Here are some common informal English expressions and their meanings – with examples.
Informal English Phrases for Daily Conversations
1. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones
Meaning: Used to say that you should not criticize someone for having a fault if you have the same fault yourself
E.g. She always criticized her friends for driving too fast, but she herself used to do it. At last I told her, “People in glass house shouldn’t throw stones”.
2. Can’t hold a candle to somebody/something
Meaning: If something or someone cannot hold a candle to something or someone else, they are not as good as the other thing or person
E.g. You can’t hold a candle to me when it comes to playing the piano.
3. Rain cats and dogs
Meaning: Rain very hard
E.g. It is raining very hard. You will get all soaked the minute you step out.
4. Cat got your tongue
Meaning: Used to ask someone why they are not talking
E.g. Why did you come home so late last night? Answer me! Cat got your tongue.
5. Out of the blue
Meaning: If something happens out of the blue, it is very unexpected
E.g. Do you remember Jane? Well, she phoned me yesterday, completely out of the blue.
6. As like as two peas in a pod
Meaning: Exactly the same in appearance, behaviour etc.
E.g. The two sisters are as like as two peas in a pod.
7. Bend over backwards
Meaning: To try as hard as possible to help or please someone
E.g. For passing all the exams successfully, her parents bent over backwards to help her.
8. Under the table
Meaning: Money that is paid under the table is paid secretly and illegally
E.g. They paid him under the table so he wouldn’t have to pay taxes .
9. Let the cat out of the bag
Meaning: To tell someone a secret, especially without intending to
E.g. I’m sorry. Jim knows about last week’s party. I’m afraid I let the cat out of the bag.
10. Hit the nail on the head
Meaning: Used to say that what someone has said is exactly right
E.g. A: I guess we need a lot of money to carry out the plan
B:You’re absolutely right. You’ve hit the nail on the head .
11. Go into a nosedive
Meaning: A sudden very large fall in the price, value, or condition of something
E.g. The economy went into a nosedive.
12. Save somebody’s neck
Meaning: To help someone to escape from an extremely difficult or dangerous situation
E.g. Thanks for not letting the boss fire me. You save my neck in time.
13. Leave somebody/something high and dry
Meaning: If someone is left high and dry, they are left without any help or without the things that they need
E.g. She promise to help me with the dishes after the party, but she left me high and dry .
- Let sleeping dogs lie
Meaning: To deliberately avoid mentioning a subject, so that you do not cause any trouble or argument
E.g. The best plan is just to let sleeping dogs lie.
14. A horse of a different colour
Meaning: Something that is completely different from another thing
E.g. I was talking about trees, not bushes. Bushes are a horse of different colour.
15. Like a bull in a china shop
Meaning: If you are like a bull in a china shop, you keep knocking things over, dropping things, breaking things etc.
E.g. Each time you enter the room, you knock something down. You’re really like a bull in a china shop.
16. Be/get carried away
Meaning: To be so excited, angry, interested etc. that you are no longer really in control of what you do or say, or you forget everything else.
E.g. Calm down! Don’t get carried away. We have to sit down and talk sense.
17. Speak of the devil
Meaning: Used when someone you have just been talking about walks into the room where you are.
E.g. Speak of the devil! We just mentioned you name before you stepped in.
18. Get out of bed on the wrong side
Meaning: To feel slightly angry or annoyed for no particular reason
E.g. Why are you so grouchy today? Did you get out of bed on the wrong side.
19. Keep your shirt on
Meaning: Used to tell someone who is becoming angry that they should stay calm
E.g. Keep your shirt on! You’re next in line.
20. Can’t make head or tail of something
Meaning: To be completely unable to understand something
E.g. I can’t make head or tail of what you’re saying. Why don’t you speak more clearly.
21. Be/feel like a fish out of water
Meaning: To feel uncomfortable because you feel you do not belong in a place or situation
E.g. I felt like a fish out of water in my new school.
22. Keep/put something on ice
Meaning: To do nothing about a plan or suggestion for a period of time
E.g. I’m putting my plans for a new car on ice until I finish college.
23. Pass the hat around
Meaning: To collect money from a group of people, especially in order to buy someone a present
E.g. No matter how hard he tries, he won’t be able to pay his debts. I guess we’ll have to pass the hat around for him.
24. Dog eat dog
Meaning: When people compete against each other and will do anything to get what they want
E.g. It’s a dog eat dog world out there.
25. Keep your ear to the ground
Meaning: To make sure that you always know what is happening in a situation
E.g. I haven’t heardany more news, but I’ll keep my ear to the ground.
26. Shake a leg
Meaning: Used to tell someone to hurry, or quickly start doing something
E.g. It’s getting late. Come on! Shake a leg.
27. Drag your feet/heels
Meaning: To take too much time to do something because you do not want to do it
E.g. If you keep dragging your feet, you’ll miss the train.
28. On its last legs
Meaning: Old or in bad condition, and likely to stop working soon
E.g. My car is its last legs. I have to get rid of it as soon as I can.
29. Not have a leg to stand on
Meaning: To be in a situation where you cannot prove or legally support what you say
E.g. If you didn’t sign a contract, you won’t have a leg to stand on.
30. Cock and bull story
Meaning: A story or excuse that is silly and unlikely but is told as if it were true.
E.g. Who the hell do you expect to believe your cock and bull story.
31. Make a mountain out of a molehill
Meaning: To treat a problem as if it was very serious when in fact it is not
E.g. She was only five minutes late! You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
32. Throw the book at somebody
Meaning: To punish someone as severely as possible or charge them with as many offences as possible
E.g. If you get caught they’ll throw the book at you.
33. Be up to your ears in work/problem/debt
Meaning: To have got a lot work/problem/debt
E.g. I’m up to my ears in debt.
34. The coast is clear
Meaning: If the coast is clear, it is sage for you to do something without being seen or caught.
E.g. Okay guys, you can come out of your hiding place now. The coast is clear.
35. Snow job
Meaning: An act of making someone believe something that is not true
E.g. That car dealer did a snow job on me by selling me a car that was a piece of junk.
36. Pay lip service to somebody/ something
Meaning: To say that you support or agree with something without doing anything to prove it
E.g. Don’t sit and pay lip service to human rights. Get busy.