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25 Number Idioms Explained to English as a Second Language Learners

Updated on October 1, 2012
It Takes Two to Tango
It Takes Two to Tango | Source

Idioms or idiomatic expressions might be one of the most confusing topics in English as a Second Language or ESL.

This is because they have embedded meanings that are so far off their literal definitions.

ESL learners have to look up their meanings in a dictionary to know how they can be used in sentences.

Below are some of the common number idioms or idiomatic expressions to help out ESL learners.

1. One’s Days are Numbered

We say that one’s days are numbered if that person will soon be fired from a job or be asked to leave a group. It can also be used in a situation where the person will, sooner rather than later, die.


I’m very sorry to tell you but your mother’s days are numbered. Cancer has spread all throughout her body.

2. One in a Million

A person is one in a million if he or she is exceptional or unlike any other. A person who is one in a million is usually special and brilliant.


That gymnast is one in a million. She already bagged five gold medals on the first day of the games.

3. Million Dollar Question

A million dollar question is a very difficult question to answer. It is often regarded as an important question which answer can make a big difference in a situation.


The million dollar question is how we can cure cancer. If we can find an answer to that question, then we can help millions of people around the world.

4. Million and One

Some things are a million and one if they are many, sometimes too many.


There are a million and one things to do in the Philippines. The country has 7,107 islands.

5. Look Like a Million Bucks/Dollars AND Feel Like a Million Bucks/Dollars

Somebody looks like a million bucks or a million dollars if he or she looks very good and is well-dressed, just like many millionaires.

Somebody feels like a million bucks or a million dollars if he or she feels great about himself or herself.


She certainly looks like a million bucks in her chic little black dress, gold bracelets, and towering nude pumps. She also feels like a million bucks because she oozes self-confidence and cheerfulness.

6. On Cloud Nine

A person is on cloud nine if he or she is in a state of bliss or happiness.


The newlyweds are on cloud nine. They seem to be very happy and excited to start a new phase of their lives together.

7. Nine-to-Five Job

A nine-to-five job is the typical job at an office that usually starts at nine and ends at five. Many nine-to-five jobs have scheduled and sometimes monotonous functions.


Some people prefer to have nine-to-five jobs because they think they are secured. Others do not want to have nine-to-five jobs because they think they are repetitive and uninspiring.

8. Nine Times Out of Ten

Nine times out of ten is an idiom that means “almost all the time.”


It was strange that Nina did not come over during the weekend. Nine times out of ten she would be here with us.

9. Six Feet Under

A person is six feet under if he or she is already dead and has been buried.


The rock star has been six feet under for two decades. His songs, however, are still popular among young people.

10. Give me Five OR High Five

Give me five or high five is an idiom that people use when they want other people to hit their hand with theirs. People use these expressions when they are happy about something.


Give me five! We won the game!

11. Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd

Two’s company, three’s a crowd means that two people often enjoy the company of each other. If a third person would go with them, then either one or both of the two people would be less happy.


Two’s company, three’s a crowd. Don’t ask a friend to come along on your date.

12. Three R’s

Three R’s refer to the three fundamental skills of learning, which are a(r)ithmetic, (r)eading, and w(r)iting.


She was taught well by her mother. She had learned the three R’s right before she entered school.

Two's Company, Three's a Crowd
Two's Company, Three's a Crowd | Source

13. Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

Two wrongs don’t make a right is a warning that we should not do bad things to others just because some people have done bad things to us.


Two wrongs don’t make a right and we should stop the cycle of violence. If you were physically abused when you were a kid, then you should not physically abuse kids now that you are an adult.

14. Two Heads are Better than One

Two heads are better than one is a saying that means working with another person can sometimes yield better results than working by one’s self.


Two heads are better than one. You better ask for somebody’s help if you think these tasks overwhelm you.

15. Stand on One’s Two Feet

To stand one one’s two feet means to be self-supporting, free and on one’s own.


We have to stand on our feet and stop counting on them for a living.

16. Put in One’s Two Cents OR Put in One’s Two Cents’ Worth

To put in one’s two cents or two cents’ worth means to add in to a discussion or state one’s opinion in a debate.


The priest put in his two cents’ worth about the controversial reproductive health bill in his country.

17. Like Two Peas in a Pond

Two people are like two peas in a pond if they are very close to each other, have similar interests, and even look alike sometimes.


The twins are like two peas in a pond. They are inseparable and impossible to tell apart.

18. Lesser of Two Evils

If there are two bad things and one has somewhat less bad things in it than the other, then it can be said to be the lesser of two evils.


The two politicians have bad reputations but one seems to be the lesser of two evils so more people might vote for him this coming elections.

19. Kill Two Birds with One Stone

When we try to kill two birds with one stone then we want to accomplish two things by doing only one action.


By going to the party, the professional makeup artist kills two birds with one stone. She networks with other professional makeup artists and she becomes visible to potential clients.

20. It Takes Two to Tango

It takes two to tango is an idiom that means two people should be held accountable for a problem or a situation.


It takes two to tango so the parents should both find solutions to their teenage kid’s rebellious ways.

21. One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Treasure

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure is an idiom that means that something that is worthless to someone could be valuable to someone else.


One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. My friend Kandee always stumbles upon great finds at the second-hand store.

22. Catch-22

Catch-22 is a situation that will always be bad, no matter how much people try to make it better. It is a no-win situation.


This is catch-22. If I work then, I will have little time for my daughter. If I spend much time with my daughter, then I will not be able to work.

23. Cast the First Stone

Somebody casts the first stone if he or she is the first person to criticize someone.


She is careful not to cast the first stone because she wants to avoid arguments at all times.

24. At the Eleventh Hour

At the eleventh hour means at the last moment.


At the eleventh hour, the policemen swooped in and saved the kid from sure and immediate danger.

25. Back to Square One

A person is back to square one if he or she is back to where he or she started.


After a massive failure, she is back to square one and has to restart her work.

Copyright © 2012 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved


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    • divakar3368 profile image


      5 years ago from Maldives

      nice ..very useful

    • ronbergeron profile image

      Ron Bergeron 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts, US

      #17 should be "Two peas in a pod". Peas grow in pea pods. Peas that grow in the same pod would be nearly identical.

      Learning a new language can be very confusing. Even when you understand each word, the meaning of an idiom may not be obvious.

    • remaniki profile image

      Rema T V 

      8 years ago from Chennai, India

      Very informative and useful hub. A must-read for everyone, so sharing it across for the benefit of the hub community. A neatly presented hub but for a small correction: It is "Two is company, three is a crowd". Thanks for the knowledge. Cheers, Rema.

    • CCahill profile image


      8 years ago from England

      Love idiums, theres a lot of wisdom to be learnt from them.

      Pretty sure its supposed to be 2 pea's in a pod not pond haha, when do you ever see Pea's in a Pond :D

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Brilliant...numero uno hub. LOL. Keep on Hubbing. Blake4d

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 

      8 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      There are so many idioms that confuse people trying to learn English. This is a great list of helpful ideas in teaching them.

      Votes and shared!

    • CyberFreak profile image


      8 years ago

      English is a second language to me, but most of these expressions exist in my native tongue too; however, I guess some readers could find the explanations useful.

      Nice hub, too!

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett C 

      8 years ago from Asia

      Great hub, so useful for efl teachers. Idioms are always tricky, but also normally a fun class to teach.

      Sharing, up and useful.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is so true. This is why the English language is the most difficult to learn.


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