English Idioms and Phrases

Hey everyone, welcome to today’s blog, which is all about idioms and expressions. And this is very useful because we often use idioms in informal conversation.

This is going to be very good for your speaking fluency if you want to try and use these idioms depending on the situation that you’re in.

The idioms and expressions we will talk about today are all dealing with education.

These are phrases that we have taken from education because they have to do with learning. To do with school. And that’s how they started.

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That’s where they came from. But often you’re able to use them in a variety of contexts, in a variety of situations.

To draw a blank

So, the first one that I have for you, and this is one that it happens to me and that is to draw a blank and when somebody draws a blank means that they have no answer or no response to a question that was asked of them.

Or it could also be used that if you’re trying to think of something and you can’t come up with the answer or you can’t come up with a response. Could then tell somebody you know.

Sorry, right now I’m drawing a blank. I can’t think of an answer. Tony thinks I’m drawing a blank, babe. Peter, I don’t know why I’m drawing a blank on her last name.

Back to the basics

The next expression is back to the basics. And when somebody goes back to the basics, it’s kind of exactly what it says.

You are returning to the beginning, not only that, but you’re going back to the beginning and you’re going to use a traditional method or a traditional approach that was successful in the past.

So often times when you’re going to try something, people like to use new ideas and explore different options, but they don’t always work.

And if they don’t work, then somebody might say, you know, OK, we need to go back to the basics because this other method worked in the past. We need to go back and try it and use that method. So, we’ll go back to the basics. It’s back to the basics. Classic, Itchy and Scratchy.

It’s a little similar to back to the drawing board. In that case, you are also going back to the beginning. But this time you’re going back to the beginning, and you’re starting over because what you did before wasn’t successful.

So, it doesn’t really have to do with the method or approach that you’re using. It just means that you tried something, it didn’t work. We got to go back to the drawing board, and we’ll try it again.

And again, and again and again until we finally are successful. Wow. OK, that’s not going to work. Back to the drawing board. All right, everyone. It’s back to the drawing board. Our boss rejected all of our ideas.


The next idiom is a copycat. So. This is an idiom that comes from education. I think all of us can relate to this.

When you’re studying in school, there are students that cheat and they may copy off of another student. And when you’re copying somebody else, that person can be referred to as a copycat.

They are copying your answers. They’re a copycat. We can also use it in the sense of imitating somebody else if you are copying a person’s movements.

If you’re copying their gestures, if you’re copying the way that they speak, then you could say that yes, they are a copycat because you were yawning.

So, you’re a copycat. I know you wanted one for your hobby shop. The janitor already gave me one. Nobody likes a copycat.

To cover a lot of ground

The next idiom is to cover a lot of ground. And when somebody says you know, OK we’re going to cover a lot of ground, it’s talking about you are covering a range of topics a lot of information.

It’s very common. I think that in a classroom the teacher might say OK throughout the semester we’re going to cover a lot of ground. There’s going to be a lot of different things.

We’re going to research a lot of different things. We’re going to do a lot of topics. We’re going to discuss. We’re going to cover a lot of ground. This idiom applies to school, but it applies to basically anything that you’re learning.

If you’re learning about photography, maybe you’re learning yoga, any type of class, you could say yeah, we’re covering a lot of ground.

In this blog, we’re specifically talking about building your vocabulary, but at the same time, there is so much information that you’re learning about. Advanced vocabulary, idioms, phrasal verbs.

We’re covering a lot of ground. Well, I’ve been picked up for loan sharking and racketeering, but never convicted racketeering. That covers a lot of ground, doesn’t it? We’ve covered a lot of ground. We have to start early. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. 

Show of hands

Then we have show of hands. And this just means when a group of people would raise their hands in order to vote on something or perhaps somebody would like to get information.

I think it’s related back to school, because in school, teachers would ask questions to students and then they would raise their hands. They wanted to give the answer to a question.

This idiom is applicable, I think anytime that you’re giving a presentation in front of another group of people.

Whether it’s at school or work or just in any setting where you’re speaking in front of an audience and you ask them a question and you want them to raise their hand, you want them to be engaged in your presentation.

And then you could just start by saying, OK, show of hands. I hope all of you are raising your hands right now and you’re not drawing a blank.

To drop out of school

Then we have to drop out of school, and this is actually a phrasal verb.

And when somebody drops out of school, it just means that they leave school, they’re not attending anymore and they didn’t finish, they didn’t graduate, they didn’t finish the program that they’re in, and they would drop out of school or drop out of the class or drop out of the program can also use it as a noun and refers to the person as a dropout.

If you say that somebody is a dropout, then that just means that yes, they dropped out of school. They didn’t finish their schooling and finished the program.

Whatever it is they’re learning, they’re a dropout. I heard you dropped out of school. Why did you drop out of school?

You’re a college dropout. I’m a high school dropout. She’s also a police academy dropout.

From the old school

The next idiom has the word school in it, and you could say that someone is from the old school, or someone is of the old school.

And what this means is that a person is holding on to traditional values and beliefs that are not really relevant today or not relevant in the present so often.

I think it might be used in the context of perhaps a work environment and you’re having to work with other people.

And maybe somebody wants to try this old traditional method. They have beliefs that were popular in the past but not so much anymore.

You could say, you know, well this person that they’re from the old school or they’re of the old school.

You could also use it to say that an idea is from the old score or of the old school, holding on to those traditional beliefs not really relevant in the present. 

A for effort

The next phrase is one that I really like and that is just A for effort. In school people often get letter grades ABCD. A is a really good job. If somebody says the phrase A for effort.

Talking about the effort that you put into it, they are recognizing that you put a lot of effort into something, and they would tell you A for effort.

Often, I think it’s said when somebody tries really hard to achieve something to accomplish some goal, but they didn’t quite get there and somebody could tell them, you know, you gave it your best A for effort.

And we can use this in a variety of context in which somebody is trying to do something. Maybe they’re trying to learn something. It didn’t work out in the end, but you could tell them A for effort.

Relate this back to one of my own experiences I often think of. I always try to cook and I’m not a very good cook. I will try to cook different meals, different dishes.

They don’t always taste the best, but at the same time I could tell myself, or somebody might tell me, you know, A for effort you tried. You worked really hard, even though the food doesn’t taste like an A.

But I tried A for effort. I don’t apologies so good. Well, you get an A for effort. This is amazing. Good. We’re making progress. A for effort, right?

Learn something by heart

Then we have to learn something by heart. And when somebody learns something by heart, it just means that they have learned it really well.

They can do something automatically, really without even thinking about it, because they’ve studied it again and again and again, and they’ve learned it by heart.

Throughout this blog, we’re just learning new vocabulary, new idioms, expressions, phrasal verbs, and we’re trying to repeat them over and over again. That spaced repetition.

And in the end, I hope that you’re able to learn these words and their meanings by heart. You’re able to learn them by heart so that when you hear them in a conversation, you understand what that person’s trying to say.

But also, when you’re having a conversation, you’ll be able to speak and express your thoughts and opinions easily and accurately because you’ve learned these words by heart. Please don’t become a dropout.

Don’t drop out of the learning vocabulary, because if you do, the next time you’re having a conversation you will probably draw a blank and you won’t be able to answer them because you didn’t learn these words and phrases by heart.

As you can see, I can use these idioms naturally to express an idea, to convey an opinion, and now you understand them because you know their meaning.

To cut class, to skip class, play hooky

The next set of idioms, they all have the same meaning, and that is to cut class, to skip class, or to play hooky and all three of these phrases, they mean the same thing.

And it just means to not go to class and not attend your lessons. Somebody could cut class means the same thing as somebody who skips class, which means the same thing.

If somebody plays hooky, they just don’t go to class. Now, when you’re talking about cutting class and skipping class, I think that is more specific because you’re talking about a class.

It could be a class at school, or it could be any kind of class that you’re taking. Whether it’s some exercise class, it doesn’t really matter. Play hooky. Now you could use this.

Talking about school, you could also use it talking about work that, OK, I’m not going to go to work today. I’m going to play hooky.

I’m going to do something else and I’m not going to go. That is one difference between these three idioms. Cut class, skip class. Those are the same. They talk about class. Play hooky.

You could also use, when talking about work. Some other type of engagement or event that you were supposed to participate in. You’re supposed to be a part of, but you’re not going to go, you’re going to play hooky.

Keep in mind those phrases are very informal, so it is something you would mostly hear in spoken English or use when you’re having a conversation. I don’t cut in class. Cutting class is never a good idea.

Did you know that Katrina had been skipping her classes? Want to play hooky today? Oh, maybe. What do you get in mind? We can do anything you want.

School of thought

Next is the idiom school of thought. When you’re talking about the school of thought, it just means that it’s like a philosophy, a way of thinking about some topic or some issue.

It’s often used in the context, like I think of somebody saying, you know, the general school of thought about some issue.

When you want to talk about the philosophy behind a certain topic, you could just start out the sentence and say, well, the school of thought is this.

This is the general philosophy, the belief about this topic, the school of thought, well, there is the one school of thought says they don’t know nothing.

There are some schools of thought who of course say there are no other wines but reds.

Teach someone a lesson

The next expression is to teach someone a lesson. So again, education, school, people are learning many lessons and they’re learning all these new things.

But this is a little different because when you teach someone a lesson, somebody needs to learn something, but they need to learn something because they’ve done something wrong.

So, if you say, you know, I’m going to teach this person a lesson. Done something wrong, and instead of punishing them, you’re going to do something so that they realize they understand. OK, yeah, I made a mistake. Thanks for teaching me the lesson. He is rude. I think we could teach him a lesson.

Why would I teach them a lesson? Somebody made a mistake. They did something wrong, and they need to learn that. And you’d say, OK, yes, I learned my lesson.

I understand what I did wrong. I learned my lesson.

So, you can teach somebody a lesson and then that person will learn a lesson.

At least I hope that they learn a lesson because you don’t want them to make that mistake again. I hope you learned your lesson. 

To goof off / to goof around

Making fun of people is wrong. Then we have two expressions that are the exact same. They’re both phrasal verbs. They have the same meaning, and that is to goof off or to goof around.

And when somebody goofs off or when they goof around, it means that they’re just wasting time. They are procrastinating. They are playing around. They’re not being serious.

You could say yes, somebody is goofing off. Or maybe you might tell them, hey, stop goofing around. We need to get serious. We need to finish our work, stop goofing off.

I definitely think of this in school, especially when I would teach children that it’s hard sometimes to keep their attention. It’s very normal for them to get up, want to move around and you might say, hey, you know, we need to stop goofing off, stop goofing around.

Let’s, get serious, let’s focus, focus on what I’m trying to say, even adults, let’s be honest. I think we’ve all done it, especially whether it’s at school or at work.

We’re not very serious. We’re wasting time and we’re, goofing around. I think we’ve all done that. Are we going to be goofing off like this every day? We’re not goofing off

All the goofing around at Salman’s desk and hanging out with Salman finally caught up to her. I was just goofing around.

To hit the books

Then we have the idiom hit the books. Now to hit the books, yeah, you’re not punching a book. It’s not. It’s not like that. But what it means is to study really hard.

In this case, it’s often used when talking about school or education, that you’re preparing for an exam, you need to study really hard and you’re going to hit the books.

For example, maybe you’re preparing for some exam and your friend says, hey, let’s go out tonight, let’s go do something. Say, hey, you know, I can’t do that. I got to hit the books.

I got to hit the books because I need to prepare for an exam. I need to study really hard. I’ve been hitting the books pretty hard lately. Looks like he’s interested in hitting more than the books.

I mean, he’s not one of those nerdy. Well, I’ll let you to hit the books. Better go hit the books, if I’m going to use this test.  Another great idiom, which I really like, and it does apply to me.

Put an all nighter

Perhaps it’s applied to you at some point, and that is to pull an all nighter, and if somebody pulls an all nighter, it just means that they have stayed up all night or they’ve just stayed up really late to study and to finish their work.

So, at school, I think quite often people will wait until the last minute to do their work, they will procrastinate, and then they have to work all night in order to finish and they have to pull an all nighter so it also applies to work.

If you have to finish a report or a project and you have to work all night in order to finish, then you would pull an all nighter. I think we can all relate to this because I’ve had deadlines before, and they’ve been difficult to meet deadlines and in order to do so I have to pull an all nighter.

Sometimes you might have to pull a few all nighters in order to meet a deadline and to finish your work on time. How long did this take you? About 12 hours I pulled an all nighter.

I’ve been pulling all nighters to cram for this midterm tonight. I hope you’re able to learn all of these idioms by heart.

And again, the best way to do that is, try to connect them to your own experience. Connect them to your experience in education.

Think about a time when you’ve had to hit the books or a time when you had to pull an all nighter.

Because the school of thought is that if you’re able to associate these idioms with your own experience and think about their meaning.

In that way, it’s going to help you remember them, and also as we keep reviewing these idioms and expressions and you learn them over a period of time.

Again, the school of thought is that you will be able to remember them and be able to use them the next time you’re having a conversation.

And because we’re covering a lot of ground with this different vocabulary, I’m always going to keep repeating these idioms and expressions and phrasal verbs because that’s just going to help you in the long run.

And even if you forget some of these idioms overtime and you hear somebody use one and you draw a blank and you can’t remember the meaning or you want to use one in conversation and you draw a blank.

Don’t worry, as long as you keep practicing, hey, I’ll give you an A for effort.

And even now I hope that as I just have this conversation and I’m talking to you and I’m using these idioms that you can comprehend them and understand what I’m saying so show of hands.

Who learned something new and found this lesson easy to follow and understand? I hope all of you are raising your hands. Keep working hard, keep hitting the books and I will see you next time.

Which one is your favorite one? Let me know.

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