Popular English Expressions

Back to News

There are so many idioms and expressions embedded in the English language that it can be really difficult for a non-native speaker to get to grips with them all. But they are a regular and important part of everyday use, so it is good for learners to slowly build up their knowledge. Some expressions have origins that help them make sense, for others it is no longer clear where they came from.  Below are a few such popular expressions:

Bob’s your uncle – this is often compared to the French ‘Voila’. It’s an expression of something coming together, a bit like saying ‘there you have it’.

“I followed the instructions, put it all together, and Bob’s your uncle, I’ve got a new desk.

Taking the biscuit – when something or someone is being stupid or annoying or behaving badly. You strongly object to what is being done or happening.

“It’s bad enough that they want me to work Saturday, but now its Sunday too. That really takes the biscuit.”

Beat around the bush – to avoid or talk around something without getting to the main point.  This saying relates back to hunting, where hunters would beat the bush with a stick to try to get the prey to come out.

“Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you want.”

Biting off more than you can chew – taking on more than you can manage. You can imagine this literally – perhaps a big piece of cake that you enthusiastically put in your mouth but can’t chew or move because of its size!

“I think with this new job, he’s bitten off more than he can chew.”

Barking up the wrong tree – to be mistaken in your understanding or pursuing actions that won’t lead to the desired result. On a literal level, think of a dog who is barking at a tree long after the squirrel has run away!

“The police were getting nowhere with the investigation. I think they were barking up the wrong tree.”

Not the sharpest tool in the box – a less direct way of saying someone is not very intelligent. Being ‘sharp’ is associated with quick wit and being smart. The word ‘tool’ can also be used to mean a fool.

He’s not exactly the smartest tool in the box is he?”

It’s all gone pear-shaped – when something goes badly wrong, or fails. The origins of this expression are not clear, but it is the sense of being misshapen or wrong.

“We were planning a lovely holiday, but it all went pear-shaped.”

Our online English lessons and courses are designed to help your speak English with confidence and also correctly. But we also know it is important to understand local sayings and customs in order to give your spoken English texture and for you to understand more about the culture of the UK and people from the UK.