Useful English Expressions That Will Make You Sound Like a Native



All languages have expressions that native speakers use frequently.  Learning these will help students not only to understand English better, but it will also improve the fluency of their spoken English and make them sound more natural.

The first example is “Break a leg.” This is like the Catalan theatrical expression, “Molta merda»,  and it means the same thing… Good luck. In Spanish «Mucha mierda».

These expressions are often seen as humorous, even though they deal with serious subjects. “To kick the bucket” is a good expression of this.  However, it doesn’t mean good luck, it means “to die.” Often times in comedies and other films, just after a character dies, his foot will kick a bucket.

Other expressions are less ironic.  For example, “to eat like a horse” means to eat a lot, while the expression, “to chew the fat” means to chat with friends.  The idea being that horses eat a lot and that when you are chewing (mastigar/masticar) the fat (el greix/la grasa)you must move your mouth a lot like when you are talking.

Shape up or ship out” is another good expression.  “Shape up” means to change you behavior from good to bad, and “ship out” is an expression that means to leave. Sailors would ship out, or join the crew of a ship and leave when the ship left a port.

To break someone’s heart” means to do something that makes someone very sad…like ending a relationship or doing something that is very bad and which causes your friends and family a lot of pain and sorrow.

Some expressions use adverbs of emphasis such as “up” or “out.” For example, “to be a chicken” is a common example in English that means to be a coward, and “to chicken out” means to lose your courage completely and to be afraid to do or finish something. Another example of these adverbs is “to live it up.” This expression means to live life to the fullest… in other words “completely.” “Live is up” is used to express a sense of celebrating and taking advantage of every opportunity to enjoy yourself.

To miss the boat” and “that ship has already sailed” are expression that are used to give the sense that someone has lost the chance to do something and that it is now too late to change the situation.

Sometimes these expressions are completely silly. For example, “to let the cat out of the bag” or “to spill the beans” have the meaning of someone telling something that was supposed to be a secret.

Learning these expressions is the first step. Then the student needs to listen for them in native conversations or readings. They are very common and he or she will not have to wait long. The second step is to recognize how they are used by native speakers. The third step is the most fun… using them. Don’t be afraid if at first you make mistakes. Native speakers will be happy to correct and before long your English will improve!


Written by Mike Dean Alger for Aston School

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