10 English expressions you need to know

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When learning a new language we usually concentrate on studying the nuts and bolts first - grammar and vocabulary. While this is indeed essential, it's also important to learn idioms, expressions and common phrases when learning languages.

These will help you navigate beyond the grammatically correct, so you'll sound more like a native speaker and get an insight into the culture of the people speaking the language.When learning any new language, phrases and expressions are important, so let’s take a look at some commonly-used English expressions:

1. Best thing since sliced bread

To be fair, this is not necessarily an expression that is used very often, but it has all the more impact when it is used. This “title” should only be awarded to great ideas or innovations, preferably ones that are more genius than the invention of pre-sliced bread. I for one am not too sure what's so great about sliced bread. It's not that difficult to cut up bread, and an unsliced loaf stays fresh for an extra day or two...

2. Challenge accepted

This expression has gained popularity thanks to Neil Patrick Harris’ constant use as Barney Stinson in the TV show "How I Met Your Mother". It can be used in different ways but is most appropriate when someone claims that something is impossible or should not be done for some reason. An example: "You'll never be able to eat all of that cake!" - "Challenge accepted!"



3. Cross that bridge when you come to it

This useful expression is much loved by procrastinators because it is a convenient way to delay or avoid facing a problem! If someone points out a potential future problem, you can simply dismiss them by saying "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it"; literally meaning "I don't want to think about this now. Let's hope it won't happen, but if it does, we'll handle the problem then."

4. Don't put all your eggs in one basket

Got a friend who thinks he’s a budding novelist and is thinking about quitting his day job to write full-time so that he can finish the “novel of the century”? You might want to tell him not to “put all of his eggs in one basket”. Most people probably keep their eggs in the fridge… but this expression is used when we want to caution others not to rely on just one opportunity - to keep their options open. If, however, you’re the writer and your friends say this to you, you should either give up on that novel or find yourself some new friends!

5. Dutch courage

"Dutch courage" is really more of a euphemism for drunken bravery. If you're facing an uncomfortable task you think can only be handled with "Dutch courage" it means you'd rather be drunk (or at least a tiny bit tipsy) while performing said task. This English expression is especially relevant for language learning, as even scientists have now conceded that a few glasses of booze can help with your fluency in any language you've learned. But be careful not to overdo it; complete loss of speech has been linked to extreme drunkenness!

6. In the heat of the moment

Have you ever heard anyone say something happened "in the heat of the moment" and wondered what the temperature had to do with any of it? This expression is used to explain that a decision or action was taken in anger or passion and that, in hindsight, it may not have been the most logical idea or the best choice. It works really well as an excuse if you regret making a rash decision or saying something a bit mean.

7. Keep something at bay

This English expression can be used if you're having a glass of germ-killing whisky or pre-emptive cold and flu medication when you feel a cold coming your way - you'd be trying to keep your cold at bay! And if you end up feeling better and having a few more tumblers of whisky, then lots of water and an aspirin will keep tomorrow's hangover at bay. This expression really works in so many ways...

8. Make a long story short

We all know someone who loves to ramble. They are trying to make a point but instead they:

  • diverge from the point,
  • embellish the story with too much detail,
  • and therefore don’t get to said point.

    Sometimes they might realise what they're doing and quickly interrupt the flow of their babbling by using the expression "to make a long story short". Usually by this point you've stopped listening so it's a good way of getting a quick summary of their story...

    9. Steal someone's thunder

    This English expression is a favourite of Harriet's, our Senior English Language Expert here at busuu. It’s a bit difficult to explain, so let's try with an example: Maybe you have some news that you’re super excited to tell people. If someone else announced their news before yours, they would be stealing your thunder. It also works the other way around. If you had just shared your big news with a group of friends and another friend comes in to share their news, thus interrupting the proper reaction to your news, they'd be stealing your thunder. Not cool.

    Check out this video of Harriet talking about why English expressions are so important when learning to speak a language like a native speaker.



    10. Your guess is as good as mine

    A good expression to finish off this list! If someone asks you a question you can't answer but don't want to say something silly like "I don't know", say this instead: "Your guess is as good as mine". It makes you feel better because you don't have to admit to not knowing the correct answer and you'll make the other person feel great because you assume they can guess as well as you can! How is that not a win-win situation!?

    Try using these expressions when you get a chance in your next conversation with an English speaker. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more expressions, funny idioms and get all our other updates that will help you with your language learning.

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