As you start to get a better understanding of the English language, you should try using idioms in regular discussion. Some are confusing at first, but you'll get used to them quickly, and native speakers you meet along the way will be impressed with your proficiency. To get you started, let's discuss 10 of the most popular US English idioms!
Reading Time: 5 minutes
It’s no secret that the English language is complicated, so you should be proud of yourself if you’ve achieved a decent understanding. Once you’ve got that handled, though, it’s time to bring idioms into your vocabulary. Not only are American English idioms fun expressions to use, but they can help you convey your true emotions! Plus, any native American speakers you know will be deeply impressed when you use these American English idioms in the right situations.
10 US ENGLISH IDIOMS FOR DIFFERENT SITUATIONS
Speaking of the right situations, it’s good to know which emotions certain idioms are tied to. Considering that, we’ve broken down our list by emotional categories to give you a better understanding of each one.
The American English idioms we’ll be discussing today are:
To start, let’s discuss some idioms you can use to express that you’re happy or excited.
People say they’re “pumped up” when they’re very excited about something. It can also be used to express a more general feeling of happiness as well. This expression comes from the fact that pumping something causes it to move, inflate, or get “excited” (in the literal sense).
For example, “I’m really pumped up about that movie! I’ve been waiting for it to come out for years, and it was really good!”.
OVER THE MOON
When someone says they’re “over the moon” about something, it has a similar meaning to “pumped up”. It’s mainly used to convey excitement, but can also be used to describe someone being especially happy with themselves. You can also use the expression “flying high” in a similar manner, although that’s used to convey a more euphoric state of being.
For example, “After my date with him, I was over the moon! He was so nice to me, and he asked me to come for dinner tomorrow”.
Next, let’s cover some clever idioms to use when you’re feeling confused.
FISH OUT OF WATER
You can imagine that a fish would be rather confused if it was taken out of the water, right? This idiom is meant to express that sense of confusion or disorientation experienced when you’re in an unfamiliar scenario. More specifically, this is fitting for when you feel out of place, either geographically, culturally, or socially.
For example, “I moved to the United States from the Netherlands a week ago, and I feel like a fish out of water every time I go to the grocery store”.
OUT OF IT
Saying one is “out of it” expresses a more passive confusion, preoccupation, or feeling of dissociation. For example, if you’re trying to focus on a task, but keep thinking of other things, you could say you’re feeling “out of it”. In a figurative sense, you’re stepping “out” of your situation, since you’re not paying attention to the present moment.
For example, “Sorry for being so out of it lately. I’ve been thinking of my cats all day and can’t focus on anything I’m doing”.
While we hope you don’t have to use these often, here are some idioms to try out when you’re feeling angry.
DRIVE UP THE WALL
This is an expression someone may use to indicate that you’re pressuring them into anger. If you (figuratively) push someone long enough, they’ll eventually hit the wall and… you get the rest. In turn, if you know that saying or doing something makes someone feel angry, and you continue to do it, it can be said that you “drive them up the wall”.
For example, “It really drives me up the wall when my new students ask the same questions and don’t ever listen to the answers”.
This expression is meant to portray a wave of specially active anger. In particular, someone who is about to “flip out” may be about to scream wildly, stomp around, punch and kick, or literally flip something over. In some situations, however, it can be used to convey positive excitement, so be sure to pay attention to context.
For example, “I used to come home past my curfew when I was a kid. Even though my dad expected it, he would still flip out every time!”.
This is another set of idioms we hope you don’t have to use often, but they’re still useful to know when you need them.
DOWN IN THE DUMPS
This is one of the most common expressions used to convey being sad or depressed, especially for longer lengths of time. This expression comes from the notion that someone living in a dump, which is another word for waste landfill, would probably be sad about their situation.
For example, “I was feeling down in the dumps after I didn’t get any job offers this week, so I watched a good movie to make myself feel better”.
When learning English as a second language, you may be confused about how one can feel like a colour. Well, it has more to do with what the colour is associated with. The ocean is blue, and water, in general, is thought of as “blue” in turn, so the colour is often associated with tears. The association between blue and sadness also extends to Blues, a genre of music crafted to express the pain of Black Americans in the Deep South.
For example, “I went to see my favourite band in concert and they had to stop their set after two songs. I’m not mad, really, but I’m feeling pretty blue”.
To cap off our list, here are common idioms that aren’t connected with any particular emotion.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
If someone says that you and someone else are “two birds of a feather”, they’re saying you share something in common, even if you’re very different people. This makes more sense when you consider the full expression, “two birds of a feather flock together”, as it conveys that people with similar interests may approach them in a common manner.
For example, “They may have led different lives before, but watching them talk about music shows they’re two birds of a feather”.
TIP OF THE ICEBERG
Lastly, saying that something is the “tip of the iceberg” is a way to express that it’s just one small, obvious part of something much bigger. This expression is rooted in how icebergs actually work, as we only see the very top of them, while their much larger bodies are hidden under the water.
For example, “I thought the first robbery was a one-time thing, but that crime turned out to only be the tip of the iceberg”.
Not only are idioms fun expressions to use, but they can help you convey your true emotions!
USE THESE AMERICAN ENGLISH IDIOMS TO EXPRESS YOUR EMOTIONS
So, what’s the best way to get comfortable with all these American English idioms? Well, to try them out, of course! They won’t translate to French, Spanish, Dutch, or German very well, so you’ll have to find some American English-speaking friends to help you practice. Don’t be afraid to mess up either! Native speakers misuse idioms all the time, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed if you do it a lot at first. Once you get comfortable using these American English idioms though, you’ll fit right in with native US English speakers!