English uses a lot of idioms, you’ll find them in newspapers, books, business meetings and on the TV. So we decided to write a short series of articles showcasing some of the more popular idioms, along with a little explanation of what they mean !

1. A hot potato


Speak of an issue (mostly current) which many people are talking about and which is usually disputed.

Method to remember the idiom:

Imagine a very hot potato fresh from the oven, you pick it up ouch! It’s extremely hot. You throw it to someone else ouch! They throw it to someone else, who passes it on again. This imagery is also used to describe a situation where one topic gets passed on from one person to another and everyone gets to put in their own opinion: passing the hot potato.


  • Electricity is a political hot potato and it’s becoming more of a problem.
  • The submarines became such a political hot potato that nobody wouldagree to build them.
  • Costs to the environment is unconscionable, and it would be a social and political hot potato.

2. A penny for your thoughts


A way of asking what someone is thinking

Method to remember the idiom:

This literally means « What’s on your mind? (Usually said to someone who is looking pensive or stressed.) The saying is from a time when the British penny was worth a significant amount of money. By offering money you convince someone to divulge their secrets.


  • For several minutes they sat silently, then finally she looked at him and said, “A penny for your thoughts, Walter.”

3. Actions speak louder than words


People’s intentions can be judged better by what they do than what they say.

Method to remember the idiom:

Think of a famous person from history like Jeanne d’arc or Alexander the great, do we remember the things they said? Or the things they’ve achieved? Many people are usually remembered or judged by what they did, not the words they used.


  • You have to prepare for what your opponents could do, not what they say they’ll do, because actions speak louder than words.
  • Of course the government have made all sorts of promises but as we all know, actions speak louder than words.

4. Add insult to injury


further a loss with mockery or indignity; to worsen an unfavourable situation.

Method to remember the idiom:

If you hurt someone, that’s a bad thing. But if you then add an insult to that as well, then you’re just being mean.


  • My car barely started this morning, and to add insult to injury, I got a flat tire in the driveway.
  • First, the basement flooded, and then, to add insult to injury, a pipe burst in the kitchen.

5. An arm and a leg


Very expensive or costly. A large amount of money.

Method to remember the idiom:

It is easy to imagine an item so expensive that it costs not only money but various body parts as well just to afford them!


  • Everything the restaurant offers tastes good, and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

6. At the drop of a hat


Meaning: without any hesitation; instantly.

Method to remember the idiom:

In the 19th century it was occasionally the practice in the United States to signal the start of a fight or a race by dropping a hat or lowering it downward while holding it in hand. The quick response to the signal found its way into the language for any action that begins quickly without much need for prompting.


  • John was always ready to go fishing at the drop of a hat.
  • If you need help, just call on me. I can come at the drop of a hat.

7. Back to the drawing board


When an attempt fails and it’s time to start all over.

Method to remember the idiom:

Sometimes all the ideas go wrong and you have to return to the sketch pad and start on a fresh white page.


  • It didn’t work. Back to the drawing board.
  • I flunked English this semester. Well, back to the old drawing board.

8. Ball is in your court


It is up to you to make the next decision or step

Method to remember the idiom:

When playing someone in a game of tennis, you can’t make the next move until the opponent hits the ball back in your court. In business and in life sometimes the ball is out of your court and you have to see what the other player has decided to do before you can continue.


  • I can’t do anything as long as the ball is in John’s court.
  • Which direction will you go from here? The ball is in your court

9. Barking up the wrong tree


Looking in the wrong place. Accusing the wrong person

Method to remember the idiom:

The phrase is an allusion to the mistake made by dogs when they believe they have chased an animal up a tree, but it may have escaped by leaping from one tree to another. The phrase means to mistake one’s object, or to pursue the wrong course to obtain it.

When you make an assumption or if you find yourself blaming someone who is innocent, you, unfortunately, are the barking dog.


  • If you think I’m the guilty person, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
  • The hitters blamed the team’s bad record on the pitchers, but they were barking up the wrong tree.

10. Be glad to see the back of


Be happy when a person leaves.

Method to remember the idiom:

Some people in life will walk away and it’s a tragedy, however, sometimes it’s a relief. When you speak about being glad to see the back of someone or something, it means you’re relieved of not having to deal with or face that person or situation any more.


  • She was an absolute pain when she stayed with us and we were both really pleased to see the back of her.
  • I’ll be glad to see the back of this thesis. It’s been going on far too long.