H Idioms

Idioms Index | A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

had better

- should do something

I'd better go now or I'll be late for class.

hair stand on end

- become frightened or afraid of something

My hair stood on end when I saw the aftermath of the automobile accident.

hale and hearty

- in very good health, well and strong

My uncle is a hale and hearty fellow who never gets sick.


- foolish

I didn't really like his half-baked idea about the new delivery system.

half the battle

- a large part of the work

Sending the letters out will be half the battle. We can finish the rest of the work next week.

hammer out

- remove, work out by discussion and debate

The union and managers were able to hammer out an agreement before midnight last night.

hand down

- arrange to give something to someone after your death

My grandmother handed down her silver jewellery to my mother.

hand in

- give to someone, hand to someone

I went to the company early to hand in my job application.

hand it to (someone)

- give credit or praise to someone

You have to hand it to him - he worked hard and was very successful with his business.

handle with kid gloves

- be very careful handling someone or something

He is very sensitive so you have to handle him with kid gloves when you speak to him.


- something given away after another person doesn't need it (especially clothing)

She was very poor when she was a child and always wore hand-me-down clothing.

hand out

- give things of the same kind to several people

The teacher decided not to hand out the tests until everyone in the class stopped talking.


- a gift - usually from the government

The government stopped giving hand-outs to the university students as they said they had no money.


- sheet of paper given to students or people who attend a meeting etc.

Everyone at the meeting was given a hand-out on how to save and invest money.

hand over

- give control or possession to someone, give something to another person

The criminals were forced to hand over the stolen money to the police.

hand over fist

- rapidly

His new company is making money hand over fist.

(one's) hands are tied

- unable to help

I'm sorry that I can't help you with the job but my hands are tied at the moment.

hands down

- easy, unopposed

They won the game hands down over the other team.

hands off

- leave alone, don't interfere

The government decided to take a hands-off approach to the teachers during the strike.

hand something to someone on a silver platter

- give a person something that has not been earned

He was handed a great job on a silver platter and never had to make any effort at all.

hand to mouth

- having only enough money for basic living

He was living a hand to mouth existence until he was finally able to find a job.

handwriting on the wall

- a sign that something bad will happen

The handwriting is on the wall. Business conditions are bad so probably nobody will get a pay raise this year.


- can easily fix things

He is very handy around the house and is always fixing or building something.

hang around

- pass time or stay someplace without any real purpose or aim

We decided to stay home and hang around on Sunday rather than go out to the game.

hang back

- stay some distance behind or away, hesitate or be unwilling to do something

He lacks self-confidence and always hangs back when his boss asks for volunteers.

hang by a thread

- be in doubt, depend on a very small thing

The outcome of the election hung by a thread until the last two or three hours.

hang in the balance

- have two equally possible results, be uncertain

After the opposition party won the election whether or not the new highway will be built hangs in the balance.

hang in (there)

- persevere, don't give up

You should hang in there and don't quit your job just because you don't like the supervisor.

Hang it!

- a rather old expression used to express annoyance or disappointment

"Hang it", he said when he hit his finger with the hammer.

hang on

- continue

Although business was very bad he decided to hang on and fight to keep his business going.

hang on

- wait, continue listening on the telephone

Hang on for a minute while I go and get some paper and a pen.

hang one on

- get very drunk

He really hung one on last night after he heard about his promotion.

hang on to

- hold tightly, keep firmly

Please hang on to your hats or the strong wind will blow them off.

hang out

- spend one's time idly or lounging about, spend time with someone or a group of people

Recently his brother has been hanging out with a group of people who are not a good influence on him.

hang out one's shingle

- notify the public of the opening of an office - especially a doctor's or lawyer's office

He has decided to hang out his own shingle now that he has graduated from law school.

hang up

- place on a hook, peg or hangar

Everyone was forced to hang up their jackets before they entered the room.

hang up

- place a telephone receiver back on the telephone and break the connection

After he hung up the telephone he left to go to work.


- a delay in some process

There was a hang-up in the construction of the office tower because of the fire.


- an inhibition, a neurotic reaction to some life situation

She has a serious hang-up about the dark and is afraid to go out alone at night.

happy hour

- a time in bars or restaurants when drinks are served at a discount

We stopped at the restaurant during happy hour and had a couple of drinks.

hard and fast rule

- rules that cannot be altered to fit special cases

There is no hard and fast rule that says you can't use a cellular phone in the train.

hard as nails

- physically very fit and strong, rough, stern

He is as hard as nails and is not a good person to have an argument with.

hard feelings

- anger or bitterness

I don't have any hard feelings toward him even though he fired me.


- not weak or soft, stubborn - especially in a fight, contest or negotiations

The company had a hard-nosed attitude while bargaining with the union.

hard nut to crack

- a person or thing not easily understood or influenced

He is a hard nut to crack and is not close to many people.

hard on (someone/something)

- treat something/someone roughly

His son is very hard on shoes.

hard pressed

- burdened with urgent business

I am a little hard pressed for time. Can we meet later?

hard sell

- selling something very aggressively and with great eagerness

I didn't like their hard sell attitude at the car dealership so I went to another dealer.

hard up

- short of money

I am hard up for money at the moment so I can't go to the movie.

harp on

- talk repeatedly and tediously about something

He has been harping on his lack of money for a few months now.


- bothersome

It is a real hassle to have to report to him two times a day.

hatchet man

- a politician etc. whose job it is to say negative things about the opposition, a person in a company who must fire extra workers or cut other expenses etc.

He is acting as a hatchet man for the leader but I don't think that he really believes what he is saying.

hate one's guts

- feel very strong dislike for someone

I absolutely hate her guts after she caused me so many problems at my company.

have a ball

- have a good time

She had a ball at the party last night.

have a crush on

- be attracted to someone

Her sister has had a crush on him for a long time.

have a fit

- become upset

She had a fit when she saw what her son did to the car.

have a go at

- try something especially after others have tried it

I decided to have a go at applying for the job after my boss recommended me.

have a hand in

- be partly responsible for something

I think that she had a hand in getting her friend fired from her job.

have a head on one's shoulders

- be smart or sensible

That new salesman really has a head on his shoulders.

have an edge on

- have an advantage (over someone)

Their team has an edge on the race to win the high school football championship.

have an eye for

- have good taste in something, be able to judge correctly

She has an eye for nice furniture and her apartment is absolutely beautiful.

(not) have anything to do with someone

- (not) want to be a friend of or work or have business with someone

My father will not have anything to do with the salesman because he sold him the faulty car.

have a screw loose

- act in a strange way, be foolish

He is a really strange person. I think that he has a screw loose somewhere.

have a time

- have trouble, have a hard time

She really had a time last night when her car stopped working completely

have a time

- have a good time, have fun

We really had a time at the party last night.

have a way with

- be able to lead, persuade or influence others

The little girl really has a way with horses. They are very gentle when she is around.

have a word with

- converse briefly

I will have a word with him before he goes home tonight.

have been around

- have been to many places and done many things, be experienced

My brother has really been around and has been overseas many times.

have dibs on

- demand a share of something or be in line to use something

I have dibs on the computer and would like to use it as soon as possible.

have egg on one's face

- be embarrassed

He really has egg on his face after finding out about his mistake.

have eyes only for

- give all one's attention to, be interested only in

She has eyes only for her boyfriend.

have half a mind

- feel tempted or inclined to do something

I have half a mind to go and offer my resignation to the president.

have had it (with someone or something)

- can't tolerate anymore

I have really had it with her constant complaining.

have in mind

- intend, plan

What do you have in mind for your wife's birthday?

have it

- hear or get news, understand

I have it that the new president will be coming to see us next week.

have it

- claim, say

Rumor has it that three of the supervisors will be leaving next week.

have it

- allow (usually used with will or would)

We wanted to have a party at our office next month but our boss won't have it.

have it

- get or find the answer

I think I finally have it. The reason she is leaving is because she is going to have a baby.

have it both ways

- do two things, have both things

You can't have it both ways. You must choose one or the other.

have it coming

- deserve a punishment

He really has it coming to him after causing the problems in the company.

have it in for someone

- show ill will or dislike a person

I have been having problems at work recently because I think that the new supervisor has it in for me.

have it made

- be successful, have everything

He really has it made with his new job.

have it out with someone

- settle or discuss something with someone angrily

I had it out with her yesterday over the problem with the money.

have on

- be wearing something

What did she have on when you last saw her?

have one's ass in a sling

- be in an uncomfortable predicament, be at a disadvantage

He really has his ass in a sling now that he has quit his job and can't find another one.

have one's eye on

- have a wish for something, have as an aim, look or think about something

I want to buy a nice present for my girlfriend so I have my eye on a nice dress that I saw at the department store last week.

have one's feet on the ground

- be practical or sensible

The new sales manager really has his feet on the ground.

have one's heart set on something

- want something very much

The child has his heart set on getting a new bicycle for his birthday.

have over

- invite someone to your house

We will have you over when we settle into our new house.

have rocks in one's head

- be stupid, not have good judgement

She really has rocks in her head. She should never have bought that old car.

have (something) going for one

- have ability, talent or good looks

She has a lot going for her and I am sure that she will get the new job.

have something on someone

- have information or proof that someone did sometning wrong

I think that the police have something on him and that is why he wants to quit his job.

have something on the ball

- be smart, clever, skilled

She really has a lot on the ball. She should do well in whatever she chooses to do.

have something up one's sleeve

- something kept secretly ready for the right time

I'm not too worried about the meeting as I have something up my sleeve if they try to cause any more problems.

have sticky fingers

- be a thief

He was fired because of his sticky fingers at the cash register.

have the last laugh

- make someone seem foolish for having laughed at you first

I had the last laugh when I was able to get home early while everyone else had to stay overnight at the airport because of the storm.

have (got) to

- obliged or forced to, must

I have to leave at 4 o'clock or I will be late for my appointment.

have to do with

- be about or on the subject or connected with something

The book has something to do with cooking but I am not sure if you will like it.

have two strikes against one

- have things working against one, be in a difficult situation

He already has two strikes against him and it will be very difficult for him to get the job.


- broken or confused

The plan went haywire when their directions became confused.

head above water

- out of difficulty, clear of trouble

Although he works very hard he is not able to keep his head above water financially.


- search for qualified individuals to fill certain positions

The head-hunting company has phoned me several times about getting a new job.

head in the clouds

- daydreaming

He always has his head in the clouds and can never answer a question easily.

head off

- get in front of and stop, turn back

In the western movie the soldiers went to head off the gang at the mountain pass.

head off

- block, stop, prevent

They were able to head off a strike by the union at the last minute.


- front end to front end, with the front facing

There was a serious head-on crash on the highway last night.


- in a way that is exactly opposite, opposed to someone in an argument or fight

They decided to deal with their opponents in a head-on manner in order to win the battle.

head out

- leave, start out

It is time that we head out for the movie now or we will be late.

head over heels

- upside down, head first

He fell head over heels when his bicycle hit the wall.

head over heels

- completely, deeply

She fell head over heels in love with the guy that she met at the party.

head shrinker

- psychiatrist

The criminal had to go and see a head shrinker after the judge sentenced him to life in prison.

head start

- to leave or start something before others

They left early in order to get a head start on the trip.

head up

- be at the head of (a group), a leader

The president headed up a group of people going overseas to promote trade.

hear from

- receive a letter/phone call/news from someone

I haven't heard from my university roommate for over one year.

heart goes out to someone

- one feels sympathy for someone

My heart went out to the victims of the railway accident.

heart is in the right place

- be kindhearted, sympathetic, have good intentions

He makes some serious mistakes sometimes but his heart is in the right place.

heart of gold

- a kind, generous or forgiving personality

My grandmother has a heart of gold and everyone loves her.

heart of stone

- someone with a nature with no pity

She has a heart of stone and is not at all interested in how other people feel.

heart skip a beat

- be startled or excited from surprise, joy or fright

My heart skipped a beat when the truck almost hit us last night.

heart stands still

- be very frightened or worried

My heart stood still when I heard the story about the little boy and the fire.


- honest or intimate

They had a heart-to-heart talk before they decided to get married.

heavy heart

- a feeling of sadness or unhappiness

He seems to have a heavy heart now that his wife has died.

hedge in

- keep from getting out or moving freely, block in

My car was hedged in by the other cars and I was unable to move it this morning.

hell and high water

- troubles or difficulties of any kind

They went through hell and high water in order to get the food to the flood victims.


- a short-tempered, nagging or crabby person

She is hell-on-wheels in the morning so you should be careful of her.


- in a confusing group, in disorder

When we arrived at work we found all of the files scattered helter-skelter over the floor.

hem and haw

- avoid giving a clear answer, be evasive in speech

He hemmed and hawed when I asked him if he knew where the missing money was.

here and now

- immediately

I want you to do that work right here and now.

here and there

- in various places, go to various places

We went here and there during our holidays.

here goes

- ready to begin while hoping for the best

Well, here goes. I am going to go and ask her for a date right now.

here goes nothing

- ready to begin - but it will be a waste of time and will probably fail

Here goes nothing. I have already asked him to lend me some money and he always says no but I'll try again.

hide (bury) one's head in the sand

- keep from knowing something dangerous or unpleasant

He hates to talk about important matters and hides his head in the sand when I try to talk to him.

high and dry

- stranded, out of the current of events

They left him high and dry when they moved the company to Europe.

high and low

- every place

We looked high and low for her watch but we couldn't find it.

high and mighty

- arrogant

He has a high and mighty attitude to all of his employees.

high gear

- top speed, full activity

The preparations for his visit have been going in high gear all week.


- bossy, dictatorial, depending on force rather than what is right

My supervisor always takes a high-handed approach when dealing with her employees.

(the) high life

- a luxurious existence

They have been living the high life since they moved to Las Vegas.

high seas

- the ocean (away from the coast)

The crew of the ship spent three months on the high seas before going to shore for a visit.

(be in) high spirits

- have energy, be cheerful

They are in high spirits since their home team won the tournament.

high time

- the time before something should already have been done

It is high time that we spent some time cleaning up our house.

highway robbery

- an extremely high price for something

The price that we had to pay for the theater tickets was highway robbery.

hire out

- accept a job, take employment

He decided to hire himself out as a dancer while he was going to school.

hire out

- rent to someone

We rented out our boat last summer because we were too busy to use it.

hit and miss

- unplanned, uncontrolled, aimless, careless

We are looking for a new apartment but it seems to be hit and miss whether we can find a good one.


- an accident where the driver of the car drives away without leaving his address

My sister was involved in a hit-and-run accident last Sunday afternoon.


- striking suddenly and leaving quickly

The army made a hit-and-run attack on the enemy soldiers.

hit bottom

- be at the very lowest, not be able to go any lower

The economy hit bottom last year but is finally starting to improve.

hitch one's wagon to a star

- aim high, follow a great ambition or purpose

He wants to hitch his wagon to a star and pursue his dreams of becoming an actor.

hither and thither

- in one direction and then in another

He looked hither and thither when he discovered that he had lost his wallet.

hit it off with someone

- get along well with someone

We really hit it off at the party.

hit on/upon

- find what you want or think of something by chance

We hit upon the idea of going to the lake for our holiday after our airline reservations were cancelled.

hit parade

- a list of songs arranged in order of popularity

We listened to all the songs on the hit parade last night.

hit someone between the eyes

- make a strong impression on someone, surprise greatly

Her incredible performance really hit me between the eyes.

hit the books

- study or prepare for class

He stayed home all weekend and hit the books.

hit the bottle

- drink alcohol (usually a negative meaning)

She started to hit the bottle soon after her divorce.

hit the bull's-eye

- go to the most important part of a matter, reach the main question

She hit the bull's-eye when she suggested that decreasing costs was more important than increasing sales.

hit the ceiling

- get angry

His wife is going to hit the ceiling when she sees the bill for the car repair.

hit the deck

- get up from bed, start working

Let's hit the deck and get this work done before supper.

hit the dirt

- fall on the ground and take cover under gunfire

We were told to hit the dirt during the bank robbery.

hit the hay

- go to bed

I decided to hit the hay early last night because I was very tired.

hit the high spots

- consider or mention only the more important parts of something

He only had time to hit the high spots in his report but still it was very interesting.

hit the jackpot

- be very lucky or successful

She hit the jackpot when she went to Las Vegas last weekend.

hit the nail on the head

- make a correct guess or analysis

He really hit the nail on the head when he wrote the report about the bank's problems.

hit the road

- leave - usually in a car

We should hit the road early tomorrow morning if we want to reach the seashore before evening.

hit the roof

- become very angry, go into a rage

He hit the roof when he found out that his son had wrecked the family car.

hit the sack

- go to bed

I'm a little bit tired so I think that I will hit the sack now.

hit the sauce

- drink alcohol - usually heavily and regularly

He has been hitting the sauce now for a couple of months although he says that he doesn't drink.

hit the spot

- refresh or satisfy

Drinking the lemonade after the baseball game really hit the spot.

hold a candle to

- be in the same class or level with (used with a negative usually), can be compared with

As far as good service goes that restaurant can't hold a candle to the one that I usually go to.

hold a grudge

- not forgive someone for something

He has been holding a grudge against the company manager for a number of years.

hold all the trump cards

- have the best chance of winning, have full control

It will be difficult to do well in the negotiations with him as he holds all the trump cards.

hold back

- stay back or away, show unwillingness, prevent someone from doing something

He always holds back during meetings and never says anything.

hold court

- act like a king or queen among their subjects

He always acts like he is holding court among his subjects when I see him in his office.

hold down

- keep in obedience, keep control of

The government was able to hold down the people for many years but finally they revolted and got rid of the government.

hold down a job

- keep a job

He has a serious drinking problem and is unable to hold down a job.

hold forth

- offer, propose

The company held forth a promise to give all of the employees an extra bonus in the summer.

hold forth

- speak in public, talk about

He was holding forth about taxes again last night when I saw him in his office.

hold good

- continue, endure, last

The demand for air conditioners held good during July but decreased rapidly in August.

hold off

- delay, not begin

The concert will be held off until next week.

hold off

- keep away by force

The man was able to hold off the police for several hours before he was arrested.

hold on

- wait a minute, stop, wait and not hang up the phone

Please hold on for a minute while I go back and lock the window.

hold one's breath

- stop breathing for a moment when one is excited or nervous

I had to stop and hold my breath while I was waiting for the announcement of the winning names.

hold one's fire

- keep back arguments or facts, keep from telling something

You should hold your fire during the meeting and save the rest of the information until next week.

hold one's horses

- stop and wait patiently

Hold your horses for a minute while I return to get my wallet.

hold one's own (in an argument)

- defend one's position

Although her boss is very aggressive she is always able to hold her own in any dispute with him.

hold one's peace

- be silent and not speak against something, be still

Please try and hold your peace during the meeting as it will be to our disadvantage if we have a confrontation.

hold one's tongue

- keep quiet

He decided to hold his tongue rather than give his honest opinion.

hold on to

- continue to hold or keep, hold tightly

Hold on to your bag when you are in the bus or someone may try and steal it.

hold out

- reach out, extend

She held out her hand to help her daughter climb up the stairs.


- someone who refuses to give something up, a non-conformist

He was the last hold-out in our effort to make sure that everyone wore a necktie to work.

hold out for something

- refuse to give up, keep resisting

The famous basketball star is holding out for a large salary increase.

hold out on

- refuse something to a person

He is holding out on me and wont give me the latest sales figures.

hold over

- extend the engagement of, keep longer

The movie was held over for another week.

hold something back

- keep information or something to or for oneself

He is holding back the information about the new computer system.

hold still

- not move

Please hold still while I fix your jacket zipper.

hold the fort

- cope in an emergency, act as a temporary substitute

He has been holding the fort at his company while his boss is on vacation.

hold the line

- not yield to pressure or something

The company has been holding the line on any new salary increases.

hold the reins

- be the most influential person

He has been holding the reins in his company for many years.

hold up

- lift, raise

The students hold up their hands when they have a question.

hold up

- support, carry

The main beams in the house are holding up the total weight of the house.

hold up

- check, stop, delay

The traffic was held up for over three hours at the border crossing.

hold up

- rob at gunpoint

The criminal was able to hold up three people before he was caught.

hold up

- keep up one's courage or spirits

Her spirits are holding up quite well even though she does not have a job now.

hold up

- remain good, not get worse

Sales during the first six months of the year have held up very well compared to last year.

hold up

- prove true

Her story held up during the questioning by the police.


- a robbery

He was involved in a hold-up when he was in the supermarket last weekend.

hold water

- be a sound idea

His proposal for a new work scheduling system doesn't hold water.

hole in the wall

- a small place to live, stay in or work in; small hidden or inferior place

We went for a drink at a little hole in the wall near the university last night.


- acting as if one is better than others in goodness or character etc.

I don't like him because he always takes a holier-than-thou attitude toward everyone else.

holy cats

- used to express strong feelings of astonishment, pleasure or anger

Holy cats he said as he looked out and saw the water rising in the river.

holy cow

- used to express strong feelings of astonishment, pleasure or anger

Holy cow! There are over one hundred people standing in front of our house.

holy mackerel

- used to express strong feelings of astonishment, pleasure or anger

"Holy mackerel," cried the little boy when he saw the new bicycle he got for his birthday.

holy Moses

- used to express strong feelings of astonishment, pleasure or anger

Holy Moses! It is already noon and I haven't even started work yet.

holy terror

- a very disobedient or unruly child

The little boy is a holy terror and his parents never want to take him anywhere.

honeymoon is over

- the first happy period of friendship and cooperation between two groups is over

The honeymoon was over for the new President after about two months.


- a cheap night-club or dance hall

We went to a small honky-tonk in the small town where we stopped last night.

hook, line and sinker

- without question or doubt, completely

She fell in love with her new boyfriend hook, line and sinker.

hook up

- connect or fit together

As soon as we moved to our new apartment we had to hook up the phone.


- a connection

The new hook-up for the computer is not working very well.

hope against hope

- continue to hope when things look very bad

The rescue team were hoping against hope that the lost hikers would be found alive.

hop to it

- get started, start a job, get going

We must hop to it and try to get this job done before dinner.

hopped up

- high on a drug or on alcohol

The man who tried to rob the store was hopped up on some kind of drug.

horn in on

- come in without an invitation or welcome, interfere

He horned in on our conversation although he knows that nobody likes him.

horse around

- play around, join in rough teasing

The children were horsing around in the school yard when the bell rang for class.

horse of a different color

- something altogether separate and different

We should not be talking about that issue now. It is a horse of a different color entirely.

horse sense

- good judgement, wisdom in making decisions

He has a lot of good horse sense so you can expect him to make an intelligent decision.

horse trade

- business agreement arrived at after hard negotiations

We had to do a lot of horse trading but we were finally able to reach an agreement to buy the antique car.

hot air

- nonsense, exaggerated talk

He is full of hot air and you can't rely on what he usually says.

hot and bothered

- excited and worried, displeased

I don't know what is wrong with her but she is hot and bothered about something.

a hot potato

- a situation likely to cause trouble to the person handling it

The issue of the non-union workers is a real hot potato that we must deal with.

hot rod

- an automobile changed so that it can go very fast

He has always loved cars and was a member of his local hot rod club when he was a teenager.

hot water

- trouble

He has been in hot water at work since he took a week off with no excuse.

house of cards

- something badly put together and easily knocked down, a poorly founded plan/action

The peace agreement between the two countries was like a house of cards and fell apart as soon as a minor problem occurred.

how about

- will you have something or will you agree to something

How about some coffee before we go to work?

how about

- what is to be done about something

We can't use her computer but how about one of the other staff members?

how about

- how do you feel about/think about something

She is not interested in the job but how about one of her friends?

how come

- why

How come you don't telephone her if you want to talk to her so much?

how's that

- what did you say

How's that? I couldn't hear you because the radio was too loud.

hue and cry

- an excited protest or alarm or outcry

They raised a big hue and cry when they realized that we had failed to notify the bank about our financial problems.


- something kept secret or hidden, concealed

What is the big hush-hush? Everyone seems to be very quiet this morning.

hush up

- keep news of something from getting out, prevent people from knowing about something

The government tried to hush up the bad economic figures but the news media soon discovered the facts.

hush up

- be or make quiet, stop talking/crying/making noise

The child was told to hush up by her mother when they were in the department store.


- have an excess of energy, be excited

She has been hyped up all morning because she will go to Italy for a holiday next week.