Which English sayings are unique to the UK?

At Gledus, our English teachers often find that students love learning idioms! These funny little sayings are phrases that native speakers use to express a particular meaning. Whether you’re in the UK or another English-speaking country however, makes a huge difference to the idioms you should learn. Here are a few of our favourite British sayings:


  1. You’re pulling my leg

To pull someone’s leg is to joke with them or deliberately say something you know is untrue. We’re not pulling your leg here though, this is a very popular UK saying.


I don’t believe you, Sarah! You must be pulling my leg!


  1. It’s raining cats and dogs

Don’t worry, there are no pets falling from the sky! This means it is raining very heavily. You must say “cats and dogs” in that order and you can’t talk about it raining any other animals.


You should wear a coat, John. It’s raining cats and dogs out there!


  1. I’m feeling a bit under the weather

Rather than telling people you’re not feeling well or you’re sick, you can say you’re feeling under the weather. Note that we Brits don’t like to express things dramatically. Therefore, even if we’re feeling terrible, we’re still likely to add in “a bit” and would almost never say “very under the weather”.


I’m not going to the party because I’m feeling a bit under the weather.


  1. Don’t get your knickers in a twist

Knickers are a type of ladies’ underwear, but you can use this phrase when talking to men as well! It means don’t get annoyed or frustrated. You could also describe someone else by saying “he’s got his knickers in a twist”.


Calm down, Billy! There’s no need to get your knickers in a twist!


  1. It’s gone pear-shaped

Though pears are a perfectly fine fruit as far as we know, saying something’s gone “pear-shaped” means it’s gone wrong. Once again, it’s common in British English to add in “a bit” giving “it’s gone a bit pear-shaped”.


I was going to give my friend this cake I baked, but it’s been in the oven too long and gone a bit pear-shaped!


  1. That’s thrown a spanner in the works

A spanner is a tool used to adjust metal bolts. If you were working on something but have come across a problem that is making it difficult to continue, you can say the problem has “thrown a spanner in the works”. Try phrasing this as if the problem itself has thrown the spanner. This is more common than saying  “she’s thrown a spanner in the works”, although you can still say this if someone else has caused the problem.


I lost the login details for my computer so cannot complete my homework. It’s really thrown a spanner in the works!



  1. It’s the bee’s knees

Referring to something as the bee’s knees means it is the best it could be. We’re not sure where this saying came from but it certainly makes our students smile.


That football workshop was the bee’s knees. I really loved how much fun the teacher was.


  1. She’s full of beans

Have you tried baked beans? They are a common British food that comes in tomato sauce and are bought in a metal tin. If you describe someone as “full of beans” however, it doesn’t mean they’ve eaten lots of them! It means they have loads of energy and are perhaps very excited.


Julia, you’re full of beans this morning! You’re definitely not tired like me.


  1. That takes the biscuit

This is a particularly British one since many people in the UK love to eat a biscuit such as a custard cream or digestive with their tea. It’s something you can say when you’re already annoyed and then another thing happens to make you even more frustrated!


He’s already broken my pen and stolen my paper- now he’s asking to copy my homework! That just takes the biscuit!


  1. It costs a bomb

If something is really expensive, you can describe as costing a bomb. Perhaps because explosives are pretty pricey, this saying came about as a comparison. Even still, the price doesn’t need to be the same for this meaning to work.


The tickets to the concert you mentioned cost a bomb, Tim!


So there you have it: our favourite British sayings that you’ll be able to use if you come to the UK.  How many of these idioms can you also use in your first language? Which ones will you try out next time you’re speaking or writing in English?


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Gledus provides residential summer camps in England with at least 10 hours of professional English tuition per week. All our teachers are native speakers and have at least 15 years of experience. Find out more here.

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