Idioms to Make You Sound Like a Native English Speaker

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English Idioms

English is full of colorful expressions and idioms that can make your speech sound more natural and native-like. Using idioms correctly can help you convey your message more effectively and make the conversation more interesting. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the most commonly used idioms in English and how you can start incorporating them into your conversations. Whether you’re a non-native speaker looking to improve your language skills or a native speaker looking to expand your vocabulary, these idioms will surely come in handy. So let’s dive in and explore the wonderful world of English idioms!

Let the cat out of the bag.

The phrase “let the cat out of the bag” means to reveal a secret. The phrase’s origin is uncertain, but one popular theory is that it comes from the old marketplace practice of selling piglets in bags. Unscrupulous sellers sometimes replaced the piglet with a less valuable cat, hoping to trick the buyer. If the buyer discovered the trick, they would “let the cat out of the bag” by revealing the deception.

Today, the phrase describes any situation where someone reveals something they were supposed to keep secret. For example, if a friend tells you about a surprise party they’re planning for someone else, but you accidentally let it slip, you would be “letting the cat out of the bag.”

When pigs fly

When pigs fly – is an expression that we’ve all heard at some point in our lives. It’s an idiom used to refer to something that will never happen. 

The origin of the expression “when pigs fly” is not entirely clear. However, it is believed that it originated in Scotland in the late 1500s. At the time, the phrase was “when pigs fly with their tails forward,” which meant that something was impossible or would never happen.

Over time, the phrase evolved into “when pigs fly,” which has stayed with us ever since. Nowadays, we use this expression to describe a situation that will never come to fruition. For example, if someone says they will clean their room when pigs fly, they mean that they will never clean their room.

The ball is in your court. 

The idiom “the ball is in your court” is commonly used in various situations where one person has taken the initiative, and now it’s up to the other person to make a move.

The origin of the phrase can be traced back to tennis. In tennis, the player who serves the ball has the power to control the game. Once the ball is returned, the other player can take control of the game. Hence, “the ball is in your court” indicates the other player’s turn to make a move.

This phrase has been adopted in other areas of life to convey a similar message. For instance, if you are waiting for a response from someone after you have presented a proposal to them, you might say, “I have presented my proposal, and now the ball is in your court.”

Read Also: English Words With Same Spelling and different Meaning

A chip on your shoulder

A chip on your shoulder refers to someone who is easily offended or grudges against someone or something. 

The origin of the phrase is believed to have originated in the United States in the early 19th century. It is said that back then, young men would place a wood chip on their shoulder and dare others to knock it off. If someone did knock it off, it would lead to a fight. This practice was often done to prove one’s toughness or settle disagreements.

Regardless of the origin, the modern meaning of the phrase is clear: someone who has a chip on their shoulder is easily offended or holding onto a grudge. 

For example, let’s say someone grew up in a broken home with absent parents. They may develop a chip on their shoulder and feel resentful towards people who had a stable upbringing. They may become easily offended when someone remarks about their family situation, or they may hold onto a grudge against someone who they feel has had it easier in life.

Get cold feet 

The idiom “get cold feet” means suddenly becoming nervous or frightened about doing something, especially something significant. 

Some theories suggest that it may have come from the physical sensation of feet becoming cold and numb when someone is scared. Others believe that it may have originated from soldiers attempting to escape from the battlefield by pretending to be dead, which would cause their feet to become cold.

Regardless of its origins, the idiom is commonly used today to describe a situation in which someone suddenly becomes hesitant or fearful about doing something they had previously agreed to. This can happen in various contexts, from social situations to work-related tasks.

For example, imagine you have been preparing for a job interview for weeks. You have researched, rehearsed your answers, and feel confident in your abilities. But as the day of the interview approaches, you begin to feel nervous and intimidated by the prospect of being in the hot seat. Suddenly, you question whether you are qualified for the job and should even bother going to the interview. In this scenario, you would be experiencing cold feet.

Cut corners

Cutting corners means doing something quickly, cheaply, or easily without putting in the proper effort or following the correct procedures.

For example, you’re cutting corners if you’re trying to paint a room in your house and decide to skip the prep work, such as filling in holes and sanding rough patches. While this may save you time and effort in the short term, it can lead to a shoddy paint job that will show imperfections and may need to be redone sooner than if you had done it properly.

Couch potato

‘Couch Potato’ refers to a person who spends a lot of time sitting and watching TV. It is often used to describe someone as lazy, inactive, and lacking motivation. A couch potato is someone who has no interest in physical activities and spends most of their time on the couch, watching TV or playing video games.

The term “couch potato” was first coined in the 1970s. It was originally used to describe someone addicted to television who spent all their time in front of the screen. 

For example, imagine a person who spends their entire day sitting on the couch, watching TV, and eating junk food. Such a person can be referred to as a couch potato. They are inactive, unproductive, and do not engage in physical activity.

Read Also: Best Tongue Twisters for English Pronunciation Practice

Back to square one

The phrase “back to square one” describes a situation where you must start over from the beginning, often due to a setback or failure. It can be used in personal and professional situations and is a common phrase in many English-speaking countries.

The phrase’s origin is unclear, but there are a few theories. One theory is that it comes from early radio and television broadcasts of sports games, where the field or court was divided into numbered squares for the benefit of the listeners. When a player made a mistake, they would be sent back to the first square, or “square one.”

For example, imagine you’ve been working on a research paper for weeks. You’ve done all the necessary research, writing a rough draft, and spent hours editing and revising. But when you turn it in, your professor tells you it’s not up to par, and you need to start over. With all that hard work and effort wasted, you might feel like you’re back to square one.

Barking up the wrong tree 

Barking up the wrong tree describes situations where people pursue the wrong course of action or make a mistake.

The origin of this idiom can be traced back to the practice of hunting. In the past, hunters used dogs to track and catch animals. When a dog would bark at a tree, it was often assumed that the animal they were hunting was hiding in that tree. However, sometimes the dog would bark at the wrong tree, indicating the animal was not there. This led to the phrase “barking up the wrong tree.”

Today, this idiom can be used in a variety of situations. For example, if someone accuses the wrong person of a crime, they are barking up the wrong tree. Similarly, if a project manager insists on a particular course of action unlikely to succeed, they may be barking up the wrong tree.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too is often used to describe a situation where someone wants to have two incompatible things simultaneously. In other words, you can’t have everything you want.

The origins of this idiom can be traced back to the 16th century. It was first recorded in a letter written by Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, to Thomas Cromwell, in 1538. The letter reads, “A man cannot have his cake and eat his cake.” The phrase’s original meaning was that once you have eaten your cake, you no longer have it. However, over time, the meaning has shifted to the impossibility of having everything you want.

For example, Imagine you’re a student who wants to excel academically but also wants to party every night with friends. Now, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t expect to party every night and still expect to perform well in your studies. Both options are contradictory and cannot coexist. If you choose to party every night, your studies will suffer; if you prioritize your studies, you’ll have to give up some of the fun.

Read Also: Famous English Proverbs With Their Meaning

Two peas in a pod 

Two peas in a pod is often used to describe close friends, siblings, or even romantic partners who share a lot in common.

The phrase is believed to have originated in the 16th century when it was used to describe two identical grains in a seed pod. Over the years, this expression has evolved to describe people who share a close resemblance or are very similar.

When we say that two people are “two peas in a pod,” we mean they share many similar characteristics. They may have the same interests, personality traits, or physical appearance. These two people may have a strong bond and understand each other well.

For example, two best friends who love the same music, have the same sense of humor and enjoy the same hobbies could be described as “two peas in a pod.” They may finish each other’s sentences, have inside jokes, and share a deep understanding of each other.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. This is an expression that many people have heard before but may not fully understand. Essentially, this idiom means having something certain is better than risking it all for something that might not be achievable. 

The phrase originated from the sport of falconry, where a bird that was caught and in hand was considered a valuable prize. The birds in the bush were the ones that had yet to be caught and were considered less valuable. 

This concept can be applied to many aspects of life. For example, consider a job offer that is currently on the table, but you are hesitant to accept. You may be tempted to hold out for a better offer, but there is no guarantee that one will come. In this case, it may be better to take the currently available job offer and have something secure rather than risk losing it all by waiting for a better opportunity.

A penny for your thoughts

A penny for your thoughts is a common idiom often used to ask someone what they’re thinking about. 

The origin of “A penny for your thoughts” can be traced back to medieval England, where it was common practice for people to pay for information. If someone wanted to know what was happening around them, they would have to pay a fee to get the latest news. This fee was often just a penny, a small amount of money even back then.

Today, “A penny for your thoughts” is a popular phrase used in various situations. For example, imagine you’re conversing with a friend, and they suddenly go quiet. You might say, “Hey, are you okay? A penny for your thoughts.” This would let your friend know you’re concerned about them and want to know what’s happening in their head.

To Conclude

Incorporating idioms into your everyday conversations is a fantastic way to boost your fluency in English and sound more like a native speaker. Idioms cover various topics and situations so that you can use them in various contexts. Don’t hesitate to give them a try and witness the impact they can have on your communication skills. You can use idioms easily and confidently with consistent practice, leaving a lasting impression on those around you. If you want to further refine your English language skills, try Zoundslike. This free language polishing app can help you easily improve your English skills and speak like a native with confidence. Don’t hesitate. Download now and start mastering the language today.


Q.1 Do native English speakers use idioms?

Yes, native English speakers frequently use idioms in their everyday conversations. Idioms are expressions or phrases with a figurative meaning different from their literal interpretation. They add color, creativity, and depth to the language, making conversations more engaging and expressive.

Q.2 What are native idioms?

Native idioms are expressions or phrases unique to a particular language or culture. They are figurative and often carry a meaning different from the literal interpretation of the words used. Native idioms reflect a specific language’s linguistic and cultural nuances, and understanding them is important for effective communication and cultural fluency. 

Q.3 How many idioms do native speakers know?

The number of idioms that native speakers know can vary greatly depending on their level of education, exposure to different cultures and languages, and personal interests. However, it is safe to say that most native speakers have a vast knowledge of idioms and use them frequently in their daily conversations. It is estimated that there are over 25,000 idiomatic expressions in the English language alone, and native speakers have likely encountered and learned many of them throughout their lives.

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