's thought that maybe it originated
because when you quit smoking, for example, or if you are addicted to a drug, or even
caffeine and you quit, your skin kind of becomes like a turkey, like a chicken.
Kind of cold, and pale and clammy.
You don't feel so great.
So this is maybe the origin of this, to go cold turkey.
So you might say, if you want to quit smoking, you need to go cold Turkey.
Go on a wild goose chase.
If you have ever tried to chase a duck or a goose, they all just fly in every direction,
It's not very possible to just chase a duck and catch it.
It's pretty tough.
So, that's kind of the feeling of this expression, is that you are just doing something pointless.
For example, you might say, I went on a wild goose chase.
I went to four stores to find molasses.
This happened when I was living in Paris, I was trying to make some gingerbread men,
which are some typical cookies that we eat in the U.S. over Christmas time, the Christmas
I wanted to make this for the French family that I was living with.
But do you know what?
Apparently molasses is almost impossible to find in Paris.
I went on a wild goose chase to four different stores.
Finally, I found it in a British international store, but it wasn't called molasses.
It had a different name.
It was a big deal.
I felt like I would never find it.
I was on a wild goose chase.
To lie so many times about something that people stop believing you.
Definitely a negative thing.
This comes from the classic tale of Peter and the wolf.
He cries wolf so many times.
There's a wolf, there's a wolf.
And there's no wolf eating his sheep, but the villagers come and they see there's no
And then when there's actually a wolf, they don't come.
I think this tale is kind of universal.
I feel like almost every culture has some version of this story, but we often use this
idiom to cry wolf in daily conversation.
You might say, in the U.S. this happens often, weather forecasters cry wolf about dangerous
hurricanes so many times that people stop believing them.
Every time there's a hurricane, weather forecasters say, "This is it.
This is the worst hurricane.
You should leave."
And do you know what, people stopped believing them.
And when there actually is a dangerous hurricane, people stay and they don't listen to the weather
forecasters, because they have cried wolf so many times.
The next category of idioms are food related idioms.
They have a food word in them.
Our first one is, to bring home the bacon.
Are you actually bringing bacon home?
This just means money.
It means that you are the financial supporter of your family.
You are making money.
When I was growing up, my dad brought home the bacon.
He was the one who financially supported our family.
And my mom was the one who did everything else.
She was in charge of our house, the kids, of our doctor's appointments, of our school
clubs, everything else.
But my dad brought home the bacon.
Two peas in a pod.
This refers to two people who have a perfect little relationship.
It's usually kind of a cute relationship, often with kids or with a couple that's really
So you might say my son and his friend, who lives down the street, are two peas in a pod
when they play together.
They are adorable.
Butter me up.
This is to flatter someone in order to get something.
If your child is suddenly comes to you and says that you look beautiful.
Beware, they are probably trying to butter you up to get some money or to get a favor.
Spill the beans.
To tell a secret.
When I was pregnant with my first son, we didn't spill the beans that I was pregnant
for the first couple months.
We often use this idiom with negative expressions.
Like we didn't spill the beans.
Or if you tell someone a secret, you might say, don't spill the beans until I'm ready
to tell everyone.
Don't spill the beans.
I didn't spill the beans.
These kind of negative expressions around this.
Take it with a grain of salt.
This means that you don't believe something seriously.
When my neighbor asks me for a gardening advice, this is what I tell her.
If I say, don't plant tomatoes and potatoes together.
But take it with a grain of salt, I'm just an amateur gardener.
I read that in some article.
I don't really know if it's true, but the article said tomatoes and potatoes are not
If I tell someone this, they should probably still do their own research.
Take it with a grain of salt.
Spice things up.
This means that you're doing something differently in order for it to be more interesting and
You might say, when you work for a news journal, don't spice things up, just write the facts.
But you can also use this for daily life as well.
You might say, I try to spice things up by going for a walk down a different road.
I go for a walk every day, but if I took the same walk every day, 365 days a year, it might
get a little boring.
So I try to spice things up and go for a walk down a different road.
The next category of idioms have body related words in them.
And our first one is to lose your touch.
This means that you're losing something that you had a skill or a talent for.
If you don't speak English for months, you will lose your touch.
So try to practice every day.
Rule of thumb.
A rule of thumb.
This is a general rule or guideline.
The key word here is general.
It's just a general rule.
For example, you might say texting your friend before you go to his house is a good rule
Don't just show up at his door without announcing yourself.
You can just send a quick text message first.
And it's a good rule of thumb.
We often add the word good in front of this.
It is a good rule of thumb.
By the skin of my teeth.
This is meaning to barely make it.
You barely survived.
If you said that a passing exam score is 75% and you got a 76%.
Well, you passed by the skin of your teeth.
You barely survived.
To get something off your chest.
This means to talk about something that's bothering you.
So if you have a close friend, you might say to them, "You seem upset, is something bothering
Would you like to get something off your chest?"
And your friend might say, "Yes, I need to get something off my chest.
I am changing my career."
But it's not true for me.
Notice how the pronoun in the middle of this idiom changes depending on the subject, do
you need to get something off your chest?
I need to get something off my chest.
Those always match.
Put your foot in your mouth.
This means to say something, you shouldn't have said.
This happened to me.
I really put my foot in my mouth when I asked my neighbor about her husband.
But I didn't realize that she was divorced.
Thankfully, she was very understanding and just said it lightly, I'm divorced.
And we went on from there.
Bite the bullet.
A bullet is something very hard.
It's something that comes out of a gun.
It doesn't seem like a fun activity, right?
Bite a bullet.
Well, that's what this idiom means.
It means to stop procrastinating and do something difficult.
For me, I hate calling my insurance company, but sometimes I just have to bite the bullet
and do it.
We often use, just have to, with this expression.
I just have to bite the bullet.
Or if you're trying to encourage someone to do something difficult, you might say, you
just have to bite the bullet.
Just do it.
Get out of hand.
To lose control.
A classroom of 20, three-year-old children, can quickly get out of hand.
As you might imagine.
We often use the expression quickly get out of hand to explain something that is almost
20, three-year-olds in the same classroom.
I can't imagine.
Wrap your head around something.
This is to understand something complicated.
We usually use this in negative sentences though.
I can't wrap my head around something.
This was true for me as a high school student, I couldn't wrap my head around complex math
That just wasn't how my brain was working in high school.
I couldn't wrap my brain or wrap my head around them.
To play something by ear.
This means you're not making definite plans.
You might say, well, I want to go hiking tomorrow, but it might rain.
So let's play it by ear.
That means that you're going to look at the news report in the morning.
Look at the weather forecast in the morning.
And if it seems fine, you'll go.
If it seems bad, you won't go.
You will just play it by year.
A blessing in disguise.
This is something good that seemed bad at first.
Like we just talked about previously with COVID lockdowns, there's a silver lining.
This has a similar idea here.
COVID lockdowns were kind of a blessing in disguise for some people, because they got
to spend more time with their family.
Notice that I used kind of a blessing in disguise.
This phrase kind of makes this not so strong.
Of course, there were many terrible things about COVID lockdowns.
A lot of people were lonely.
A lot of people lost jobs.
A lot of people felt fear.
But if we're talking about a blessing, a positive thing that was disguised as something negative.
Well, we might try to find the silver lining here that people got to spend time, more time
with their family.
Our next category of idioms are related to money.
And the first one is to break the bank.
When you break the bank, it means that there is something really expensive, but we often
use this in a negative sense.
For example, you might say that learning English on YouTube doesn't break the bank.
In fact, it's free.
So there's no way that it could be expensive when it's free.
Learning on YouTube doesn't break the bank.
Give you a run for your money.
This is talking about a challenge.
If you need to run in order to catch money, this is probably going to be a little difficult.
So we're talking about this challenge here.
You might say that the Italian soccer team, or football team, like the rest of the world
says, the Italian soccer team gave the German soccer team a run for their money.
This means that the Italian soccer team was really tough to beat.
Maybe the German soccer team is awesome and they think they're going to win.
But then when they play the Italian team, they think, wow, they are giving us a run
for their money.
Or you might say, having a toddler and a newborn is giving me a run for my money.
This isn't talking about some kind of competition or even money, but it's a challenge.
Having a toddler, a three-year-old and a newborn, like I do, is a difficult thing.
It's just the way it is.
But it is giving me a run for my money.
Up the ante.
Or we could say this final word, ante.
Sometimes we cut off the T. To up the ante or to up the ante.
This has to do with when you're playing cards.
In a gambling situation, you put some money on the table, maybe $5, and then the next
person puts $10 on the table.
They upped the ante.
They raised the situation to be better or more difficult.
And that's what this figurative idiom is talking about as well.
To request or to do more.
So we might say, my sister brought a salad to the dinner party.
But I decided to up the ante, I brought homemade bread and two bottles of wine.
That means that I did more than she did.
I kind of raised the bar, another wonderful idiom, for what is expected.
I did something better.
The next category of idioms include action words.
I tried to find a way to put these idioms into a category, but it was almost impossible,
because they don't have money words, animal words, human body words.
They're kind of in a category of their own.
Our next two categories, the first one is, action words.
And the last one is just extra idioms.
Sorry that these don't exactly perfectly fall into a category, but they're still extremely
And I wanted to make sure that they were included in this lesson.
So let's get started with the next idiom that talks about an action word at the beginning.
Cut someone some slack.
This means that you don't judge someone too harshly.
For example, you might say, sorry, I forgot to call you.
Please cut me some slack.
I haven't slept in weeks.
We usually use this as a request.
Please cut me some slack.
Please be gentle with me.
If I make a mistake in this video related to one of these idioms, please cut me some
Please be gentle in your judgment.
Don't be too harsh.
Draw a line or draw the line.
These are used interchangeably.
And that means that you know the difference between something that's okay and not okay.
Something that's acceptable or not acceptable.
We might say that there are a lot of ways to raise a child, but most people draw the
line at violence.
We might say there's a lot of ways that you can be a good parent or a bad parent, but
most people say, on the side here that's not acceptable is violence.
Most people draw the line at violence.
Don't be violent.
Just be gentle with your children.
Play devil's advocate.
Here you are arguing the opposite point just for the fun of it.
Just for the purpose of debate.
If you're having a conversation about how best to learn a language, how best to learn
English, you might say, I agree with you that textbooks are not the best way to learn a
But to play devil's advocate, aren't grammar books useful when you are just starting to
learn a language?
So here, the person has said, "Yes, I agree with you.
Textbooks are not the best way to learn a language."
And then they're going to argue the opposite point.
A point that they don't exactly agree with, but they want to have some kind of fun debate
with you about the topic.
We use this expression, to play devil's advocate, when you're introducing an opposite opinion
that you don't really agree with, but you just want to talk about.
Rings a bell.
This is something that sounds familiar, but you don't know exactly why.
You might say, Victor Hugo, that name rings a bell.
What did he do?
He was only one of the greatest authors of all time.
That name rings a bell.
Go the extra mile.
This means that you are doing something above and beyond what is expected.
This happened a couple of weeks ago.
My neighbors went the extra mile and picked up my trash when a raccoon made a mess.
We had our trash in the trash bin, but overnight when we weren't home, a raccoon got into the
trash bin and put trash in our yard.
So my neighbor came over, and picked it up and put it back in the bin.
This was not necessary.
It was not required.
I never asked him to do this.
But he went the extra mile.
And I thanked him a lot.
Make a long story short.
This is to tell a long story, briefly in just a couple of words.
If you ask me how Dan and I met, my husband, how we met, I might say, "Well, we met on
the first day of college.
And to make a long story short, we became friends.
We dated for five years.
And then we got married."
We often use this expression with to at the beginning.
To make a long story short.
And then you can continue and tell your abbreviated summary of that long story.
Jump on that bandwagon.
This is to do a trend just because everyone else is doing it.
For example, when I was in high school, a lot of high school girls were dyeing their
hair blonde, but I didn't jump on that bandwagon.
I didn't do this.
In fact, I've never dyed my hair.
It's just something that's never really interested me.
But when I was in high school, I didn't jump on that bandwagon.
Our final category of idioms are just other miscellaneous idioms.
There's five left.
And I want to share them with you.
I didn't want to forget about them, even though they don't really fit in one of the other
On the ball.
To be prepared for something.
My house is often messy.
The sink is full of dishes, but in my professional life, I am almost always on the ball.
So you might think that I always am on the ball or another similar expression is I always
have it together.
But this is not the case.
When you can record a video, and edit it and plan it, this is much more different than
doing the dishes and keeping your house in order.
All the time.
Something that happens constantly, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For example, when you are a parent, you are busy 24/7.
Or you might say my neighbors play loud music 24/7, help.
What do I do?
Easier said than done.
This is something that seems easier than it really is.
For example, I always say that it is important, it is essential to use English a little bit
every day, but easier said than done.
Life is busy.
But today, congratulations, you are using English today.
You are enriching your mind with these idioms.
Better late than never.
Well, this is kind of self-explanatory.
It's better to arrive late somewhere than not arriving at all.
So if you come late to your friend's house, you might say, "So sorry I'm late.
Traffic was awful."
And they might say to you, "Oh, it's okay.
Better late than never."
This is probably an idiom that you don't want to use at work, but it's okay to use in more
Our final idiom is, so far, so good.
And this means that everything is going well so far.
I've been making videos on YouTube for almost five years, and so far, so good.
I don't plan to stop anytime soon.
It has been going well.
So far, so good.
Congratulations on flooding your mind with the top 50 English idioms, at least according
I have to get something off my chest and I won't beat around the bush.
Making this lesson was tough.
What you see here on YouTube is just the tip of the iceberg, but I decided to just bite
the bullet and go the extra mile for you, my beloved students.
I hope these 50 idioms are plain as day.
Now, it's time for me to call it a day.
My homework for you is in the comments below this video.
Use one of these idioms, create a wonderful sentence using one of them and show us what
Make sure to spend some time reading other people's comments as well, so that you can
refresh your mind about these idioms.
Well, thank you so much for learning English with me and I'll see you again next Friday
for a new lesson here on my YouTube channel.
The next step is to download my free ebook, Five Steps to Becoming a Confident English
You'll learn what you need to do to speak confidently and fluently.
Don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more free lessons.
Thanks so much.