Idioms in Spoken English

by Greg and Ivy on November 18, 2008

People often use idioms in spoken English.  If you can learn to understand their meaning and learn how to use them, it can really boost your spoken English skills.

What’s an idiom?

First of all, you may be wondering…what’s an idiom? Well, an idiom is a phrase (group of words) where the exact meaning is not easily understood from the words used. We’ll show you what we mean with an example…

Photo credit: Hannah Boettcher

Example: Cost (someone) an arm and a leg‘. Can you guess the meaning of this idiom?

Let’s imagine that your friend is showing you his new mobile phone (cell phone).

You: “How much did you pay for it?”
Your friend: “It cost me an arm and a leg!”
Is the meaning clearer to you now? When you look up the meaning of the idiom in a dictionary, you’ll find that it means very expensive.  Did you guess it right?

You can also use this idiom in a sentence like this:
The trip to Paris is going to cost me an arm and a leg.  I’ll have to save up for it!”

How to learn idioms…

Three things to remember when learning idioms:

  1. Learn the meaning of the new idiom in English that you already understand – this helps you to get the full and actual meaning of the idiom, without an approximate translation.
  2. Learn how to use the idiom in a particular situation (look at an example) – if you don’t know how to use the idiom, it’s useless to you.  It’s better not to use it if you can’t use it well.
  3. Start using the idiom in conversation with others as soon as possible- ‘use it or lose it!’ – if you don’t start using it immediately you’ll soon forget it, and all the time you spent learning it would have been wasted.

We’ll be looking at some of the commonly used idioms, in a series of articles about idioms.  Keep visiting the site for more idioms…

While you’re here, see if you can add another short dialogue that uses the idiom, cost (someone) an arm and a leg‘, in the comments section below…

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

nancy November 24, 2008 at 1:14 am

Dear Greg and Ivy
Hi, I find that the English idioms are as humourous as chinese idioms! I feel they are very interesting!

nancy November 24, 2008 at 1:16 am

I will keep looking! I’m looking forward to the new idioms!

nancy November 25, 2008 at 4:32 am

Yesterday, when all of my roommates came back at night, we had a talk. When it came to us talking about our parents, I made a joke. I said, “Our college studies will cost our parents an arm and a leg !” At first we all thought it was a bit funny. However, later we felt a touch of sadness. At that moment, we made up our minds to work hard forever!

muhammad younas December 21, 2008 at 2:30 am

important & interesting

Greg and Ivy Cook January 8, 2009 at 6:08 am

Hi Muhammad, We’re happy that you find this series important and interesting. Please let us know if you’d like us to feature any particular idiom.

Greg and Ivy Cook January 15, 2009 at 4:57 am

Good work, Nancy. Your example is a good one. We’re sure that your hard work would be a good reward for your parents. Maybe you can buy your parents a few things that cost an arm and a leg!

Greg and Ivy Cook January 15, 2009 at 4:58 am

Nancy, we’ll keep putting up posts on new idioms. We’re really happy that you’re looking forward to these.

liaqat sarmachar October 4, 2009 at 2:23 am

very nice idom and spoken english it is very good idom

Greg and Ivy Cook October 4, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Thank you Liaqat, we hope to add more to this section soon.

Lili February 13, 2010 at 8:29 am

What a nice website to improving English.

Me: How much was your wedding ring?
My friend: It did cost my husband an arm and a leg.

By the way, may I ask what ‘s the most important thing in learning English? I found there are so many things that we need to improve and it is quite easy to lose myself.

Tun February 15, 2011 at 5:12 am


punnaiah choudary April 13, 2011 at 1:14 am

girl:how you came to the college?
boy:by bike
girl:it was out of the blue,who gave this bike?
boy:my father buy for me.
girl:what is the cost of this bike?
boy:it’s cost an arm and a leg

Greg and Ivy Cook May 17, 2011 at 3:40 am

Hi Punnaiah, it’s good to get your contribution. It’s particularly good because you have used a couple of idioms in it. Well done. Hope you didn’t mind us correcting it…

girl:how did you come to the college?
boy:by bike
girl: You must have got the bike out of the blue. Only yesterday you were saying that you had to walk to college. Who gave you this bike?
boy:My father bought it for me.
girl:what is the cost of this bike?
boy:It’s a real special bike. It cost an arm and a leg.

Greg and Ivy Cook May 17, 2011 at 3:46 am

Thank you.

Greg and Ivy Cook May 17, 2011 at 3:51 am

Hi Lili

That’s a really good example. I guess the trick is to learn English without knowing you are learning it. In other words, if you create an English environment around you, you will be learning all the time. So creating an English environment is the most important thing in learning English.

ashik August 26, 2011 at 6:12 am

Bob: Hey alex.., you look awsome in this dress.
Alex:Thanks man.. this cost me an arm and a leg.
Bob: Its worth for it.

Greg and Ivy Cook April 20, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Hi Ashik

That’s a good use of ‘an arm and a leg’. The last sentence should be, “It’s worth it”.

Rijesh March 9, 2013 at 9:26 am

Eric : Tom, I can’t help living with out her. How may I get her love?
Tom: It’s time for you to gift her something that costs an arm and leg !!

Khalilrahman June 2, 2013 at 7:37 am

Hi Greg and Ivy.
The efforts you are making for us to learn English is appreciatable
thank you both

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