Grammar Grief: Common Idioms and Phrases

By, Jessica Knutzon

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

This idiom is used when something is simple, easy or effortless. If situation is a guaranteed success it is also appropriate to use this idiom.

It’s a catch-22.

This phrase comes from a classic American novel Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. This phrase, according to, means “a frustrating situation in which one is trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.” It is used more casually to describe illogical or unreasonable situations.

Don’t cry over spilled (or spilt) milk.

This idiom is meant to reflect that it is useless to be upset about something in the past that cannot be fixed.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

This idiom is used to show that using all your resources or putting all your hopes into one situation is not a good idea. For example, if someone has used all of his time and resources to apply for one job, someone may tell him not to put all his eggs in one basket and apply to other jobs as well.

Sit on the fence.

To be on the fence about something is to be undecided or unwilling to choose the side of an argument or decision. For example, if someone is deciding whether or not to take a certain class he is “on the fence” about his decision.

Nip it in the bud.

This phrase is commonly misused because many people use the incorrect word at the end of the phrase, but it is in fact, “bud.” This refers to ending a problem or situation before it gets worse. The phrase comes from nipping the bud of a plant so it does not grow.

I couldn’t care less.

Far too often people will say they could care less when they mean they could not care less. If something is not bothering you then you cannot care less about it. Saying you could care less implies that you do in fact care.


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