English Idioms: A Great Way to Sound Like a Native Speaker

English idioms - once in a blue moonIdioms are some of the most interesting features of any language – and some of the hardest to understand as a foreigner. English has many idioms in common usage and learning a few of these is a fun way to sound like a native speaker.

Idioms have a figurative meaning, rather than a literal meaning and because these words mean something completely different when used in an idiomatic phrase, non-native speakers can find them very confusing! Read on to explore how you can use idioms to sound like a native speaker.


English Idioms and their meanings

For example, in English we can say we will do something ‘at the drop of a hat’ but this has nothing to do with fashionable head wear – instead we are saying we will do something immediately.

If the ‘ball is in your court’ we are not talking about tennis – it simply means that the next step is your decision.

If you are ‘barking up the wrong tree’ you can forget about splinters – it simply means you have the wrong idea about something.


Other commonly used idioms in English include:

‘to beat around the bush’ – to avoid the main issue

‘to go back to the drawing board’ – when an idea fails and you have to go back to the start

‘to be caught between a rock and a hard place’ – when you have to make a decision between two equally bad alternatives


‘to cost an arm and a leg’ – something that is very expensive

‘a hot potato’ – a very important, controversial topic of discussion

‘once in a blue moon’ – a very rare occurrence

‘to bite off more than you can chew’ – to attempt a task that is too big or complicated

‘to wait with bated breath’ – to wait in eager anticipation


Use idioms to sound like a native speaker

Idioms are the ideal way to sound like a native speaker because idiomatic expressions are often so strange sounding that it is impossible to take them literally. This means that most foreign people will not understand them immediately.

Many of these idiomatic phrases can be very confusing. Some slang phrases become so deeply ingrained into a culture they can even form a secret language all of their own, such as the delights of Cockney rhyming slang.

All languages around the world have their own idioms and slang expressions that do a wonderful job of confusing foreigners. This is what makes idioms ideal for learning as a non-native speaker.


Idioms used correctly will guarantee you will blend in with the natives – the correct use of idioms can be quite impressive!

Do you use idioms to sound like a native speaker?

Are you impressed when a foreign person uses an idiom from your native language correctly?

What are your favourite idioms from your own native language?

Do you have any favourite English idioms? Let us know in the comments!

4 thoughts on “English Idioms: A Great Way to Sound Like a Native Speaker

  1. I like these idioms:
    ‘Heard it on the grapevine’ when you have heard a rumour
    ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’ when you get reliable information straight from the source

  2. The Spanish idiom ‘andar como burro sin mecate’ in English is ‘to walk like a donkey without a leash’ – it means to at in a wild way, out of control

  3. “to be like a rabbit caught in the headlights” – meaning to be very scared

    I enjoy these animal-themed idioms, they seem to give a strong sense of the phrase’s meaning – I can just imagine a terrified rabbit in the road, eyes lit up in the car headlights!

  4. Thanks to everyone for sending in your favourite idioms – keep them coming! For those of you who have sent e-mails, we have taken on board your idiom-related content requests. Elliott – we are going to be compiling a list of animal idioms soon on our blog so watch this space!

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