7 English Idioms You Should Know

Idioms are one of the best indicators of your path to fluency in a language. It can be extremely confusing when you hear an idiom for the first time, as the words seem to have nothing to do with each other at all.


Don’t get stuck in language limbo! Here are 7 common English idioms that you may hear in the boardroom or on the street:


Bite the bullet

Don’t worry, this doesn’t involve weapons at all, although it used to. If you “bite the bullet“, it means you endure something that might be unpleasant. This idiom comes from the practice of supposedly having soldiers bite down on a bullet while undergoing surgery without anesthesia. Pretty unpleasant, huh?


So the next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, your best option may just be to bite the bullet and go forward with it.


A dime a dozen

Do you know the tongue twister “She sells seashells by the seashore”? Well, she might be selling those shells for “a dime a dozen“. A dime a dozen refers to anything you can get a lot of cheaply. You’ll usually hear it in the context of, “Plates from IKEA are a dime a dozen.


If you’re on a budget for your next project, finding something for a dime a dozen could be a great help!

All ears

If someone says that they’re “all ears“, they really don’t mean it literally- they’re just listening very closely. Or maybe they were daydreaming in the meeting for a moment, but want to tell you that now you have all of their attention.


Either way, the next time you want to impress someone with your idiom knowledge (and show how much you were paying attention), whip out the good old, “I’m all ears!


Back to the drawing board

Sometimes if a project looks like it might not work, you may need to “go back to the drawing board“. This means you need to start planning all over again.


You may or may not have a literal drawing board handy, but sometimes starting from the ground up a second (or third!) time can reveal something you hadn’t seen before!


‘Back to the drawing board.’ Isn’t the drawing board the place where all the best work happens? It’s not a bad thing to go back there. It’s the entire point.”

-Seth Goding


Bite off more than you can chew

You know how once in a while, that steak looks so good and so tasty that you take a much bigger bite than you can actually chew? Well, you can also “bite off more than you can chew” when it comes to work.


Think about if you actually can take on that extra assignment, or if it will just leave you feeling drained and overworked. Biting off more than you can chew might be fine when it comes to your dinner, but not to your work!

Burn the midnight oil

Speaking of working a lot, have you ever “burned the midnight oil“? If you burn the midnight oil, you’re working late into the night to finish something. This idiom refers to a time before electric lighting when people would use oil lamps for light.


Try and manage your work so that you don’t bite off more than you can chew and end up burning the midnight oil (too often)!

Chew the fat

Aren’t those idle conversations by the coffee machine lovely? You know, the ones where you might be talking to your colleagues about what’s going on in their lives. Nothing too serious- just getting to know someone. Is so, you may enjoy “chewing the fat” with people.


If you’re chewing the fat, you’re engaging in small talk with someone to pass the time. The phrase could come from when sailors had salted meat on board, which would harden. So they would literally chew the fat to soften it up while talking about life at sea.


Take some time to chew the fat with your officemates and get to know someone new this week!



Would you like to learn more idioms? Read Part 2 next week!  Are there idioms that you like to use in your everyday life? Let us know in the comments below!


Erin Duffin lives in Berlin, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and is always all ears!