American Idioms List:

Text design: "H" idioms definitions and examples

This American idioms list covers common expressions beginning with the letter "H." Don't "tear your hair out," idioms aren't that bad and I'll "give you a hand." Shall we "get our hands dirty now?" By the way, I've also covered the other letters of the alphabet: click here to go to the main idioms page

Did you remember that an idiom is a group of words whose meaning is different from the individual words if you looked them up separately in the dictionary? Good! Let's look at the most popular H idioms.

American Idioms List:  H Idioms


kick the habit:  stop (quit) smoking cigarettes or doing other bad habits.

  • Example:  She kicked the habit  a year ago but then she gained 20 lbs, which is common when smokers stop smoking.


can’t hack it:  to not be able to do something or handle a situation successfully.

  • Example:  I tried going to law school but I couldn’t hack it.


have had it (with someone/something):  not willing to continue doing or experiencing something (often because you’re tired).

  • Example:  Don’t talk to me like that again I’ve had it with your attitude.

had better:  must or should do something.

  • Example:  You had better get good grades or you’ll lose your scholarship.


have / bury one's head in the sand:  not willing to look at a situation because it is unpleasant while also hoping the situation or problem will go away without doing anything about it.

  • Example:  Here are three overdue bills! I can't believe you're burying your head in the sand again.

keep one's head above water:  1) to have just enough to live or survive (especially having enough money); 2) to manage to do all of your work.

  • Example:  Now that I'm working in the office I'm just keeping my head above water with all of the housework, cleaning and shopping.


hail from somewhere:  come from a place (city/state/country, etc.).

  • Example:  I hail from the great state of New York. Where are you from?


let one’s hair down:  to feel relaxed and comfortable enough to act and do what you want.

  • Example:  The only time my mom lets her hair down at parties is if she has had several drinks.

make one’s hair stand on end:  to be really scared or frightened.

  • Example:  When Sandy went camping, the noises outside the tent made her hair stand on end.

pull / tear one’s hair out:  to be extremely upset about something.

  • Example:  When my assistant forgot to give me the director’s message I was pulling my hair out.

split hairs:  to argue about small details or differences.

  • Example:  Although we both agreed to divorce, my husband is splitting hairs about our settlement.


half the battle:  a major part of the work that needs to be done.

  • Example:  When trying to lose weight, eating healthy is only half the battle.

half a mind to do something:  considering doing something.

  • Example:  My dog had half a mind to eat the steak but she jumped off the table when she heard me coming.

how the other half lives:  the way people who have a lot more or a lot less money live.

  • Example:  She’s never lived anywhere except Beverly Hills so she has no idea how the other half lives.

not half bad:  not that bad, okay, almost good.

  • Example:  My mom’s pasta dishes are not half bad but she makes terrible desserts.

(not) the half of it:  not the crucial or most important part of something.

  • Example:  The money is not the half of itthe real issue is that you lied to me.


grind to a halt:  to slowly and completely stop.

  • Example:  After two days of snow, the city ground to a halt.


hammer something home (hammer home something):  to repeat an idea or opinion to make it persuasive and understood.

  • Example:  My colleague mentioned his Ivy League education all day to try to hammer home his superior intelligence.

hammer out something (hammer something out):  to create an agreement to solve a problem or situation.

  • Example:  The most important thing is that we agreed to work together—we can hammer out the details at our next meeting.


at hand:  happening now or present at this time.

  • Example:  We will have four nurses at hand to give flu shots to attendees who want them.

bite the hand that feeds you:  criticize the person or thing that helps you or gives you money/benefits.

  • Example:  Your parents are strict but you’re 25 years old and still getting money from them so be careful about biting the hand that feeds you.

by hand:  something hand-made or done without the help of the machine.

  • Example:  This furniture was made by hand so it’s very unique and carefully crafted.

change hands:  to move from one owner to a new owner.

Example:  This old house has changed hands 15 times since it was built 200 years ago.

do something with one hand (arm) tied behind one’s back:  to be able to do something very easily.

  • Example:  I’m so good at building model airplanes I could do it with one hand tied behind my back.

force someone’s hand:  to make someone do something before they want to do it.

  • Example:  I wanted to wait three months before I told my boss I was pregnant but morning sickness forced my hand and I had to explain why it was always late.

get one’s hands dirty:  to get personally involved in doing the basic work for something.

  • Example:  My boss is great because she’ll get her hands dirty and help us with mailings and phone calls whenever we get really busy.

give (lend) someone a hand:  to help someone.

  • Example:  You’ve got both arms full of groceries, can I give you a hand opening the door?

go hand in hand:  to work well together.

  • Example:  Try these headphones—they go hand in hand with that MP3 player.

hand down something (hand something down):  to give a used item to another person (especially to a younger person in a family).

  • Example:  I’m the fourth girl in the family so almost all my clothes are handed down to me.

hand out something (hand something out):  to give something to people present at a meeting or event.

  • Example:  Could you please hand out these brochures to each person?

hand over someone / something (hand someone/something over):  to give someone or something to someone else.

  • Example:  The policeman stopped the car for speeding and asked the driver to hand over his driver's license and insurance.

have the upper hand:  to have an advantage or power over someone or a situation.

  • Example:  The spouse who earns money outside the home often has the upper hand in the marriage.

have one’s hands full (one’s hands are full):  to be very busy.

  • Example:  During registration we have our hands full with many different tasks.

have someone / something on one’s hands:  to be responsible for someone or something.

  • Example:  Unfortunately, I’ve got a serious problem on my hands with the new factory in Thailand so I’ve got to travel there tomorrow.

in good (safe) handsbeing taken care of or managed very carefully.

  • Example:  When I leave my dog at the kennel, I know he’s in good hands because I can see him on videocam and there’s always someone with him.

keep one’s hands off something:  to not touch or be involved in something.

  • Example:  Keep your hands off the antiquesI don’t want to have to buy something because you break it.

lay a hand on someone:  to physically hurt someone.

  • Example:  If my husband ever lays a hand on me, I will leave him immediately and never return.

on hand:  something that is immediately available.

  • Example:  The new fire station has two fire trucks on hand to handle any emergencies.

on the other hand [on the one hand… on the other (hand)]:  the other thing to think about and consider.

  • Example:  We can go to see your mother a Christmas or on the other hand, we could invite her to join us for a holiday trip to the mountains.

one’s hands are tiedsomeone is unable to act or do something.

  • Example:  I wish I could sell you a ticket to the game but the system is down right now so my hands are tied.

out of hand:  1) not controlled, 2) without additional consideration.

  • Example:  The party got out of hand and they had to call the police.

shake someone’s hand (shake hands):  a form of greeting (and often on departing) where two people grasp hands and move them up and down.

  • Example:  I’m sorry I can’t shake your hand today because I broke my finger.

show your hand:  to tell other people information or what you’re going to do.

  • Example:  Now I’m careful not to show my hand to my colleague because he stole two of my ideas and proposed them to the director.

try your hand at something:  to try to do something.

  • Example:  Normally I don’t like to exercise but I’m going to try my hand at golf.

wash one’s hands of someone/something:  to stop being involved or responsible for someone/something.

  • Example:  When my kids became 18 years old I washed my hands of doing their laundry.

wait on someone hand and foot:  to do everything to help someone else.

  • Example:  When I broke both of my legs my mother had to come and wait on me hand and foot.


get the hang of somethinglearn how to do something.

  • Example:  I got the hang of ice-skating the first time I tried it.

hang around:  1) to stay in a place; 2) to be with another person.

  • Example:  The kids that hang around the library always do well in school.

hang in there:   to continue to do something despite difficulties.

  • Example:  Hang in there—it usually takes six months to find a good job.

hang it up:  to stop doing something.

  • Example:  You’ve been working for 12 hours!  Why don’t you hang it up  and go to sleep?

hang on:  1) to wait; 2) to hold something tightly.

  • Example:  Hang on, I’ll be right back.

hang onto:  to keep something.

  • Example:  I’m going to hang onto your passport until we check you into the hotel and then I’ll return it to you.

hang someone out to dry:  to refuse to help or support someone.

  • Example:  I can’t believe you’re hanging me out to dry when you promised to drive me to work!

hang out (with someone):  to spend time with someone.

  • Example:  Sorry I can’t go with you. I like to hang out with my parents on Sundays.

hang tough:  to keep doing something despite pressure to stop.

  • Example:  Even though we were 20 points behind, we hung tough and played hard the whole game.

hang up:  to end a telephone connection.

  • Example:  Before we hang up, I want to tell you about my vacation plans next month.

hang up on someone:  end a telephone conversation before it is finished.

  • Example:  I can’t believe my mother just hung up on me when I asked her for some money.


head in the sand:  to ignore or refuse to think about a problem or something unpleasant.

  • Example:  I developed a bad habit about burying my head in the sand regarding my finances and finally I had no choice but to file for bankruptcy.


heart of gold:  A person who is kind, caring and generous.

  • Example:  That doctor has a heart of goldhe listens to his patients and always calls us later to make sure we are feeling better.


a match made in heaven:  a perfect couple or combination of things.

  • Example:  Even though my grandparents are very different they are still a match made in heaven.


hit it off:  to immediately become friends (or very friendly) with someone.

  • Example:  My parents actually didn't hit it off when they first met but luckily for me they met again two years later and had a better meeting.

hit the road:  to leave (especially to go home); to depart on a journey (especially to travel to a place by car).

  • Example:  As soon as we hit the road we got into an accident so we never went camping last weekend.


to get hitched (informal):  to marry. 

  • Example:  I thought I'd never get hitched  but after your mom got pregnant, there wasn't really any other choice in those days.


off the hook:  1) not in a difficult situation anymore; no longer in trouble. 2) when a telephone receiver is not put correctly on the phone and it prevents calls from coming in.

  • Example:  You're off the hook!  Sandy called to say she's sick so you don't have to go over and clean her house today.


straight from the horse's mouth:  directly from the person who knows the most about the matter; someone who knows the facts.

  • Example:  Be careful about the rumors that float around this school—so many of them are wrong that I only believe what I hear straight from the horse's mouth.

hold one's horses:  1) slow down;  2) wait a moment;  3) be patient

  • Example:  Honey, you better hold your horses—we're driving through a school zone.


go / jump through hoops:  to do a series of difficult or unpleasant things in order to get something you want or do something you need to do.

  • Example:  I hate having to go through so many hoops driving, parking and then taking the subway every day just to get to my job in the city—so I'm thinking about finding something new.


eleventh hour:  the last moment or almost too late.

  • Example:  I waited until the eleventh hour to submit my application but luckily I finished it on time.

happy hour:  a period of time in the early evening when drinks are sold cheaply in a bar.

  • Example:  I met a really nice girl at happy hour yesterday so I'm going back this evening to meet her for another drink.

lunch hour:  the period in the middle of the day when people stop work to have lunch.

  • Example:  I hate my job so my lunch hour is my favorite part of the day.

rush hour:  a busy time when people are traveling to or from work.

  • Example:  There's so much traffic that it takes me 45 minutes to get to work by bus during rush hour and only 15 minutes to walk.

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You can also find many idiom definitions with the different online learner's dictionaries.

American idioms list practice

Ready to practice? Try to write your own sentences. A good reason to do this is that it's going to help you remember them better. 

So grab a piece of paper and try to use one or two idioms from the list above in your own sentences.

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