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Idioms for ESL students | 30 Common Idioms with Bright Pictures and Examples

What is an Idiom?

Idiom – an expression that means something different than what it says. If I say that a test was ‘a piece of cake’. I don’t mean that I could literally eat the test. The test was not actually a piece of cake. I say this to mean that the test was easy. So idioms are common expressions in English that mean something other than what it says.

In this lesson, you will learn about 30 popular idioms for ESL students. Each idiom has visuals for the literal words, pictures for what the idiom actually means and a picture with an example. Here’s a quick list of the 30 idioms. Check below for more information and pictures with examples for all 30 idioms.

30 Idioms for ESL students

#IdiomMeaningExample
1under the weatherTo not feel well.“I feel under the weather. I have a terrible cold.”
2better late than neverIt’s better to come late than not to come at all.“At least you’re here, better late than never.”
3the ball is in your courtYou can decide.“I like both restaurants. You decide. The ball is in your court.”
4a piece of cakeEasy.“I think I got 100%. That Math test was a piece of cake.”
5great minds think alikeSmart people think the same.A: I want to go to NSS University.
B: Me too.
A: Great minds think alike.
6it’s a small worldMeet someone you know in an unexpected place.“I can’t believe I come all the way to Cambodia and I meet you. It’s a small world.”
7break a legGood luck.“It’s your turn to sing. Break a leg.”
8call it a dayTo stop working on something.“It’s getting late and we’ve been working hard. Let’s call it a day.”
9cutting cornersDoing something poorly to finish quicker (and save money).“The house is falling apart. The builders must have been cutting corners.”
10easy does itSlow down.“You were going too fast around that corner. Easy does it.”
11get out of handCan’t control something.“Coronavirus keeps spreading. It’s getting out of hand.”
12get something out of your systemTo do something that you have been wanting to do so that you no longer feel a strong desire to do it“You keep talking about driving across the country. I think you just need to do it and get it out of your system.”
13get your act togetherWork better so that you are not confused anymore and you can be better.Teacher: “You’re not concentrating. Your grades are falling. You need to get your act together or you will fail.”
14go back to the drawing boardTo start over.“The company tried to build an electric car but it didn’t work. They had to go back to the drawing board.”
15hang in thereDon’t give up.A: “I’m getting so tired.”
B: “Hang in there. There’s only 200 meters left in the race.”
16raining cats and dogsIt’s raining very hard.“There’s going to be flooding if it keeps raining cats and dogs.”
17hit the sackGo to bed.After working all day, she couldn’t wait to hit the sack.
18it’s not rocket scienceIt’s not that complicated.“You can build a house out of blocks. It’s not rocket science.”
19make a long story shortTo tell something briefly.“She ran into the burning building. To make a long story short, she saved the cat.”
20miss the boatTo be too late.“You missed the boat. The concert tickets sold out an hour ago.”
21on the ballDoing something well.“She’s hitting the target every time. She’s on the ball today.”
22pull someone’s legTo trick or joke with someone.“I didn’t really eat the worm. I’m just pulling your leg.”
23pull yourself togetherMust calm down.“You can’t talk to her like that. You have to pull yourself together.”
24so far so goodThings are going well so far.“It’s only my first day on the job but so far so good.”
25speak of the devilThe person we were talking about has unexpectedly arrived.“I can’t believe she said that… Oh! Look! Speak of the devil. Here she comes.”
26that’s the last strawMy patience has run out.“You came home late for dinner again. That’s it. That’s the last straw.”
27the best of both worldsThings are perfect with the situation.“You’ve got a great job and a great husband. You’ve got the best of both worlds.”
28time flies when you’re having funTime goes very fast when you are enjoying yourself.“I can’t believe it’s 5 o’clock already. Time flies when you’re having fun.”
29we’ll cross that bridge when we come to itWe have a problem but we will deal with it later.“If we win this game we will have to play the champions. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.”
30actions speak louder than wordIt’s better to do something than to just talk about it“Don’t just say you’re going to exercise. Do it. Actions speak louder than words.”
30 Idioms for ESL students

Idioms for ESL students 1-10

1. UNDER THE WEATHER

idioms for ESL students - under the weather

Idiom: under the weather

Meaning

idioms for ESL students - under the weather

Under the weather means: to not feel well, to feel ill, or sick.

Example

idioms for ESL students - under the weather

“I feel under the weather. I have a terrible cold.”

2. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

idioms for ESL students - better late than never

Idiom: better late than never

Meaning

idioms for ESL students - better late than never

Better late than never means that it’s better to come late than not to come at all.

Example

idioms for ESL students - better late than never

“At least you’re here, better late than never.”

3. THE BALL IS IN YOUR COURT

common idioms - the ball is in your court

Idiom: the ball is in your court

Meaning

common idioms - the ball is in your court

The ball is in your court means that you can decide, it’s your decision.

Example

common idioms - the ball is in your court

“I like both restaurants. You decide. The ball is in your court.”

4. A PIECE OF CAKE

popular idioms - a piece of cake

Idiom: a piece of cake

Meaning

popular idioms - a piece of cake

A piece of cake means that something is easy, not difficult.

Example

popular idioms - a piece of cake

“I think I got 100%. That Math test was a piece of cake.”

5. GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE

idioms - great minds think alike

Idiom: great minds think alike

Meaning

idioms - great minds think alike

Great minds think alike means that smart people think the same; that clever people have the same thoughts.

Example

idioms - great minds think alike

A: I want to go to NSS University. B: Me too. A: Great minds think alike.

6. IT’S A SMALL WORLD

idioms for esl students - it's a small world

Idiom: it’s a small world

Meaning

idioms for esl students - it's a small world

It’s a small world is what you might say if you meet someone you know in an unexpected place, like someone you grew up with that you bump into halfway around the world.

Example

idioms for esl students - it's a small world

“I can’t believe I come all the way to Cambodia and I meet you. It’s a small world.”

7. BREAK A LEG

OOMMON idioms - break a leg

Idiom: break a leg

Meaning

idioms - break a leg

Break a leg means good luck.

Example

idioms - break a leg

“It’s your turn to sing. Break a leg.”

8. CALL IT A DAY

IDioms for ESL students - call it a day

Idiom: call it a day

Meaning

IDioms for ESL students - call it a day

Call it a day means to stop working on something.

Example

IDioms for ESL students - call it a day

“It’s getting late and we’ve been working hard. Let’s call it a day.”

9. CUTTING CORNERS

common idioms - cutting corners

Idiom: cutting corners

Meaning

common idioms - cutting corners

Cutting corners means to do something poorly so that you finish quicker and usually to save money.

Example

common idioms - cutting corners

“The house is falling apart. The builders must have been cutting corners.”

10. EASY DOES IT

easy does it

Idiom: easy does it

Meaning

easy does it

Easy does it means to slow down or calm down.

Example

easy does it

“You were going too fast around that corner. Easy does it.”

Idioms for ESL students | Gameshow Quiz 1-10

Idioms for ESL students | This Gameshow quiz is great for practicing the first 10 idioms that you have learned. There are more idioms for ESL students below as well.

Idioms for ESL students 11-20

11. GET OUT OF HAND

idioms - get out of hand

Idiom: get out of hand

Meaning

idioms - get out of hand

Get out of hand means that something can’t be controlled.

Example

idioms - get out of hand

“Coronavirus keeps spreading. It’s getting out of hand.”

12. GET SOMETHING OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM

GET SOMETHING OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM

Idiom: get something out of your system

Meaning

idioms - get something out of your system

Get something out of your system means to do something that have been wanting to do so that you no longer feel a strong desire to do it.

Example

idioms - get something out of your system

“You keep talking about driving across the country. I think you just need to do it and get it out of your system.”

13. GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER

IDIOMS - get your act together

Idiom: get your act together

Meaning

IDIOMS - get your act together

Get your act together means to work better so that you aren’t confused anymore and you can be better.

Example

IDIOMS - get your act together

Teacher: “You’re not concentrating. Your grades are falling. You need to get your act together or you will fail.”

14. GO BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

go back to the drawing board

Idiom: go back to the drawing board

Meaning

go back to the drawing board

Go back to the drawing board means to start something over again.

Example

go back to the drawing board

“The company tried to build an electric car but it didn’t work. They had to go back to the drawing board.”

15. HANG IN THERE

idioms for esl students - hang in there

Idiom: hang in there

Meaning

idioms for esl students - hang in there

Hang in there means to not give up; keep trying.

Example

idioms for esl students - hang in there

A: “I’m getting so tired.” B: “Hang in there. There’s only 200 meters left in the race.”

16. RAINING CATS AND DOGS

IDIOMS - raining cats and dogs

Idiom: raining cats and dogs

Meaning

IDIOMS - raining cats and dogs

Raining cats and dogs means that it’s raining very hard.

Example

IDIOMS - raining cats and dogs

“There’s going to be flooding if it keeps raining cats and dogs.”

17. HIT THE SACK

idioms esl - hit the sack

Idiom: hit the sack

Meaning

idioms esl - hit the sack

Hit the sack means to go to bed.

Example

idioms esl - hit the sack

“After working all day, she couldn’t wait to hit the sack.”

18. IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE

it's not rocket science

Idiom: it’s not rocket science

Meaning

it's not rocket science

It’s not rocket science means that something is not that complicated.

Example

it's not rocket science

“You can build a house out of blocks. It’s not rocket science.”

19. MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT

idiom - make a long story short

Idiom: make a long story short

Meaning

idiom - make a long story short

Make a long story short means to tell something briefly or quickly.

Example

idiom - make a long story short

“She ran into the burning building. To make a long story short, she saved the cat.”

20. MISS THE BOAT

idioms for ESL students - miss the boat

Idiom: miss the boat

Meaning

idioms for ESL students - miss the boat

Miss the boat means that you are too late for something.

Example

idioms for ESL students - miss the boat

“You missed the boat. The concert tickets sold out an hour ago.”

Idioms for ESL students | Airplane Game

Idioms for ESL students | Try your luck with idioms 11-20 in this arcade style Airplane game. You must fly your plane into the clouds that have the correct idioms.

Idioms for ESL students 21-30

21. ON THE BALL

common idioms in English - on the ball

Idiom: on the ball

Meaning

common idioms in English - on the ball

On the ball means that you are doing something well.

Example

common idioms in English - on the ball

“She’s hitting the target every time. She’s on the ball today.”

22. PULL SOMEONE’S LEG

idiom esl - pull someone's leg

Idiom: pull someone’s leg

Meaning

idiom esl - pull someone's leg

Pull someone’s leg means to trick or joke with someone.

Example

idiom esl - pull someone's leg

“I didn’t really eat the worm. I’m just pulling your leg.”

23. PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER

PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER - esl idioms

Idiom: pull yourself together

Meaning

PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER - esl idioms

Pull yourself together means that you must calm down and gather yourself.

Example

PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER - esl idioms

“You can’t talk to her like that. You have to pull yourself together.”

24. SO FAR SO GOOD

idioms for ESL students - so far so good

Idiom: so far so good

Meaning

idioms for ESL students - so far so good

So far so good means that things are going well during a short time period up until now.

Example

idioms for ESL students - so far so good

“It’s only my first day on the job but so far so good.”

25. SPEAK OF THE DEVIL

IDIOMS - speak of the devil

Idiom: speak of the devil

Meaning

IDIOMS - speak of the devil

Speak of the devil means that the person we were talking about has unexpectedly arrived.

Example

IDIOMS - speak of the devil

“I can’t believe she said that… Oh! Look! Speak of the devil. Here she comes.”

26. THAT’S THE LAST STRAW

IDIOMS - that's the last straw

Idiom: that’s the last straw

Meaning

IDIOMS - that's the last straw

That’s the last straw means that my patience has run out.

Example

IDIOMS - that's the last straw

“You came home late for dinner again. That’s it. That’s the last straw.”

27. THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

Idiom: the best of both worlds

Meaning

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

The best of both worlds means that your situation is perfect at the moment.

Example

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

“You’ve got a great job and a great husband. You’ve got the best of both worlds.”

28. TIME FLIES WHEN YOU’RE HAVING FUN

TIME FLIES WHEN YOU'RE HAVING FUN - ESL idioms

Idiom: time flies when you’re having fun

Meaning

TIME FLIES WHEN YOU'RE HAVING FUN - ESL idioms

Time flies when you’re having fun means that time goes by very fast when you are enjoying yourself.

Example

TIME FLIES WHEN YOU'RE HAVING FUN - ESL idioms

“I can’t believe it’s 5 o’clock already. Time flies when you’re having fun.”

29. WE’LL CROSS THAT BRIDGE WHEN WE COME TO IT

IDIOMS ESL

Idiom: we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it

Meaning

 ESL idioms

We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it means that we have a problem but we will deal with it later.

Example

 ESL idioms

“If we win this game we will have to play the champions. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.”

30. ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS

 ESL idioms

Idiom: actions speak louder than words

Meaning

 ESL idioms

Actions speak louder than words means that it’s better to do something than to just talk about it.

Example

 ESL idioms

“Don’t just say you’re going to exercise. Do it. Actions speak louder than words.”

Idioms for ESL students | Maze Chase Game

Idioms for ESL students | You can practice idioms 21-30 in this arcade style maze chase game that’s a little bit like Pacman. You must escape the enemies and try to find the correct idiom.

Summary | Idioms for ESL students

We hope you enjoyed these idioms for ESL students. We also hope you learned a thing or two. Was it a piece of cake? Are you tired now? Are you ready to hit the sack? These 30 idioms for ESL students are not easy. English is complicated and , to make a long story short, English idioms are very complicated. We hope this helped you learn more about idioms in English.

You can find more challenging ESL exercises and lessons here.

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