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To a native speaker, idioms act as vocabulary phrases to make everyday speech more interesting. For non-native speakers, idioms are confusing, unclear, and make no sense.
So what is an idiom?
According to Dictionary.com, an idiom is “an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements or from the general grammatical rules of a language, and that is not constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics.” In other words, an idiom is a phrase used in everyday language that has a meaning not deductible from individual words. So here are 12 English idioms that are often used and helpful to know for non-native speakers.
Get down to business – get focused, get serious, begin work.
Example: Ok. Let’s get settled and get down to business. Let’s begin with…
To be swamped – to be very busy
Example: I wish I could leave work early, but I am very swamped this week.
Raining cats and dogs – raining heavily
Example: It’s raining cats and dogs outside! I hope you brought an umbrella.
All ears – eager to hear, listening attentively
Example: I’m ready to hear your proposal. I’m all ears.
To play devil’s advocate – to argue against an idea to test its validity
Example: The audience may play devil’s advocate to make you feel uncomfortable during your presentation.
Copycat – someone who imitates or mimics someone else
Example: You see that shirt Katie’s wearing? Well, I wore it first. She’s such a copycat.
Knock it out of the park – to do well, to do better than expected
Example: I think I knocked it out of the park in my presentation earlier today.
Off the top of my head – without careful thought or preparation
Example: I don’t have any ideas off the top of my head, but I’ll think of something later.
Head in the clouds – to be unaware of what is happening
Example: Fred always has his head in the clouds in class. He never knows what is happening.
Spill the beans – to reveal a secret
Example: We were planning a surprise party for Emma. But Todd spilled the beans right last week, so now she knows what’s going to happen.
Struggle bus – when someone is constantly struggling with the amount of work that needs to be done
Example: I’ve been on the struggle bus all week. I can’t seem to get any work done.
Speak of the devil – when someone you’re talking about unexpectedly appears.
Example: David is late to work today. Speak of the devil! Here he comes.