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Listed below are some common idioms. There are many, many more in English and the more you know the better. The collection below were taken from various movies viewed over the period of one year.

For the student of English, it helps to divide idioms into two types, active and passive. I define an active idiom as one which the student knows and can use easily. I define a passive idiom as one which the student knows, or needs to know, but does really need to use (until quite advanced). It can be useful to study an idiom-based book but you cannot just suddenly go out and start using them all – the person you talk to would find it very strange indeed. Rather, you should learn and passively understand the majority, and actively try to use your favourite few.

Naturally, a native speaker understands most idioms he hears and can figure out the meaning of new ones, but even so, idioms from different English speaking cultures sometimes flummox even the best of us.

One important thing to remember with idioms is that they are not fixed exactly. Different subjects and verbs, especially to be, often appear to confuse the unwary. Also, some use older forms of English vocabulary and grammar.

For example:

You cant teach a fish how to swim

Its like teaching a fish how to swim

Hes trying to teach a fish how to swim

Youll never teach a fish how to swim

And sometimes we twist it:

She has taught the fish to swim!

(Perhaps the student succeeded in teaching the English teacher a certain point about English grammar)

Common Idiom List

Idioms of colour

Feel blue

As cold as ice

Red hot

Idioms of animal

Big fish eat little fish

Don't change horses in midstream

When the cat's away, the mice will play

Dont cry wolf

(To) teach a fish how to swim

Every dog has his day

(To) kill two birds with one stone

Idioms of food

(Its) a piece of cake

(Its no use crying over) spilt milk

(Its) the icing on the cake

A pie in the sky

No beef

(Im) as hot as a pancake

Too many cooks spoil the broth

Idioms of people

God helps those who help themselves

Opportunity makes a thief

A drowning man will grasp at a straw

Beggars cant be choosers

Speak of the devil

It takes two to tango

(Its) a match made in heaven

(To) have the same chemistry

You could sell him Big Ben

Poker face

(You cant get) blood from a stone

Ignorance is bliss

Thrown away like an old shoe

Idioms of life

What must be, must be

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Life is full of ups and downs

Dont count your chickens before they hatch

Constant dripping wears away stone

Once bitten, twice shy

What you sow is what you reap

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

A little knowledge is dangerous

Just starting is half the journey.

Whats learned in the cradle is carried to the grave

Walls have ears

A door must either be shut or open

Theres no smoke without fire

No news is good news

Every second seems like an hour

(Its like) searching for a needle in a haystack

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Last modified: 02-11-2013