It is estimated there are about 25,000 idioms in the English language. Before you decide to give up on your quest to learn them, remember that not all of these will be frequent in day to day use, and many will be hugely outdated – just the same as vocabulary. The average person on the street doesn’t use any number of words like the amount you’ll find in even a standard dictionary. So how do you begin with idioms? First, you’ll have to learn them just like you would any phrase, or word. Then listen out for them in series, read as much as you can, and look up uses of the idiom online, in order to see the idiom used in a natural context. Try not to force them, and if you like using idioms, then start out with basic ones (some will be similar in your own language), building up to more complicated ones as you learn more English.

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Here are some of the most common idioms – this time we’re going to look at idioms relating to or using body parts. Many languages use similar idioms, so let’s look at some of the most frequently used in English.

1. To give/lend someone a hand

To help someone

Would you mind giving me a hand with this box? It’s heavier than I thought.

I try to lend a hand where I can, and give money to charities which I have a strong feeling towards.

2. To be all ears

To listen, be listening

If you’ve got any ideas, the management are all ears.

The children were all ears as the teacher read them the story.

3. Break a leg

Wishing good luck (often used in the theatre, where it is considered a bad idea to wish others ‘good luck’!)

Break a leg for your dance recital tomorrow! I know you’ll do well.

Instead of telling the actor to ‘break a leg’, the studio manager wished him luck, and so it was not suprising that the actor tripped over as he went on set.

4. See eye to eye

To agree with someone

I never saw eye to eye with my father when I was a teenager and we would often argue for hours.

Judy sees eye to eye with Richard which is why they are such a great couple.

5. Cost an arm and a leg

To be very expensive

I really like iPhones, but they cost an arm and a leg! Half my month’s salary!

The building work kept going on and on and ending up costing an arm and a leg – more than double the original estimate.

6. Cold feet

To be nervous before a big event, something life-changing (very commonly used before getting married)

Tim got cold feet the day before the wedding, and cancelled the whole thing.

“It’s normal to have cold feet just before you go in the church, but don’t worry – you will be glad you did it!”

Now you’ve read the meanings of these idioms, do the exercise and try to guess the meanings of the common body part idioms.

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Alex Edstrom
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