5 American idioms that you need to know

A few weeks ago we shared our video on common British idioms. Blonde and dark haired student together - croppedNow INTO Marshall University’s Ashley has listed some popular American idioms that often confuse international students…

English can be difficult – there are so many words that sound the same but have different meanings, plus the spelling can be tricky too. But one of the most challenging parts is idioms – especially when they don’t seem to make any sense!

Here are 5 of the most common ones you’ll hear in the US:

1. For the heck of it
Scenario: Your mother is questioning why you and your friends want to drive across the USA wearing cowboy hats.
They say: “Why do you want to drive across the USA wearing cowboy hats?”
You say: “Just for the heck of it”.
You mean: I don’t have a firm reason but I want to do it anyway.

Students sitting on wall2. Broke
Scenario: Your friend wants you to go on a hot-air balloon ride but you haven’t got enough money.
They say: “Let’s go on this hot-air balloon! Tickets are $300.”
You say: “I can’t, I’m broke!”
You mean: I don’t have any money.

3. Under my skin
Scenario: Someone you don’t like has come to talk to you, then walked away.
They say: “Do you not like him?”
You say: “He really gets under my skin.”
You mean: He really annoys me and makes me feel uncomfortable.

4. Dropped the ball
Scenario: Your teacher is talking to you about a group project you did.
They say: “It looks like most people contributed, but Joe’s part wasn’t very good.”
You say: “He really dropped the ball on that section.”
You mean: He made a mistake, especially by being careless and failing to reach a goal.

5. Make a beelineGroup of friends
Scenario: You and your friend are trying to pass through a crowded college hallway.
They say: “Why is the hallway so crowded?”
You say: “As soon as class is over, students make a beeline for the chocolate chip muffins in the cafeteria.”
You mean: They head directly to the cafeteria.

Remember, if someone uses a phrase that you don’t understand, then don’t be shy about asking what it means. You’ll find that people are usually pretty happy to help you learn.

Read an international student’s explanation of more confusing English idioms.

Find out more about studying at INTO Marshall University.

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