10 of the Most Common English Idioms and How to Use Them

Idioms can stump you when you are new to a language, but they can also be fun to learn. Here are a few of the most common idioms and how to use them in your creative life and beyond. Drop them into casual conversation and impress your native-speaking friends!

1. Steal someone’s thunder.

Lessen someone’s praise or authority by preempting someone else’s attempt to impress.

I was presenting my ideas for the script, when Dave stole my thunder with his big announcement.

2. Last straw, or the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The final, unpleasant event in a series that makes the situation unbearable.

After all the rehearsal mishaps, the lead actor quitting was the last straw; the show folded.

3. Let sleeping dogs lie.

Do not disturb a situation that would result in trouble or complications. Do not talk about things that have caused problems in the past.

His family never talks about his wild artist years. They prefer to let sleeping dogs lie.

4. Kill two birds with one stone.

To accomplish two different things in one action.

That shot establishes her character and initiates the plot–we killed two birds with one stone.

5. Take with a grain of salt.

Take things less seriously.

Submitting your work is part of the process, so you have to learn to take rejection with a grain of salt.

Or, look at something with reservation, skeptically.

This new biography on Hemingway is entertaining, but not very factual–you should read it with a grain of salt.

6. At the drop of a hat.

Without hesitation, immediately.

She told the director she could start filming at the drop of a hat.

7. Back to the drawing board.

When an attempt fails and you must scratch all previous work and start all over.

My first attempt at building the sailboat did not work, so I had to go back to the drawing board.

8. Bite off more than you can chew.

To take on a task that is too big, or more difficult than you can handle.

I think he bit off more than he can chew by directing and starring in his first film.

9. Cry over spilt milk.

Complaining about or regretting a loss or mistake that cannot be fixed.

I was really upset about dropping my laptop, but then I realized that I was crying over spilt milk.

10. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Be optimistic, even the worst situations or events can offer some good.

When I lost that role, I thought it was the worst thing in the world, but every cloud has a silver lining. That same casting director called me in for this role.

BONUS: Have an eye for…

To be good at noticing certain details or have a knack for a particular aesthetic discipline.

If you have an eye for painting, check out Useful Creative Arts Words, so you can talk with confidence about your favorite artists.

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Published on: September 19, 2017

Filled Under: Language Tips

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