Common English Idioms:

Text design: I idioms - Definitions and examples

This list of common English idioms starting with the letter "I" gives "in depth" definitions and examples. "In a nutshell," you'll learn a lot. Let's get started. 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?

Okay, let's look at the most common English idioms beginning with "I" (Note: the main word of the idiom begins with the letter "I").

Common English Idioms Beginning with "I"


break the ice:  to start a conversation with someone that you meet for the first time.

  • Example:  At the conference will have several activities to help people break the ice.

(skating/walking) on thin ice:  to be in an uncertain, risky situation.

  • Example:  If you keep arriving late to work, soon you’ll be skating on thin ice.

put something on ice:  to delay something.

  • Example:  We decided to put the project on ice until we hire a new project manager.


icing on the cake:  an extra benefit or additional good thing added to something.

  • Example:  I wanted to go see that LA Lakers play for so long, the great seats were just icing on the cake.


float an idea:  to propose an idea just to see if people are interested.

  • Example:  I’d like to stop by your office today to float some ideas about promoting the conference.

not have the faintest idea:  to have no understanding about something.

  • Example:  I don’t have the faintest idea how I got home last night from the bar.


if worst comes to worst:  in the worst possible situation.

  • Example:  If worst comes to worst, we can take a taxi home from the concert.


in a bad mood:  feeling sad or depressed.

  • Example:  Why are you always in a bad mood these days?

in a bad way:  in a very serious condition; very ill.

  • Example:  My grandma’s been in a bad way since my grandfather died last month.

in a bind:  in a difficult situation.

  • Example:  Could you lend me $20? I’m in a bind because I forgot my wallet at home.

in a family way:  pregnant; expecting a baby.

  • Example:  How can I say this politely? Are you in a family way?

in a hurry:  rushing or moving around quickly.

  • Example:  I wish we could leave home earlier and not always have to drive to school in a hurry.

in a jam:  in trouble or in a difficult situation.

  • Example:  If you get in a jam, here’s my phone number so you can reach me.

in a jiffy:  quickly or very soon.

  • Example:  I’m late for a party so could you wrap that gift in a jiffy?

in a little bit:  in a short period of time; soon.

  • Example:  Let’s go find our seats The game's going to start in a little bit.

in a mad rush:  extremely hurried.

  • Example:  I left my house in a mad rush this morning and forgot my lunch on the kitchen counter.

in a nutshell:  in summary.

  • Example:  “The dog ate your homework?” “In a nutshell,  yes."

in a pickle:  in a difficult situation

  • Example:  When you decided not to call and tell us you were coming in to work today you really left us in a pickle.

in a pinch:  something that will work if what’s needed isn’t available.

  • Example:  In a pinch you can use molasses instead of brown sugar in this recipe.

in a rush:  in a hurry, moving around quickly.

  • Example:  I was in such a rush I forgot to turn off the iron and had to go back home so I was really late for work this morning.

in a rut:  doing the same thing again and again.

  • Example:  I was in a rut at the gym doing the same cardio exercises but when I added weight training, I really started to lose weight.

in and of itself:  without considering anything else.

  • Example:  I love the balcony in and of itself so I’ll rent the apartment.

in a sense:  in a way, sort of.

  • Example:  In a sense, talking with my parents through video chat is almost like being there with them.

in a split second:  very quickly.

  • Example:  In a split second a dog ran in the road in front of my car and I almost hit it.

In a stew (about something):  upset and bothered about something.

  • Example:  My husband sat on the sofa all day in a stew because I asked him to help me do some housework.

in a stupor:  in a confused condition.

  • Example:  After I took some cold medicine I was in such a stupor I couldn’t do any more work or even drive home.

in a tight spot:  in a very difficult situation.

  • Example:  I wish I could lend you some money but I’m in a tight spot myself.

in a word:  in summary, in brief.

  • Example:  In a word—Yes, I’d love to go with you.

in a world of one’s own:  1) In such deep thought you don’t notice anything around you;  2) caring about oneself and not about others.

  • Example:  I’m sorry I wasn’t listening a moment ago—I was in a world of my own.

in advance:  before something happens.

  • Example:  In order to attend the event you need to pay all the fees in advance.

in all likelihood:  most likely, the most probable outcome.

  • Example:  In all likelihood, I’ll get married and have kids when I’m in my 30's.

in all shapes and sizes:  in a variety of types and forms.

  • Example:  Our store has fashion styles for people in all shapes and sizes.

in any caseregardless, no matter what happens.

  • Example:  In any case, if you forget to pack anything you can buy it during the trip.

in any event:  regardless, no matter what happens.

  • Example:  In any event, we’ll arrive sometime during the afternoon on Sunday and then take a taxi to your house.

in arrears:  to be late with a payment, overdue.

  • Example:  Sir, your account is three months in arrears and we will close it if we don’t receive full payment by Friday.

in bad faith:  intending to cause harm or be dishonest.

  • Example:  The company offered me the job in bad faith—I did not get an office or parking space as promised.

in bad taste:  not proper or suitable; offensive to others.

  • Example:  Wearing jeans and sneakers to the wedding was really in bad taste.

in black and white:  in writing.

  • Example:  Thanks so much for the verbal offer but I also need to receive it in black and white.

in broad daylight:  publicly so anyone can see.

  • Example:  The thief stole my car in broad daylight  but no one noticed.

in bulk:  in large quantity.

  • Example:  We always buy cereal, toilet paper and cleaning supplies in bulk to save money.

in charge of (someone/something):  responsible for someone or something.

  • Example:  This is Maria. She’s in charge of ordering supplies  so please let her know what you need.

In conjunction with (someone/something):  working together with someone/something.

  • Example:  We’re doing this conference in conjunction with our local trade association.

in deep water:  in serious trouble.

  • Example:  I was supposed to finish the report two hours ago but I haven’t even started so I’m in deep water.

in depth:  complete and in detail.

  • Example:  This report examines the past 40 years of economic growth in this city in depth.

in flux:  constantly changing.

  • Example:  My company has transferred me to new offices three times in three years so my private life is also in flux.

in on something:  to participate in doing something with others.

  • Example:  Who is in on the planning for the holiday party?


every inch of something:  every part of something.

  • Example:  I’ve lived here for 50 years so I know every inch of the city.

give an inch:  to partly agree to something.

  • Example:  I had to divorce my husband because he never gave an inch about anything.


under the influence:  feeling the effects of alcohol or drugs.

  • Example:  Don’t drink and drive—there are severe penalties for people who are under the influence when they drive.


take the initiative:  to be the first one to make an effort to do something.

  • Example:  To succeed in this large company you have to take the initiative and volunteer for projects.


ins and outs of something:  the details of something.

  • Example:  I suggest you watch that guy carefullyhe knows the ins and outs of how to get requests approved around here.


know something inside out:  know something completely (everything about it).

  • Example:  I’m going to ace this exam—I know the material inside out.

turn something inside out:  to completely change something.

  • Example:  Having a baby has turned my life inside out.


add insult to injury:  to make a bad situation even worse.

  • Example:  Breaking up with me was bad enough but doing it by email added insult to injury.


for all intents and purposes:  almost completely, nearly something.

  • Example:  When you write a blog, you’re a “published” writer for all intents and purposes.


iron something out (iron out something):  to solve the remaining problems.

  • Example:  We need to iron out the travel details for our trip by this weekend.

several irons in the fire:  to have several different activities or projects in progress at the same time; having several possibilities at the same time.

  • Example:  I have several irons in the fire to make sure I’ll have a job when I graduate.


to take issue with someone/something:  to disagree with someone or something.

  • Example:  I take issue with fanatics who disrupt events.

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

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Common English idioms practice

So now that you've read many of the common English idioms that start with "I," it's a good opportunity to try to write a few sentences by yourself. Why? It's going to help you remember them better.

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