5 English Idioms Explained

Idioms are used commonly in English, as in many other languages around the world. The particular phrases used vary in popularity from country to country. The examples given below are most common in the UK, but may similarly be heard in America, Australia, Canada, or New Zealand. Learn to speak like a local by mastering some popular English idioms.

“Actions speak louder than words”

“Actions speak louder than words” refers to the idea that people’s intentions are judged better by what they do, as oppose to what they say.

This saying is originally attributed to Abraham Lincoln who wrote in the 1736 work Melancholy State of Province: “Actions speak louder than words, and are more regarded.”

You may say that you feel a certain way about something, but the best way to show it is through your actions.

Example sentence: “They said they were sorry, but actions speak louder than words”.

“Bob’s your uncle”

‘Bob’s your uncle’ means the same as “and there it is” or “and there you have it”.

Someone might say it to end a set of instructions or when the desired result is reached. It is used similarly to to the phrase “et voila” in French.

The expression is thought to have originated in 1887 when British Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil — “Bob” for short — appointed his nephew to a particularly easy, well paid job.

People asked “How did the nephew get the job?”

Well, literally, Bob’s his uncle!

“Hit the nail on the head”

This phrase is used when something is said that is 100% correct or describes something perfectly.

It is believed that is phrase comes from carpentry. A good carpenter would hit the nail directly on the top — the head — meaning that the nail would go in easily. The carpenter who could “hit the nail on the head” was accurate with their aim.

Example sentence: “He hit the nail on the head when he said that the problem with the car was in the engine.”

“Full of beans”

This expression is used to describe someone that is particularly energetic or lively. There’s a few different theories as to where it came from.

Some people believe it originated in Roman times when people would feed beans to their horses, in order to give them more energy.

The other more modern explanation comes from coffee beans and the energy that the caffeine they contain gives you.

Example sentence: “The dog hasn’t stopped running around this morning. He’s certainly feeling full of beans!”

“Beat around the bush”

When someone is “beating around the bush” they’re discussing a subject without getting to the main point or speaking in a roundabout, indirect way.

The origins of this phrase date back to the 15th century. Whilst out hunting birds, wealthy hunters would hire people to beat bushes and trees with large sticks in order to scare the birds into the air, making them easier to hit.

Example sentence: “Politicians never speak clearly. They always beat around the bush.”