English Idioms starting with "C"

This list of English idioms begin with the letter C!

Note: Each idiomatic expression does not always start with the letter “C.” This list is organized to  include English idioms whose main subject or action word starts with the letter “C.” (The main word is written below in all capital letters. For example, CAKE:  Have your cake and eat it too).

English idioms starting with letter "C"


have your cake and eat it too:  to do or have two desired things at the same time. 

  • Example:  Working at the university library lets me have my cake and eat it too—I can study and make money at the same time.

(something) takes the cake:  an extreme example of something.  

  • Example:  All of her boyfriends are rich but the millionaire businessman she’s dating right now takes the cake.

icing on the cake:  an extra good thing in addition to something else.

  • Example:  He would have paid full tuition to go to an Ivy League school—so getting a scholarship was just icing on the cake.


call for (something) to demand or require something.

  • Example:  When the actor was found dead in his apartment the police called for an investigation.

call in sick:  to telephone one’s office or workplace to say you can’t come in because you are sick.

  • Example:  She’s called in sick again today. I think she must be pregnant.

call it quits:  to stop doing something.

  • Example:  I tried and tried to learn speak French but now I’m calling it quits.

call off something (call something off):  to decide not to do a planned activity.

  • Example:  It’s sad they called off the wedding after they sent the invitations.

call on (someone):  to ask someone for help or to do something.

  • Example:  It’s great to have a boyfriend to call on when you need help around the house.

close call:  1) An event that almost happened;  2) A difficult decision or a result that’s hard to determine.


  • She had several close calls before she had the accident so she should’ve been more careful.
  • It's really a close call between the two candidates. Either one would be great for our team.

on call:  available and ready to work.

  • Example:  My father is a doctor so he’s on call a lot and sometimes goes to the hospital at night.

something to call your own:  something that you own.

  • Example:  I have rented an apartment for 20 years but I’m getting a loan to buy a house. It's a big responsibility but I really want something to call my own.

too close to call:  something difficult to determine in advance (especially a competition or political race).

  • Example:  The race for the governor is too close to call but I think our candidate will win.


(open/open up) a can of worms:  a situation or issue that becomes even more complicated as you try to deal with it or solve the problem.

  • Example:  The investigation of donations made to the winning candidate during the election has really opened a can of worms.


burn the candle at both ends:  to be exhausted and get very little sleep because one goes to sleep very late and wakes up very early and works a lot in between.

  • Example:  During midterm examinations all the students burn the candle at both ends.

(sb/sth) can’t hold a candle to (sb/sth):  to not be as good in comparison to something else.

  • Example:  He may have the most beautiful girlfriend but she can’t hold a candle to mine Maggie is kind as well as beautiful and smart!


hold all the cards:  to be in complete control of something.

  • Example:  He may be the new manager but his secretary holds all the cards—she’s been working here for more than 20 years and has good relationships with everyone.

in the cards:  to be expected to happen.

  • Example:  I think a promotion will definitely be in the cards if you continue to make your sales targets.

play one’s cards right to do the correct things to get a desired result.

  • Example:  Play your cards right in college and you’ll get a great job after you graduate.

lay all your cards on the table:  explain everything that you know truthfully and completely.

  • Example:  If you lay all your cards on the table maybe she'll give you a second chance.


someone couldn’t care less:  to not care about something.

  • Example:  I could care less if all of my friends smoke. I’ll never do it because it’s bad for my health.

take care (of yourself):  used in spoken English to say goodbye.

  • Example:  It was great to see you, take care.

take care of (someone/something):  to handle a situation or be responsible for something or someone.

  • Example:  If you don’t take care of your health you'll get sick.

who cares?:  Used in spoken English to say you don’t care about something/are not interested in something because it’s not important.

  • Example:  Who cares what day you do the laundry as long as you get it done.


carry on:  to continue doing something.

  • Example:  When my husband lost his job he was brave and carried on as if everything was okay.

carry someone through (something):  to give support to something/someone so they can achieve a desired result.

  • Example:  I need some temporary employees to help carry me through the Christmas shopping season.


get off someone’s case:  to stop criticizing or bothering someone.

  • Example:  Your dad will get off your case when you finish your homework.

in any case:  in whatever event happens or results.

  • Example:  It’s supposed to rain this weekend but we’re going to clean the house in any case,  even if it’s the most beautiful.

in case:  if this situation happens.

  • Example:  In case I’m not home by seven o’clock, please start cooking dinner.

in case of something:  if something that’s not expected happens.

  • Example:  In case of any problems with the kids, please call us immediately.

just in case:  only in a particular situation that something happens.

  • Example:  I always have an extra clean shirt and tie at work, just in case a client stops in unexpectedly.

make a case for something:  to make an argument for something or explain why it should be done.

  • Example:   I’m meeting with my boss this morning and I’m going to make a case for some extra workers since we have several new clients.

on someone’s caseto repeatedly tell someone what to do or criticize them.

  • Example:  My wife is always on my case about keeping the garage clean and tidy.

on the case:  doing the things that need to be done.

  • Example:  Don’t worry I’m already on the case and ordered extra supplies two days ago.

Thumbnail image: Cat's got your tongue


cat/cat's got someone’s tongue:  a situation where someone is not speaking or is having difficulty trying to say something.

  • Example:  I wanted to say something at the meeting but the cat got my tongue.

let the cat out of the bag:  to tell something that is a secret.

  • Example:  I’m getting your father new golf clubs for his birthday but please don’t let the cat out of the bag.

Thumbnail image: Play cat and mouse

cat and mouse:  a series of planned actions involving pursuit, captures and repeated escapes.

  • Example:  My boyfriend said he was going to the game with friends last night and then he said his car broke down so he never made it. As I was getting upset, flowers he sent arrived at my office... it's just a game of cat and mouse with him.

raining cats and dogs:  to rain very hard without stopping.

  • Example:  I look like I took a shower with my clothes on! It’s raining cats and dogs outside and I forgot to bring my umbrella.

Thumbnail image: while the cat's away

while the cat's away the mice will play people will behave badly or as they like when a supervisor or other authority figure is not present.

  • Example:  I'd be careful if I were you leaving your kids home for the weekend... as you know, while the cat's away the mice will play.


catch someone off guard:  to surprise someone.

  • Example:  When my boss told me he was raising my salary he really caught me off guard.

Thumbnail image: Catch someone with their pants down

catch someone with their pants down:  1) to surprise someone in an embarrassing situation;  2) to find someone while they're doing something wrong.


  • We caught our nanny with her pants down sleeping during the day when she was supposed to be watching the kids.
  • My boss caught me with my pants down at work. I thought everyone had left for the day so I was changing into my gym clothes when he walked by my desk!

catch up on something:  to complete things that you didn’t have time to finish before.

  • Example:  Since it was raining all weekend I caught up on my laundry and ironing.

would not/never be caught dead:  to never do (or wear) something.

  • Example:  My girlfriend bought me this tie and it's so ugly I’d never be caught dead  wearing it.

(get) caught up in something:  to be completely busy or absorbed in something.

  • Example:  I got so caught up in reading this book that I didn’t notice how late it was and didn't get to sleep until 3:00 AM.


fat chance:  having little or no possibility of happening.

  • Example:   Fat chance I’m going out tonight because I have to work late.

give half a chance:  to give someone an opportunity.

  • Example:  If my parents only gave me half a chance I could show them I’m responsible but they never trust me to do anything.

have a fighting chance:  to have a reasonable possibility or opportunity to do something.

  • Example:  Without chemotherapy she won’t have a fighting chance of beating cancer.

not a chance/no chance:  not having any possibility.

  • Example:  I wish that man would stop asking because there’s no chance I’ll ever go on a date with him.

not a snowball’s chance in hell/no chance in hell:  to not have any possibility.

  • Example:  There’s no chance in hell that I can finish this report by the end of the day.

on the off chance:  in the unlikely possibility.

  • Example:  On the off chance you get home before I do, can you please order us a pizza for dinner?

stand a chance:  to have the possibility for something to happen or be successful.

  • Example: I’m sorry to say that you don’t stand a chance of becoming a professional basketball player.

take one’s chances:  to allow luck to decide on an outcome.

  • Example:  I know it’s unlikely I’ll become a pop singer but I don’t care—I’m taking my chances anyway.

Thumbnail image: Wake up and smell the coffee


wake up and smell the coffee:  be more realistic about a situation, no matter how unpleasant it is.

  • Example:  You failed another test? Wake up and smell the coffee before you lose your scholarship.

Thumbnail image: Crack someone up


crack someone up:  to make someone suddenly laugh a lot.

  • Example:  My girlfriend told me a few jokes that cracked me up before I took my test and it really relaxed me.

crack up:  to suddenly laugh a lot, to burst into laughter.

  • Example:  I couldn't help cracking up when my boss walked onto the stage with toilet paper attached to her shoe.

Thumbnail image: Cry over spilled milk


cry over spilled milk:  to be upset, worried or unhappy about something that cannot be changed.

  • Example:  I know you're upset the airline lost our luggage but let's enjoy this holiday anyway. What's the use of crying over spilled milk?

Thumbnail image: As cool as a cucumber


as cool as a cucumber calm and relaxed (especially in a difficult or stressful situation).

  • Example:  I would have died but my friend was as cool as a cucumber when the mean girls started teasing her about her old dress.

More English idioms starting with the letter "C" will be added in the future so check back again soon or better yet, sign-up for my free newsletter so you can automatically know when there are new updates to my website.

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