English Idioms for Everyday Feelings (Use Them Confidently!)
Have you ever found yourself lost in translation when someone uses an English idiom you’ve never heard of before?
It can be frustrating, especially when it happens in the middle of a conversation!
You’re not alone. English idioms can be confusing, especially if you’re not familiar with the culture and language, and the context in which they’re being used.
But knowing English idioms is important – they’re used all the time in everyday conversations, books, songs, and movies.
Using English idioms correctly and in context not only adds more variety and color to your speech, but it’ll help you sound more natural and fluent.
Today I’ll show you how you can learn idioms in a way that’s easy to understand and more memorable so you’ll feel confident using them in your conversations.
If you KNOW a lot of English, but struggle to SPEAK...Learn More about Fluent for Life
What Is an Idiom?
An idiom is a group of words or saying that has a figurative meaning that’s different from the words used.
It doesn’t mean what it literally says.
So when someone says that “It’s raining cats and dogs” — it means that it’s raining heavily.
NOT that animals are falling from the sky.
Idioms are often used to express emotions and feelings in a way that regular words can’t.
The Most Effective Way to Learn and Use Idioms Confidently
When it comes to learning idioms, many students are used to studying long and disconnected lists. That’s how most language learning methods teach English.
Sometimes they’re organized by how popular the idioms are.
|On the same wavelength||To have a shared understanding or perspective|
|Push the envelope||To go beyond the usual boundaries or limits|
|Hit the reset button||To start over or try again from the beginning|
|A wolf in sheep’s clothing||Someone who appears harmless but is actually dangerous|
|As stubborn as a mule||Someone who is very stubborn and refuses to change their mind|
However, this approach isn’t very effective.
Native speakers, on the other hand, learn English from real-life situations, where idioms are connected to a specific context or experience.
This makes it easier for native speakers to understand and use the idioms they hear in everyday conversations.
Here’s an example:
Imagine a little boy sitting at the kitchen table doing his homework. He hears his mom walk in, talking on the phone.
She sounds really upset and uses phrases that he’s never heard before.
“I’m at the end of my rope!” she shouts into the phone.
And then declares: “This is the last straw!”
The boy might know the individual words, but probably has no idea what they mean in this order as a phrase. Yet, he can tell from his mom’s tone of voice that she was feeling angry and frustrated.
So, he equates the phrase with the feeling and the situation in which he heard it. And he will be able to use the idiom even without understanding why the words are organized the way they are.
When you’re at the end of your rope, you can imagine yourself hanging and moving down slowly until there’s no more room to go. It’s the end of the rope.
The last straw is similar. Imagine putting pieces of straw on the back of a camel, one by one. At some point, the weight will be too much, and the camel will collapse. This is “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” or, “the last straw.”
Simply memorizing a list of idioms isn’t enough — you need to learn them in context, with the situations they can be used in, and the feelings they generate.
And that’s how I’ll teach them to you.
Master the Idioms in These 5 Important Situations to Express Yourself Better
By learning idioms in the context they can be used — and the feelings they generate — you learn, remember, and use idioms more effectively.
We’ll focus on these situations:
I’ll give you an example of how the idioms can be used, and then I’ll break down where they come from, as well as explain the images and feelings they convey.
Idioms to Express Anger and Frustration
The following idioms can all be used to describe a person losing their temper or becoming extremely angry.
They all focus on the feeling of anger:
- Fly off the handle
- Blow a fuse
- See red
- Go ballistic
- Makes my blood boil
Fly Off the Handle
“My dad flies off the handle whenever someone criticizes his cooking.“
It was originally used to describe a tool or a machine that became dangerous because of a loose handle.
Imagine someone chopping wood with an axe, swinging it back and forth with a lot of force.
If the axe head isn’t properly secured to the handle, it can suddenly fly off and hurt someone nearby!
You can use this when someone seems to become uncontrollably angry out of nowhere — just like a tool with a loose handle becomes uncontrollable and dangerous.
Blow a Fuse
“My boss blew a fuse when he found out that I accidentally deleted an important file from our system.”
This idiom dates back to the early 1900s when electricity was still a new and unfamiliar concept.
When an electrical system can’t handle the amount of electricity flowing through it — it causes a fuse to blow and the power shuts off. When a fuse blows in your house, it needs to be reset in order to restore the power.
So when someone “blows a fuse,” it means that the pressure they’ve been feeling has been building up for a while, and they are about to have an emotional overload.
“When I saw the dent on my brand new car, I immediately started seeing red, and had to take a few deep breaths to calm down.“
The color red is usually associated with intense emotion. Sometimes it can mean anger, but it can also imply love. But it’s always INTENSE.
Think about how your body reacts when you get angry. Your adrenaline starts pumping, your face turns red, and your heart starts pounding.
You can also imagine that you’re a bull charging at a matador waving a red flag. You see red like the bull, and you charge, without thinking about the consequences.
“The coach went ballistic on the team after they lost their third game in a row.”
This idiom originates from ballistic missiles. They’re launched into the air and then explode when they hit their target.
Imagine someone exploding in anger like a missile. It’s usually a sudden and intense outburst of anger, rather than a slow-building frustration.
There’s also fire in an explosion. Lots of RED and orange colors are associated with it.
Makes My Blood Boil
“When I see people littering on the street, it really makes my blood boil.”
This one is kind of like “seeing red” because both idioms refer to the physical sensations you feel when you’re really angry.
This one’s linked to the idea of boiling water.
You know how when you heat up water, it starts to bubble and boil over the pot?
Well, it’s kind of like that with people’s emotions when they get heated… they can’t contain it anymore and, just like really hot water, the anger all boils over.
So, just picture someone’s blood boiling inside them so much that steam starts to come out of their ears! That’s how intense the anger can get.
Idioms to Express Love
These can all be used to express yourself when you’re in love or describe how you feel about someone you love:
- Have a crush on someone
- Head over heels
- Swept off your feet
- Heart skips a beat
- The apple of my eye
Have a Crush on Someone
“Ever since I met Sarah in class, I can’t stop thinking about her. I think I have a crush on her.”
When you have a crush on someone it means you like them.
You might think about them a lot, or daydream about being with them. Maybe you feel nervous or excited around them.
It’s like having a little spark of excitement inside you that won’t go away. You can also think about “crushing” them with so much attention.
It also means that they don’t know it yet. You haven’t told them how you feel. Which means that they might not feel the same way back!
Heart Skips a Beat
“I was walking down the street when I saw my old crush from high school. My heart skipped a beat!”
Just like some of the anger idioms, this one refers to how your heart beats when you feel excited or nervous, especially when you see someone you like.
It’s a sudden feeling of surprise or excitement that makes your heart beat faster. It might even feel like your heart stopped for a moment!
Head Over Heels
“When Sarah met John, she fell head over heels in love with him. She couldn’t stop thinking about him”
This means to be deeply in love with someone.
Think of it like being so in love that you feel like you’re falling forward and doing somersaults in the air.
When you experience being “head over heels,” you might feel a rush of excitement and even feel a bit dizzy. It can have a sense of urgency as if things are moving quickly (like your body would when doing a summersault).
Swept Off Your Feet
“I wasn’t expecting to fall in love so quickly, but when I met John, he swept me off my feet!”
This one is similar to “head over heels” because it’s used to describe a situation where someone falls in love. You feel as if you have been lifted off your feet and carried away.
It’s usually a sudden and unexpected romantic encounter or gesture that leaves you feeling completely in love.
Imagine being caught in a powerful gust of wind and carried away.
It can be helpful to imagine being picked up and swept away by your lover, unable to resist their charm and desire.
The Apple of My Eye
“I’ve been married to Sarah for 30 years, and she’s still the apple of my eye. I can’t imagine my life without her.”
This idiom originates from biblical times — think about the story of Adam and Eve and the apple they ate.
In the past, people believed that the eye’s pupil was a round, apple-shaped object. They considered it to be the most important part of the eye.
Saying it means that someone is very important and precious to you, like the pupil of your eye.
You can say it to describe your child, partner, best friend, or anyone who holds a special place in your heart. It’s a way of expressing how much you love and cherish them.
Idioms to Express Sadness and Disappointment
If you’re not feeling the happiest, these idioms can help you put your emotions into words:
- Feeling blue
- Down in the dumps
- Crying over spilled milk
- Rain on someone’s parade
- Break someone’s heart
“I’m feeling blue today because I lost my job.”
Just like with “seeing red”, people will understand how you feel automatically.
We associate the feeling of being sad or depressed with the color blue. When you say you “feel blue”, imagine sitting alone in a dark blue room, feeling sad.
If someone tells you they are feeling blue, it usually means they could use someone to talk to or they could use someone to cheer them up.
Down in the Dumps
“I’m sorry I can’t come out tonight, I’m just feeling down in the dumps.”
Think about a garbage dump or landfill, where unwanted things are abandoned and forgotten.
Being “down in the dumps” could mean feeling abandoned or forgotten, like the trash in the dump.
If you’re feeling really low or depressed, it can feel like you’re stuck in a hole or a dark pit, and getting out seems hopeless.
Notice how the lack of color in this one makes us feel sad.
Crying Over Spilled Milk
“It’s no use crying over spilled milk.“
Imagine having a plate of freshly baked cookies in front of you. You’ve been looking forward to eating them all night. You pour yourself an ice-cold glass of milk to drink with the delicious cookies.
Then, you accidentally knock over the glass with your elbow!
The milk spills all over the table.
There’s none left in the fridge, and you can’t put it back into the glass.
So when something goes wrong or you make a mistake, there’s no point in thinking about it more and getting mad at yourself. It’s a way of dealing with disappointment.
It’s like saying:
Yes, it’s unfortunate, but let’s move on and focus on finding a solution or preventing the same mistake from happening again in the future.
Rain on Someone’s Parade
“I’m really proud of my project, so don’t rain on my parade by pointing out all the little mistakes.”
Visualize a parade. Everyone is laughing, dancing, and having fun. The sun is out and the music is playing. Then, all of a sudden, it starts raining!
This idiom is a way of saying you feel happy like you’re at a parade, and you don’t want someone to ruin your mood with their rainy attitude (negativity).
It’s a good idiom to use when you want to ask someone to respect how you’re feeling and let you enjoy the moment.
If someone does “rain on your parade,” you might feel disappointed instead of excited.
Break Someone’s Heart
“I don’t know you anymore. Anakin, you’re breaking my heart.”
— Padme, Star Wars: Episode lll
In that quote, Padme is deeply hurt by her husband’s actions. She can’t believe what he’s done, and in the end, she dies from her broken heart.
Imagine a physical heart being shattered or broken into pieces. While this can rarely happen in real life, the image compares traumatic physical pain with deep emotional pain. While you can’t really die from a broken heart, it has a very symbolic meaning.
It’s used to express deep sadness because of someone’s words or actions — usually when they hurt your feelings or disappoint you.
Idioms to Describe a Success or Failure
These can all be used to express your achievements or failures in a more colorful way:
- Throw in the towel
- Hit the jackpot
- Catch a break
- Back to the drawing board
- Bite the bullet
Throw in the Towel
“After months of trying to fix his old car, Jack finally decided to throw in the towel and buy a new one.”
This idiom originates from boxing.
During a fight, a boxer’s team will throw a white towel into the ring to signal that the fighter is giving up and can’t continue the match.
It’s usually the boxer’s coach who throws in the towel because the boxer is too absorbed in the fight and will want to keep going even if they are losing.
The coach throws in the towel to protect his fighter so he can stop taking damage and come back stronger.
Likewise, it’s usually a friend or family member who tells you “It’s time to throw in the towel.”
It’s a nice way of saying you’ve been working hard for a while, but maybe it’s time to quit and try something else. You might feel defeated and tired like you would after losing a boxing match.
Of course, you can use this in the opposite way to talk about persevering until you reach success:
“There were times when I wanted to throw in the towel, but I kept going for my family.”
Hit the Jackpot
“After years of hard work and dedication, Shelly hit the jackpot when she finally got the lead role in the play.”
This idiom is used to describe good luck when you achieve a BIG win or reward.
“Jackpot” originally comes from the large pot of money that builds up in poker. It eventually became associated with slot machines and gambling.
Imagine you’re pulling the lever of a slot machine in a casino, and you hear the bells and alarms go off as three 7’s line up on the screen. You just “hit the jackpot” and therefore win a lot of money.
But just like poker, which is a game of skill, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was only luck. Like the example above, Shelly “hit the jackpot,” but only after years of hard work and dedication.
Catching a Break
“I caught a lucky break when I found a last-minute ticket to the concert.”
This idiom originally comes from billiards. After breaking the balls, players can get lucky if the balls come to rest in locations that give them better opportunities to sink the balls, ultimately giving them a better chance at winning.
It’s like discovering a shortcut that helps you get what you want quicker and with less effort.
You’ll feel a sense of relief and gratitude that things turned out in your favor. You’re able to “catch a break” from the challenges you’ve been facing.
“Catching a break” feels like you’re getting a gift you really need.
Back to the Drawing Board
“I thought my strategy was perfect, but my boss pointed out some major flaws. So I need to go back to the drawing board.”
This idiom originates from the world of engineering and design — where a drawing board was a necessary tool and the first step for creating plans and blueprints.
When a design failed, the engineer or designer would have to go “back to the drawing board” and start again from scratch.
Imagine standing in front of a drawing board with a plan that has been crossed out with red markers, scribbles, and post-it notes. You need to start over, with a blank slate and create a better plan.
It means you failed this time, but you’re going to try again.
Bite the Bullet
“I really don’t want to work this weekend, but I’ll just have to bite the bullet and get it done.“
This idiom’s origin comes from the battlefield, where soldiers were given a bullet to bite down on while undergoing surgery without anesthesia.
The idea was that biting the bullet would help distract from the pain and keep the soldier from screaming or moving around too much.
Imagine someone clenching their teeth trying to get through a difficult situation, despite the pain or discomfort they may feel.
It means you’re going to have to do something that you don’t enjoy so you can be successful.
Idioms to Express Agreement and Confusion
These can all be used to say you agree, disagree, or say you don’t understand. Notice how they relate to your sense of sight.
- On the same page
- See eye to eye
- In the dark
- A deer in the headlights
- All over the place
On the Same Page
“I’m glad we’re on the same page!”
You use this idiom to let someone know you agree with them.
It likely originated from the idea of people reading from the same page of a book, meaning they all have the same information and understanding.
Imagine you’re in a group meeting, and everyone is looking at the same set of notes or agenda, meaning you all understand and agree on what needs to get done.
It implies that you are working together on some sort of project.
You can also say “We’re not on the same page” if you don’t agree with someone, or they want to do something differently. It’s a very polite way of disagreeing.
To See Eye to Eye
“Jane and Tom see eye to eye on the importance of open and honest communication.”
Imagine two people standing face to face and looking each other in the eye. They’re more likely to be able to communicate effectively and understand each other’s points of view.
It’s like saying, we see things the same way.
It means you agree with someone’s opinion or outlook, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re working together on a project.
In the Dark
“I was completely in the dark about the new project requirements.”
Imagine being in a completely dark room. You can’t see your hand in front of your face. You feel lost and disoriented. The lack of light makes you feel confused and uncertain.
This idiom means you’re unaware of important information and it’s hard to know what move to make next because you can’t see a thing.
A Deer in the Headlights
“He froze like a deer in the headlights when the teacher called on him in front of the whole class!”
You know the feeling when you suddenly get scared and you freeze up? When you’re not sure what to do?
That’s what “like a deer in the headlights” means. It’s like you’re so surprised or scared that you can’t move. It comes from the behavior of a deer.
Imagine it’s a dark night and you’re driving down a winding country road.
Then, suddenly, as you come around the next turn you see a deer standing in the middle of the road. Instead of moving, the deer, who is paralyzed by fright, simply stares at you with its glossy black eyes reflecting the light of your high beams. It’s not moving, even though you’re on a collision course!
When you use this idiom, the person you are describing is like the deer — paralyzed and powerless in the face of a surprising situation.
All Over the Place
“Wow, you’re all over the place today! Can we stick to one topic at a time?”
This idiom means to be disorganized, chaotic, or scattered. It can be used to describe someone’s thoughts or behaviors when they’re unfocused or erratic.
Think about walking into a bedroom and seeing clothes, books, and papers scattered all over the floor, bed, and desk.
When you say someone is “all over the place”, think of their thoughts as being disorganized and chaotic, like the messy bedroom.
If you KNOW a lot of English, but struggle to SPEAK...Learn More about Fluent for Life
The Best Way to Master English Idioms and Sound Like a Native Speaker
You made it to the end. Congratulations!
Learning about the story and the feelings behind each idiom makes it easier to remember and use them in your conversations.
If you can’t quite remember all of the idioms we just went through, save this post to your favorites tab so you can come back to it as a reference. Also, share it with a friend if you found it useful.
This list is by no means exhaustive – there are thousands of idioms to learn! And while you could read through endless lists, there’s a much more effective and easier way to master them.
My Fluent For Life course will not only introduce you to English idioms in real conversations between native speakers, but you’ll also get a proven roadmap to help you reach English fluency and prepare you for real conversations.