There are no fewer than a thousand phrases that people commonly use in speech. They are both idioms and references to cultural icons – typically movies and TV shows that made such an impact that most people have seen them.
It is not easy to come up with a comprehensive list, but these are among just some of the phrases that you should know if you want to understand and speak like native speakers.
Two wrongs don’t make a right.
This is for people that justify doing something bad by pointing out something bad that someone else has done. Instead of responding with their own sin, they should do the right thing!
When in Rome, do as the Romans.
This means that you should blend into your environment by taking cues from the people around you. If you are among people that start to sing and dance with no reason, join them.
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Apparently, people are really interested in Romans. This saying means that great things take time to develop. It is often used when someone is discouraged, to remind them to keep going.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
This means that you should not make immediate judgments about something. Instead of deciding whether or not you want to read a book just by looking at the front, you need to actually consider some of its content before dismissing it.
No man is an island.
An island is cut off from other places because you have to cross an ocean to get to it. People, however, affect each other regardless of their relationships to each other.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
This means that a situation that someone knows about will get more attention. If you have a problem but do not make noise and draw attention to it, no one will try to fix it.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
This means that when things get tough and times are hard, the people who make it are the ones who barrel down, gather their energy, and push forward.
Kill two birds with one stone.
To kill two birds with one stone means to achieve two aims with one action. For example, if you get a great grade on your test, you improve your grades and also make your parents proud of you.
It takes two to tango.
This is used when people are blaming just one person for something, to remind them of the guilt of other people. This is because it often takes approval from multiple people and parties to do that thing. For example, if someone is pregnant, it took a man and a woman to get that.
To be or not to be: that is the question.
This quote is taken from Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. It is part of a speech given by Hamlet, where he is deciding whether or not he wants to commit suicide. When someone says this, they mean that they are thinking about a big decision, and are not sure what to do.
Pull yourself together.
This means that you need to focus and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Some people tend to stop what they are doing to pity themselves, but they actually need to keep pushing.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
This means that power, if someone can do anything they want, will make even the greatest person a complete dictator or tyrant.
All’s fair in love and war.
For this idiom, love and war allow for you to do things that would, in other circumstances, be considered illegal or unethical. For example, you normally should not interfere with your friends’ relationships. However, if you do something out of love for them, someone could say this to demonstrate you should not be blamed.
Time will tell.
This means that you need more time to determine whether something is good or bad. This is typically used when you talk about a tough decision that you made.
Great minds think alike.
When someone else happens to have the same idea as you, you can complement that person by saying they are a great mind.
The early bird catches the worm.
The idea here is that you need to act early to get what you want and need. If you are the first bird to look for worms, you will be the one to catch one!
Of course, there are many more phrases and idioms that are “famous” in English. If you hear something used on TV, for example, you should try to understand what it means!