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10 Common English Idioms: Explained to ESL Students

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"What is it again?" Many ESL or English as a Second Language students find idiomatic expressions difficult to understand. It is, however, important to learn about idioms to understand native English speakers.

"What is it again?" Many ESL or English as a Second Language students find idiomatic expressions difficult to understand. It is, however, important to learn about idioms to understand native English speakers.

English Idioms or idiomatic expressions can be very difficult to learn for students of ESL or English as a Second Language.

This is because English idioms are used in informal English conversations that native English speakers make with one another. Because many students of ESL do not have the chance to listen to, much less participate in, such conversations, then they tend to be baffled by these idioms.

English idioms are also difficult to learn because their definitions are so different from the literal definitions of the words that make them up. Definitions of the individual words in an idiomatic expression just do not give any hints about the idiom’s meaning.

Just the same, many native English speakers understand idioms because they have been immersed in an environment wherein almost everybody understands English idioms.

Idioms have colorful, cultural, and curious origins in native English speaking countries. People who grew up in these countries can understand these idioms even if they do not exactly know the idioms’ origins.

Below are 10 of the most common English idioms used in the English language and their definitions. Of course, ESL students must strive to learn as many idioms as possible. Doing so would just ease the language barrier between them and native English speakers.

1. Add Insult to Injury

Add insult to injury is an English idiomatic expression that means “to make a situation worse.” This expression is used when an already bad situation is made even more problematic. Usually, a person or persons are the ones who add insult to injury.

Example:

She shocked the guests in her hideous wedding dress. To add insult to injury, her make-up artist made her look 10 years older than her real age.

2. Costs an Arm and a Leg

Costs an arm and a leg is an English idiom that means “absurdly expensive.” It is often used to describe disbelief about the price tag of a thing or things.

Example:

He skimped on wedding expenses because he had bought her the diamond engagement ring that cost him an arm and a leg.

3. Cut Corners

Cut corners is an English idiom that refers to “doing something badly.” The reason for cutting corners is usually to save on money. The result of cutting corners is a thing or a situation that is distasteful, shoddy, and/or cheap.

Example:

They tried to cut corners so they could honeymoon in Western Europe. They saved on their wedding cake and foods for the reception, which the guest definitely did not enjoy.

4. Feeling a Bit under the Weather

Feeling a bit under the weather is an idiom that tells that somebody might be “feeling sick.” If a person is feeling a bit under the weather, then he or she is not in the pink of his or her health (good health condition).

Example:

After spending 60 days in planning for the wedding and 12 hours in preparing for the ceremony, she felt a bit under the weather. She wasn’t able to leave for Western Europe.

5. Kill Two Birds with One Stone

Kill two birds with one stone is an idiom that means “do two things simultaneously.”

Example:

The enterprising celebrity couple killed two birds with one stone by hosting a wedding and cashing in on it.

6. Once in a Blue Moon

Once in a blue moon is an English idiom that describes an event that happens “infrequently.”

Example:

Once in a blue moon, the celebrity wife steps out in public without make-up, causing a stir about her exceptionally clear skin.

7. See Eye to Eye

See eye to eye is an idiom that means “agree.” Oftentimes, two people see eye to eye on certain issues.

Example:

They didn’t see eye to eye on having kids and staying at home. After two years of marriage, they sought divorce.

8. Speak/Talk of the Devil

Speak of the devil is an English idiomatic expression that people say when somebody they are taking about suddenly arrives.

Example:

She just cannot come on time, can she? Well, speak of the devil, here she comes.

9. Take What Someone Says with a Pinch of Salt

Take what someone says with a pinch of salt is an idiom that warns somebody not accept another person’s or people’s words as complete truth or very seriously.

Example:

She needs to take what her critics say about her with a pinch of salt. They are out to trash her not to support her.

10. The Best of Both Worlds

The best of both worlds is an idiom that pertains to the “advantages or good points of two different things.” A person or people can have the best of both worlds.

Example:

Actually, she has the best of both worlds. She has a happy marriage and a hot career.

Copyright © 2011 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved

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Comments

Larry Gonzaga on November 18, 2012:

Nice hub. You appreciate this if english isn't your first language or know someone who learned english as their second language.

My mom's chinese so I see her struggle with idioms a lot and invert the words in phrases quite a bit.

ramerican on August 27, 2012:

please keep doing more of these.

Corbow on July 09, 2012:

I would define #5 a little differently. The way it's usually used, it means "to accomplish two goals with one action."

ramerican on June 24, 2012:

cool. will share with my ESL students online!

Jasmine on May 19, 2012:

Great selection of English idioms! I need a reminder from time to time :) Voted up, useful and interesting :)

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on October 26, 2011:

@whynot1 Thank you so much! Very nice of you to say that :)

whynot1 on October 26, 2011:

Love your hub! This is great and very helpful!

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on October 20, 2011:

@name Welcome :)

name on October 20, 2011:

thanks again....

Sawasdee-Kub from Thailand on September 28, 2011:

this is a really good information.

thx for sharing. (:

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on September 23, 2011:

@MonetteforJack Very glad you found it useful and interesting. A million thanks! :)

MonetteforJack from Tuckerton, NJ on September 20, 2011:

A very useful and interesting hub, I voted up! I haven't heard numbers 1 & 9 for a long time. Because of the economic situation it is always -- cost an arm and leg -- that is often in used. Thumbs up!

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on September 17, 2011:

@Sally's Trove Hello! Thanks for your comment. I know, native speakers just know all these idioms that confound us ESL learners :) Just to bridge the communication gap, we just have to keep on learning about idioms, I guess :D

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 17, 2011:

I enjoy your ESL Hubs very much, and this one is no exception.

Although English is my first language, and I'm comfortable with hearing and speaking these idioms, I don't give them much thought...for me they are ingrained cliches. It's thought-provoking to have a fresh look at them.

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on September 16, 2011:

@tirelesstraveler Wow, I'm so happy you stopped by! Really :) That's another idiom. Thanks for sharing!

Judy Specht from California on September 16, 2011:

I once told an Iranian friend that his totally adorable son who had mud all over his face,"Had a face only a mother could love". I meant his mother will think he is cute even with all the mud on him. My friend went home and asked his wife, a native English speaker, "Why doesn't she like our baby anymore?" I had to really think hard how to explain that idiom. My girl friend laughed when we got it all sourced out. Thanks for pointing out how difficult idiom can make life for ESL learners.

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on September 15, 2011:

@Husky1970 Thanks much for your message, really appreciate it. Well, we ESL speakers must do everything we can to put down this high language barrier by trying to understand English as much as we can :)

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on September 15, 2011:

@Taleb80 Thank you for stopping by my hub and for the vote :D

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on September 15, 2011:

@Stephanie Henkel There you go, another idiomatic expression - dog and pony show. Hmmm, an elaborate presentation for gaining approval. Thanks for sharing! :D

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on September 15, 2011:

@Fellow Mumbaite Thanks for dropping by! Hope you'll never ever feel a bit under the weather :D

Husky1970 on September 15, 2011:

It is helpful that you remind everyone that we take certain sayings in our language for granted. Excellent examples of idioms that can be very confusing to individuals who speak English as a 2nd language. Interesting hub and voted accordingly.

Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on September 15, 2011:

I printed this one for my writer files! You have this laid out beautifully and it is easy to understand. Keep up the great HUBS. I must give this an “Up ONE and awesome.” I'm always your fan! RJ

Based upon your HUB, you might enjoy this HUB…

https://hubpages.com/entertainment/Tiny-Tim-and-th

Taleb AlDris on September 15, 2011:

I voted "Useful" as it is.

Thanks for sharing.

Stephanie Henkel from USA on September 15, 2011:

The English language can be really confusing even for those who are proficient in the language. Recently, I was with a non-native speaker and someone used the expression, "dog and pony show" in referring to a business presentation. It was quite baffling to her. Interesting hub, and useful, too!

Fellow Mumbaite from India on September 15, 2011:

Interesting hub, very educational. One of the idiom 'Feeling a Bit under the Weather' was not known to me, thanks a lot for this info!

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on September 15, 2011:

@asmaiftikhar Thanks for always visiting my hubs! I really appreciate the time you give to read and comment :)

asmaiftikhar from Pakistan on September 15, 2011:

well don kerlynb.keep it up

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on September 15, 2011:

@lzlpio90 Thanks dear! Glad you learned from this hub :)

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on September 15, 2011:

@Ratanak Ou Thanks for reading and for the vote :)

lzlpio90 on September 15, 2011:

what a useful hub...Thanks for these idioms you've shared... I only knew a few of days..:D This is great!

Ratanak Ou on September 15, 2011:

Great hub, I love to read and learn from your writing. Rated up !

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