English Expressions & Idioms

piece of cake
If only learning a language was a piece of cake! Image by Maggie Hoffman (CC BY 2.0)

There are a gazillion English expressions and idioms, but most you are only likely to hear once in a blue moon so a comprehensive guide is more cumbersome than helpful. Here are some of the more common colloquialisms to get you up to speed about what people are really saying. (And if you do want to learn more idioms, check out Animal Idioms & Expressions!)

A piece of cake
something that is really easy to do

  • “Writing this essay will be a piece of cake.”
  • “Although the science test was difficult, English was a piece of cake.”

Actions speak louder than words
the things we do mean more than the things we say

  • “It’s hypocritical to watch TV when you say you’ll exercise.”
  • “She apologized but then she continued to be rude. Was she really sorry?”
  • “My roommate says he will help clean, but he never does.”

Beggars can’t be choosers
when you need something you can’t be picky about it, you have to accept what you get

  • “I don’t want him to help me, he’s doesn’t work fast enough.”
  • “I need a new computer because I don’t like the one you gave me.”

Better late than never
it’s better to do something late than not at all
in response to

  • “I’m too old to start learning a new language.”
  • “I finished work late; I don’t think I can get to the party on time.”

Cross your fingers / Fingers crossed

TP150 "Fingers crossed"
a superstition meaning that you hope for the best

  • “Hopefully the sequel will be as good as the first movie.”
  • “It would be awesome if we didn’t get any homework for the weekend.”

Don’t judge a book by its cover
don’t make assumptions based on appearance only

  • “She always wears designer clothes, she probably has a lot of money.”
  • “That teacher never smiles; he must be really strict.”

In no time
to not take much time, to be done quickly

  • “The cake will be done cooking in no time.”
  • “We got to the store in no time at all because there was no traffic.”

It’s a small world
finding someone or something in an unexpected place; being surprised by how things are connected

  • “I saw one of your friends at the grocery store.”
  • “Whoa, my sister went to the same summer camp as your brother when they were little.”

Practice makes perfect
it takes practice to become good at something

  • “He keeps playing the same song on the piano over and over again.”
  • “How can I improve my writing ability?”

See eye to eye
to be in agreement over something

  • “We don’t see eye to eye about where to go on vacation: California or New York.”
  • “In politics, democrats and republicans rarely see eye to eye.”

Speak of the devil
the person you were just talking about has shown up

  • “I heard we have a new teacher and he’s a giant. Oh, isn’t that him?”

Two heads are better than one

something is done more easily or quickly when two people are working on it

  • “Would you like me to help with your research?”
  • “The house looked spotless after the whole family helped to clean it.”

What goes around, comes around
karma; be kind and good things will come your way, treat people badly and bad things will happen to you

  • “He refused to help the elderly woman cross the street.”
  • “She always mocked her classmates and now that she needs help passing the test, no one will help her.”