Knowledge base

American Idioms That Will Help You Sound Like a Native Speaker

American idioms are an integral part of American English. If you want to understand Americans better and sound more like a native speaker, you should learn common idioms.

Some American expressions and idioms have analogs in other languages. So if there are similar expressions in your native language, you may guess their meaning. 

But still, most idioms can’t be translated literally. 

In this article, you find nine common phrases that US people put to use. Learn them today and hone your English skills.

American phrases: peculiarities of US English 

Before we start talking about idioms, let’s clarify how American English words and US English, in general, differ from British, Canadian, and Australian dialects.

Spelling and grammar

American English (AmE) is a “simplified” version of British English (BrE):

  • US spelling is simpler than UK spelling: 
    • Flavor (AmE)  vs. Flafour (BrE)
    • Memorize (AmE)  vs. Memorise (BrE)
    • Traveled (AmE)  vs. Travelled (BrE)
  • Americans use “do” for questions and negative sentences when verb “have” may be used. 
    • Americans say: “Did he have an opportunity to ask her out? No, he didn’t.”
    • British people say: “Had he an opportunity to ask her out? No, he hadn’t.”
  • The phrasal verbs are more common in US English:
    • figure out = understand
    • look through = read or examine quickly
    • hold off = restrain
  • US English allows “he” after “one”. Such sentences are not used in British English. 
    • One never knows what he can do until he tries.
  • Common idioms in USA differ from idioms in England. Pretty often, they include simpler words or more modern expressions.
    • Put in your two cents’ worth (AmE) vs. Put in your tuppence worth (BrE) – means “your opinion”
    • Sweep it under the rug (AmE) vs. Sweep it under the carpet (BrE) means “ignore a problem”
    • Beating a dead horse (AmE) vs. Flogging a dead horse (BrE) means wasting time and effort.

The influence of immigrants

You may be wondering why American English is simpler in terms of spelling, grammar, and pronunciation than other dialects. Well, there are a few factors that influenced US dialect and idioms. And the most important one is immigrants.

As you probably know, the USA has a larger immigrant population than any other country worldwide. In 2015, the number of immigrants reached 47 million people. 

Naturally, many people who came to America from non-English speaking countries found it challenging to learn sophisticated British English. With the pass of time, English language was simplified, and it got easier for immigrants and locals to communicate with one another. 

Common American sayings and their meanings

Are you excited to expand your English vocabulary? Here is a list of popular American idioms for you:

  • To flip the script 

This idiom means “to reverse usual or existing positions in a situation”. This phrase may come in handy when you want to say that someone has done something unexpected or revolutionary, and that changed the situation upside down.

The goalkeeper missed a penalty kick, and that flipped the script. 

This idiom has multiple meanings. When used at the end of a conversation, it is to be interpreted as “see you after goal will be completed”. Many linguists believe that this American English slang originated from the Apollo 8 mission, which took place in 1968. It was the first time a human stepped into “the other side” of the moon.

We are 10,000 feet up! I jump out of this plane now, and you jump right after me. See you on the other side!

C:\Users\Капитан Америка\Desktop\nasa-UeSpvB0Qo88-unsplash.jpg

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

  • Out of pocket (behavior)

The idiom “Out-of-pocket” applies to behavior when a person is doing or saying something inappropriate or insulting. 

Claris was acting out of pocket at a party! She was drunk and tried to flirt with my fiancé! 

  • Think outside (of) the box

It’s one of the most widely used American idioms expressions. It means to think innovatively and creatively. A person who thinks outside the box is a person who approaches problems in a non-traditional way and finds unordinary solutions. 

Are you an “outside-the-box thinker”? Make sure to specify that in your CV. It will increase your chances of getting a job in a US company.

We are looking for a marketer who thinks outside the box and has outstanding problem-solving skills. 

C:\Users\Капитан Америка\Desktop\diana-parkhouse-H8sqvuLE2CQ-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash

  • Look like a million bucks 

It’s an informal saying, which Americans use to compliment someone who looks good.

Adele looks like a million bucks since she lost 50 pounds.

Screenshot source: https://www.instagram.com/adele/

Funny American idioms to learn

Some American sentences may sound weird if you translate them literally. Here is a list of bizarre and strange idioms that US people use in everyday life:

  • Dressed to kill

You can use this idiom to describe someone who wears fashionable and sophisticated outfits to impress other people.

Diana always wants to be center-stage. I can bet she’ll be dressed to kill at John’s birthday party.

C:\Users\Капитан Америка\Desktop\9d4e4f9db4ad0a7e33cc646bfe150fa2.jpg

Screenshot source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/633459503839869686/

  • Let the cat out of the bag 

This saying is about “allowing a secret to be known”. If someone has asked you to keep a secret, but you haven’t kept it, you can say that you have let the cat out of the bag.

Melanie didn’t want Mark to know about her pregnancy. But it seems I let the cat out of the bag by telling Mark that Melanie visited her doctor yesterday. 

C:\Users\Капитан Америка\Desktop\manja-vitolic-gKXKBY-C-Dk-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Manja Vitolic on Unsplash

  • Be a Karen 

It’s listed among the newest American slang phrases.  In 2020, “Karen” has become a widespread meme, which references a specific type of white, privileged, middle-class woman, who is “selfish and annoyingly entitled” and who demands to “speak to manager”. 

The idiom “To be a Karen” means to be annoying and argue with managers and service providers for no reason. Today, this idiom is used both online and offline.

Don’t be a Karen! This soup is not that cold! You don’t need to argue with a waiter about that!

Screenshot source: https://www.instagram.com/p/CRVFYO-rPEB/

  • Not one’s cup of tea

This is one of the most common American phrases. We can interpret it as “not what one likes or is interested in”. You may use this idiom when talking about interests and personal preferences. 

CrossFit is not my cup of tea. I prefer to practice yoga rather than do high-intensity training.

Marketing is not my son’s cup of tea. He is more into web design.

Wrapping up

Before traveling to America for business or pleasure, you should figure out how US dialect differs from other dialects and learn the most common idioms. It lets you improve your language competency, smooth your communication with native speakers, better understand American slang conversation, and avoid awkward situations.