English Idioms and Phrases Guide - ELA

Suitable for 3-5, ESL, and curious minds!

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Idioms or idiomatic phrases exist in every language worldwide and are part of the rich tapestry of figurative language. When looking at idioms, it’s important to remember that they are a play on words.

Unlike verbs or nouns, idioms and phrases aren’t meant to be taken seriously, and we can’t understand them by considering each word in the phrase as fact. For example, let’s look at the common idiomatic phrase "chickened out." If taken literally, you might conjure up an image of a chicken but not much else. This phrase means someone didn’t do something because of fear, because they didn’t want to, or because they were nervous. Idioms are fun; the more you learn, the more you can play with language.

Scroll down for idiom examples for grades K-3 and beginner ESL, idioms for more advanced students, flashcard examples, and much more!

Idioms and phrases guide example

What do Idioms do?

Idioms are examples of figurative language. They allow speakers to play around with language, which can be fun to learn.

Idioms and phrases are expressions that take literal language and turn it on its head by inferring meaning from the phrase. Idioms are also heard daily in advertising, marketing, and common speech, and if learned and expressed correctly, they can help you to shorten and simplify complex ideas.

Idioms are also used for:

  • Adding flair and interest to a story by captivating the listener or reader.
  • Adding humor to your writing or story.
  • Adding a point of view to a particular story. Since Idioms are part of the culture, they can offer insight into a country’s point of view, history, and individual ideals.
  • Giving context. Idioms and phrases can also be region-specific, adding context to where the writer or speaker is from.

Simple Idioms for 3-5 & Beginner ESL

Want to teach your students about idioms but not sure where to begin? Take a look at these simple examples. Remember, with idioms, it's more important to show them to students and read through them together. Gradually, with time they will naturally pick them up. If you're after even more examples, check out our idioms for kids page, we've got idiom examples for 4th graders and 5th graders.

As you read these English idioms, think about what they might mean. If it helps, take a piece of paper, and try and draw them.

  1. Happy as a clam.
  2. All ears.
  3. Barking up the wrong tree.
  4. Hold your horses!
  5. It's as easy as ABC.
  6. It costs an arm and a leg.
  7. Couch potato.
  8. A piece of cake.
  9. Use your noodle.
  10. Pig out.

Flashcards Examples

Flip the flashcards to discover the meaning of each idiom. Did you get it right?

5 Common English Idioms With Examples for Advanced Students

Hit the books

Idiom meaning: To study hard.

Example sentence:

  • I’ve got an important exam tomorrow. Time to hit the books!

‘Hit the nail on the head.’

Idiom meaning: To understand something perfectly.

Example sentence:

  • That’s right; you hit the nail on the head with that one!

Pull yourself together

Idiom meaning: Calm down or collect yourself.

Example sentence:

  • You really need to pull yourself together; this is an important test.

Best of both worlds

Idiom meaning: enjoying the advantages of two different things.

Example sentence:

  • You can't always have the best of both worlds!

On cloud nine.

Idiom meaning: Pleased, content, or extremely happy.

Example sentence:

  • I was on cloud nine when I finished today.

How are Idiomatic Expressions Linked to Culture?

Idioms are heavily intertwined into the culture because they come from people. Many idiomatic phrases are also related to the cultural history of a specific place, where you gain insight into the speaker’s societal standards, morals, ethos, and experiences through the idiom used.

Let’s look at some idioms with a long history that we still use today. Click the + sign to learn more.

What does bite the bullet mean?

What does all hands on deck mean?

What does putting the cart before the horse mean?

If you want to learn more about English idioms and phrases, we’ve got a list of common idioms and a complete guide to English idioms for kids. Remember, idioms are fun to master. Every time you learn a new one, write them down and check its meaning.