Here are more than thirty common English idioms with numbers.
You’ll hear these idioms in conversations, and also see them in newspapers, blog posts and advertising.
Make a note of any idioms that you have never seen before (or for which there isn’t a translation in your language).
English idioms – One
be one step ahead = be ahead of your competitor / opponent, etc
“In business, you need to be one step ahead of your competition.”
(to look after) number one = to take care of the most important person – yourself!
“I want to sell my house for the best possible price. It might not be the most ethical position to take, but I have to look after number one!”
a one-hit wonder = someone / something which was successful for just one thing, or for a limited period of time
“Oh I remember that singer. He was a bit of a one-hit wonder, wasn’t he?”
(go back to) square one = when the thing you try doesn’t work, so you go back to the beginning again
“We tried advertising in the paper, but then the paper closed down. So we’re back to square one again.”
one size fits all = a solution or approach that isn’t customised
“The problem with the advice that they offer is that it’s one size fits all. We need something more tailored.”
one for the road = when you have a drink before leaving to go to an event
“It’s 7pm already. Do you want one for the road?”
once-in-a-lifetime = an opportunity which you’re unlikely to get again
“We should get tickets to see him in concert. It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
English idioms – Two
be in two minds (about) = to be undecided
“I’m in two minds about booking a holiday this summer.”
to two-time = have two boyfriends / girlfriends at the same time
“I only just found out that he was two-timing me. What a rat!”
put two and two together = make a guess based on what you have heard or seen
“I heard them arguing last night and then I saw that his car wasn’t outside the house, so I put two and two together.”
kill two birds with one stone = achieve two objectives at the same time
“If we pick up the dry cleaning on the way back from the supermarket, then we can kill two birds with one stone.”
it takes two to tango = there are always two people involved (in an argument / love affair, etc)
“You should also take responsibility for the argument. It takes two to tango!”
Idioms from numbers 3 to 9
the 3 R’s = the three basic subjects in education (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, pronounced a’Rithmetic)
“Primary education has evolved a lot since the original three R’s.!
give three cheers = publicly praise something
“Lets give three cheers for the team’s success. Hiphip Hooray! Hiphip Hooray! Hiphip Hooray!”
on all fours = to be kneeling, with your hands also on the ground, facing forwards.”
“I can’t find my ring anywhere. I was on all fours in the kitchen thinking that I’d dropped it there, but I couldn’t find it.”
a fiver = a five-pound note
“I can lend you a fiver, if you want. That’s all the money I’ve got on me.”
six feet under = to be dead
“There’s no point worrying about the next Ice Age. We’ll all be six feet under by then.”
six of one and half a dozen of the other = when both things are equal
“It doesn’t matter if you take this road or that one. The journey is exactly the same length – it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.”
be on cloud nine = be very happy
“Ever since she heard the news, she’s been on cloud nine.”
nine times out of ten = most of the time
“Nine times out of ten she works late.”
a nine-to-five = a typical office job, with regular work hours
“If you’re fed up of the nine-to-five, you can start working for yourself.”
Idioms over the number ten
Note: We also say “dozen” for “twelve” in English.
a tenner = a ten-pound note
“She paid for the sandwiches with a tenner.”
ten to one = when something is likely / unlikely to happen
“Ten to one she’ll have forgotten about our coffee date!”
at the eleventh hour = at the very last minute
“They found an investor at the eleventh hour.”
elevenses = tea / coffee and a biscuit that you have at around 11 am
“I’m getting hungry. Lets stop for elevenses.”
a dime a dozen = when something is very common or easily available
“Social media influencers are a dime a dozen at the moment.”
talk nineteen to the dozen = talk very fast
“She was talking nineteen to the dozen so I couldn’t hear what he was saying.”
Idioms with higher numbers
have / get forty winks = have a nap (short sleep)
“He normally has forty winks after Sunday lunch.”
be the wrong side of 40 = be over 40 years old
“Who says you can’t wear fashionable clothes when you’re the wrong side of 40?”
one in a million = a very special – and rare – person, who you admire or love because of their great character.
“My best friend is a one in a million. She’s always there for me.”
the million-dollar question = an important question that a lot depends on
“Whether the government gets in again at the next election is the million-dollar question.”
never in a million years = when you’ll never do something / something will never happen
“I’ll never in a million years vote for him!”
Become an advanced English speaker!
Being able to understand and use a few idioms is one of the signs that you’re an advanced English speaker. I show you the exact steps to get to advanced level in my program Advanced English Speaking In 100 Steps. These steps give you everything you need to have stress-free conversations, and to speak with authority and influence, so that people listen to you.
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