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Idioms - Letter A
American English Idioms - Letter A

In this lesson you will learn American English idioms beginning with the letter A. You will learn the definition and study the usage of each idiom.
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Idioms A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Idiom Definition Usage
a basket case  
a bitter pill to swallow  
about time more than long enough It's about time that you returned that book to me.
a breath of fresh air  
absent minded forgetful She is really absent minded.
according to Hoyle Strictly by the rules According to Hoyle, you are not allowed to enter this room.
ACE IN THE HOLE a hidden but effective means of winning a conflict

The expression originates from some forms of the card game poker, in which players have both community cards and private (“hole”) cards in their hands. To have an ace in one’s private hand means that one can win the game without others suspecting ahead of time.
1. The other team thinks they can win this basketball game, but that’s only because we haven’t put our best player in yet. He’s our ace in the hole.

2. It looked like the politician would lose the debate until he brought up his ace in the hole, an argument that nobody could refute.
ACE UP (ONE’S) SLEEVE to have an effective but hidden means to accomplish something

The expression originates from card games like poker, in which players might hide an extra ace up their sleeves to use in case they were losing the game and wanted to cheat.
1. It looks like Joanne is going to lose, but I wouldn’t be too sure. She may have an ace up her sleeve.

2. No matter how many times I think Paul might lose to me in a game of chess, he never does. He always has an ace up his sleeve and wins every game.
ACHILLES’ HEEL a person’s weakness or the vulnerable spot in his or her character

Achilles was a figure in Greek mythology who was invulnerable in battle except for his heel. It was the one weak spot on his body.
1. We’ve got to find his Achilles’ heel if we hope to defeat him.

2. John appears to be a highly respected citizen, but I’m sure he has his Achilles’ heel.
ACID TEST the most crucial or important test of worth

The expression originates from the use of nitric acid on gold to determine whether the gold was genuine.
1. Parents might be willing to buy this new toy for their children but the real acid test is whether or not the children themselves like it.

2. The acid test for laundry soap is not how well it cleans in hot water, but how well it cleans in cold water.
ACROSS THE BOARD equally for everyone, for everything, or in all cases 1. The boss made some people angry. He gave 5% pay raises across the board but some people thought they should have gotten more than others.

2. The car dealership was cutting prices across the board. Every car was on sale, not just a few.

the things that people do (actions) are more important than the things they say (words)

This expression implies that we can learn about a person’s true intentions by looking at what they do rather than what they say.
1. She’s promised to be nicer to her sister from now on, but actions speak louder than words.

2. Every politician will claim that he or she cares about the problems of the average person, but actions speak louder than words.
a day late and a dollar short  
add up be reasonable His excuse didn't seem to add up.
a fish out of water  
a game plan  
ahead of time early We started the meeting ahead of time.
air one's dirty laundry reveal his embarrassing secrets She began to air his dirty laundry at the party.
ALBATROSS AROUND (ONE’S) NECK something or someone that is a burden and difficult to get rid of

An albatross is a large sea bird. The expression comes from the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel T. Coleridge, in which a sailor shoots a helpful albatross with a crossbow, bringing bad luck on the crew of the ship. The other sailors hang the bird around the sailor’s neck as punishment.

Synonym: millstone around (one’s) neck
1. That car costs you so much to repair. It has become an albatross around your neck. Why don’t you get rid of it?

2. I hired my wife’s brother to work in my business but he’s worthless. He doesn’t do anything. He really is an albatross around my neck.
all along the entire time I knew you were seeing someone else all along.
all at once Suddenly All at once, the fans rushed onto the field.
all day long the entire day She has been waiting for the mail to arrive all day long.
all ears  
all in all After considering everything All in all, the meeting was a success.
ALL KIDDING ASIDE speaking seriously 1. That was a good joke, but all kidding aside, we have to get to work now.

2. What you’re telling me sounds unbelievable. All kidding aside, are you serious?
all of a sudden Suddenly All of a sudden, the tornado hit the small town.
all right okay She said that it would be all right for me to come to the party.
all the time continually She asks for money all the time.
ALL THUMBS uncoordinated and awkward, especially with one’s hands 1. I’ve tried to put this toy together according to the instructions, but I’m all thumbs. I can’t seem to get the parts to fit.

2. Peter seems to be all thumbs today. He keeps dropping his tools.
ALL WET wrong to the point of being silly or unbelievable

Compare to: not know beans about (something); out to lunch; for the birds; talk through (one’s) hat
1. He’s all wet if he thinks I’m going to believe his lies.

2. Don’t listen to Maria. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She’s all wet.
ALONG FOR THE RIDE, GO/COME to be present for an activity without taking part in it

The expression suggests that the ride itself is the extent of the person’s participation in the activity, and that the person does not take part in the activity that is the purpose of the ride.
1. Janet’s brothers went up into the mountains to do some fishing. Janet doesn’t fish, but she went along for the ride.

2. I don’t need to do any shopping, but perhaps I’ll come along for the ride if that’s okay with you.
a mile a minute  
an arm and a leg  
another one bites the dust  
a piece of cake  

a person or thing that is precious or loved above all else

Centuries old, this expression stems from the ancient belief that the pupil of the eye was solid and shaped like an apple. The pupil was considered precious since one could not see without it.
1. Richard is so attached to his daughter that he would do anything for her. She’s the apple of his eye.

2. The boy won’t behave in school, but you can’t convince his parents. He’s the apple of their eye.
ARMED TO THE TEETH well-equipped with weapons

The expression suggests having weapons (arms) from one’s toes to one’s teeth.
1. The police won’t enter the bank where the thief is. He’s armed to the teeth.

2. The invading soldiers were armed to the teeth. There was no way the defenders could hope to win.
as a rule Usually As a rule I usually get up at 8:00 AM every morning.
as far as To the extent As far as I know he will be here in a few minutes.
asking for trouble probably going to have a problem He is asking for trouble if he misses another class.
asleep at the switch not alert to the opportunity He missed the chance to apply for the job because he was asleep at the switch.
as long as Provided that As long as you promise to be careful you can borrow my car.

directly or in a straight line, without roads

The expression is used to describe the distance between two points as an airplane or bird might fly, without taking into account the twists and turns in the road.
1. The town is 25 miles from here as the crow flies, but it’s over 40 miles by car.

2. As the crow flies, the airport isn’t very far, but you can’t get there directly. You have to drive around the mountains.
as usual most of the time She forgot to bring her book to class as usual.
as well as in addition to You should bring paper as well as a pen.
as yet Until now As yet, she has not told me about her plans.
at a loss for less than the company paid for them The cars were sold at a loss.
at an end over The long career of the company's president appears to be at an end.
at cross purposes have opposite ways to do something They are at cross purposes and are always arguing about what to do.
at fault to blame The truck driver was at fault in the accident.
at first At the beginning At first she did not want to go but later she changed her mind.
at first blush When first seen At first blush he seemed like a good worker but he is actually lazy.
at heart basically She is a very nice person at heart although many people dislike her.
at home in the house Her shoes are at home.
at last finally I was waiting all morning for her call and at last it came.
AT LOGGERHEADS in strong disagreement, in a quarrel; at an impasse 1. They have been arguing all day about what to do. They really are at loggerheads.

2. John and Richard are at loggerheads about what would be a fair price for the car. John thinks Richard’s price is far too low.
at odds in disagreement He has been at odds with his boss for many weeks now.
at one's beck and call ready to serve him His eldest daughter is always at his beck and call.
at the drop of a hat  
at the end of one's rope at the limit of his ability to cope He is at the end of his rope with this situation.
AT (ONE’S) WITS’ END at a loss about what to do next; in a state of frustration

Synonyms: at the end of (one’s) rope

Compare to: keep (one’s) wits about (oneself); use (one’s) wits; scared out of (one’s) wits

The word wits means mental abilities.
1. When the woman looked around and couldn’t find her little daughter, she looked up and down every aisle in the store until she was at her wits’ end. She was almost hysterical when another customer in the store suggested that she notify the store’s security officer.

2. We can’t seem to persuade our son to stay in school. We have tried every argument we can think of, but nothing seems to help. We don’t know what to do, and we’re at our wits’ end.
attend to take care of The clerk decided to attend to another customer first.
AT THE DROP OF A HAT on any pretext; without needing an excuse or reason They’ll put down their tools at the drop of a hat. 1. Those workmen look for any reason to stop working.

2. Nancy really doesn’t want to stay in her present job. She’ll leave for another one at the drop of a hat.
AT THE END OF (ONE’S) ROPE no longer able to deal with a bad situation

Synonyms: at (one’s) wits’ end
1. I just don’t know what to do with my son. He has misbehaved all day. I’m at the end of my rope.

2. We can’t tolerate that dog anymore. We’re going to give it away because we’re at the end of our rope.
a wolf in sheep's clothing  
AX TO GRIND a hidden reason for wanting something or for not liking someone or something 1. Don’t listen to Claudia when she tells you how bad that teacher is. She has had an ax to grind since he failed her last year.

2. Why do you keep telling me not to buy anything from that store? Do you really think they sell bad products, or do you have some kind of an ax to grind?
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