Every language has certain rules people must obey in order to be proficient speakers of that language. However, even though we may know how to speak and use the language perfectly, that still doesn’t make us sound like a native speaker. In order to sound more like a true native, we have to learn the idioms specific to that language and area. According to English Language and Usage, an idiom is “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words”, that is, an idiom is a common word or phrase which means something different from its literal meaning but can be understood because of its popular use.
Now that we know the definition of an idiom and its importance, here are 20 popular idioms used in American English and their explanations:
1. Break a leg! --- Good luck!
* Usually said to someone who is going to appear in front of an audience.
* Example: You all look great in your costumes! Break a leg!
2. Dig in! --- You can start eating your meal.
* You are inviting someone to start eating and you are encouraging them to eat as much as they like.
* Example: Well, dig in before your dinner gets cold.
3. Bite (one’s) tongue! --- Keep quiet!
* Usually used when we want to tell somebody to refrain from saying something that will annoy, hurt or sadden the listener.
* Example: I had to bite my tongue as my sister gushed about her new boyfriend yet again.
4. Beats me. --- I don’t know.
* Interesting fact about this idiom: It comes from beating information out of someone. When someone is holding back information, they would get beat, hurt until they tell the answer.
* Example: Anna: “How long has this milk been in the fridge?” Britney: “Beats me. Check the expiration date.”
5. Don’t even go there! --- Don’t you dare bring up that subject.
* Usually said to someone when we don’t want to think about, believe or accept something.
* Example: I'm not talking about my ex-girlfriend, so don't even go there.
6. Easy does it. --- Move slowly and carefully.
* We say this when we want somebody to slow down with what they’re doing.
* Example: I was on the back of Suzie's motorbike and she was going really fast, so I said “Easy does it!”
7. Gotcha! --- I understand what you said / what you want.
* This idiom is derived from the phrase “[I have] got you”.
* Example: Nate: "That's why I had to leave so early." Barack: "Gotcha."
8. Hang in there. --- Be patient, things will work out.
* If you tell a person to hang in there, you encourage them to be patient and to continue with their work, even though it is difficult, never give up.
* Example: I know you're worried, but hang in there—the doctor will call soon.
9. Have a ball! --- Enjoy yourself!
* In this idiom, the word ‘ball’ means a gala event, dance.
* When you say “Have a ball” to somebody, you want them to have fun and enjoy as much as possible.
* Example: When these exams are finally over, we’re going to have a ball.
10. Have a good one. --- Have a nice day.
*This idiom is just an informal way to say goodbye.
* Example: Sounds great, Bob. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Have a good one!
11. Hold your horses! ---Slow down!
*The origin of this idiom dates back to the 19th century in the United States, and is linked to horse riding or a person driving a horse-drawn wagon. The horse is in a hurry to move when it gets excited or nervous, often getting out of control. Thus, you have to pull its reins to hold it. That is why we use it to tell someone to stop and consider carefully their decision or opinion about some things.
* Example: I know you're excited to see the prototype, but you all just need to hold your horses while we get set up.
12. I can live with that. ---That’s something I can get used to.
*This means that you can agree on something, it is not the perfect solution, but it is fine, it doesn’t present a problem.
* Example: Clerk: This one will cost twelve dollars more. Bob: I can live with that. I'll take it.
13. I couldn’t have asked for more. --- Everything is fine, and there is nothing else that I could want.
* We use this idiom to show gratitude. We are very happy with something and we don’t ask for more because this is just perfect.
* Example: My new team is really fantastic—I honestly couldn't have asked for more.
14. I’m all ears. --- You have my attention.
*Usually used when we devote our full attention to the speaker, we are listening to every word they say without interrupting.
* Example: Tell me about your first day at the new job—I'm all ears!
15. Been there, done that. --- I’ve experienced the same thing and I know what you’re talking about.
* Usually used in a negative context, like to show boredom with a familiar situation.
* Example: Whitewater rafting? Been there, done that. Let's do something more extreme!
16. I’ve had it up to here. --- I will not endure any more of something.
* We use this idiom when we are so frustrated with something that we will not continue doing it.
* Example: I've had it up to here with customers calling in about problems covered in the instruction manual. Can they not read for themselves?
17. Don’t tell a soul. --- Do not tell anyone.
* We use this idiom when we tell a secret to somebody and we want them to keep the secret.
* Example: Greg got the promotion, but don't tell a soul—the boss will officially announce it later today.
18. Speak of the devil. --- A phrase said when someone whose name has just been mentioned suddenly appears on the scene.
* This is the short form of the English-language idiom "Speak of the devil and he doth appear" (or its alternative form "speak of the devil and he shall appear").
* We use this idiom when we are talking about somebody and that person shows up.
* Example: Alan: I haven't seen Bob for weeks. Jane: Look, here comes Bob right now. Alan: Well, speak of the devil. Hi, there. We were just talking about you. Speak of the devil and in he walks.
19. That’s more like it. --- That is better.
* Used to describe an improvement, usually when we are setting something up or fixing something.
* Example: John: “Really? You're only going to offer $50 for this painting?” Matt: “OK, how about $75?" John: “That's more like it.”
20. That’s the last straw! --- That’s going too far! Something will have to be done.
* This idiom is used when we are angry at something, when something or somebody crossed the line and we are not standing still any longer.
* Example: I've been a good sport about letting Tom share the credit for my work, but this is the last straw! I'm finally going to expose him for the liar he is.