American Idioms List:

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.

  • She kicked the habit  a year ago but then she gained 20 lbs, which is common when smokers stop smoking.
  • If you kick the habit  your risk for many types of cancer will decrease dramatically.


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

  • I tried going to law school but I couldn’t hack it.
  • I thought you couldn't hack  it but your performance was better than the more experienced salespeople.


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

  • Don’t talk to me like that again I’ve had it with your attitude.
  • We’ve been walking around trying to find the shop for three hours and I’ve had it — let’s go home.

had better:  must or should do something.

  • You had better  get good grades or you’ll lose your scholarship.
  • I’d better  get going or I’ll be late for work.
  • We had better  buy travel insurance this time.


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.

  • Here are three overdue bills! I can't believe you're burying your head in the sand  again.
  • Her ex-boyfriend blocked her on Facebook a month ago but she has her head buried in the sand  and refuses to stop calling him.

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.

  • Now that I'm working in the office I'm just keeping my head above water  with all of the housework, cleaning and shopping.
  • On the other hand, the extra income from my job is now more than enough for us to keep our heads above water.


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

  • I hail from  the great state of New York.
  • Really? My husband hails from  the same small town—Do you know the Brown’s?


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

  • The only time my mom lets her hair down  at parties is if she has had several drinks.
  • I can never manage to let my hair down  at office events.

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

  • When Sandy went camping, the noises outside the tent made her hair stand on end.
  • Spiders and rats make my hair stand on end.

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

  • When my assistant forgot to give me the director’s message I was pulling my hair out.
  • I wanted to tear my hair out  when my colleague was promoted instead of me. 

split hairs:  to argue about small details or differences.

  • Although we both agreed to divorce, my husband is splitting hairs  about our settlement.
  • I’ll just pay the whole bill myself—I hate splitting hairs  about the charges.


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

  • When trying to lose weight, eating healthy is only half the battle.
  • Getting my son into his pajamas is half the battlethen I have to get him to brush his teeth and go to bed.

half a mind to do something:  considering doing something.

  • My dog had half a mind to eat  the steak but she jumped off the table when she heard me coming.
  • I have half a mind to tell  your father how you speak to me.

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

  • She’s never lived anywhere except Beverly Hills so she has no idea how the other half lives.
  • He’s a millionaire now but he knows very well how the other half lives  because he grew up very poor.

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

  • My mom’s pasta dishes are not half bad  but she makes terrible desserts.
  • She doesn’t look half bad  when she wears makeup.

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

  • The money is not the half of itthe real issue is that you lied to me.
  • Her arriving late every morning is not the half of it!  She's also very rude and unhelpful to our clients.


grind to a halt:  to slowly and completely stop.

  • After two days of snow, the city ground to a halt.
  • If the factory can’t find new workers, production will grind to a halt.


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

  • My colleague mentioned his Ivy League education all day to try to hammer home  his superior intelligence.
  • We’ve got to hammer it home  to students that they have to take control of their own education.

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

  • The most important thing is that we agreed to work together—we can hammer out the details  at our next meeting.
  • The business deal fell through because we couldn’t hammer the financial terms out.


at hand:  happening now or present at this time.

  • We will have four nurses at hand  to give flu shots to attendees who want them.
  • Let’s talk about the actual problems we have at hand  and worry about financial matters later.

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

  • 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.
  • You can either continue to bite the hand that feeds you  or just get a new job.

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

  • This furniture was made by hand  so it’s very unique and carefully crafted.
  • All of our carpets are woven by hand  by artisans in Iran.
  • I always wash my delicate clothing by hand  to make sure the fabric doesn't shrink.

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

  • This old house has changed hands  15 times since it was built 200 years ago.
  • Yuck! The food is terrible—Is it possible that the restaurant has changed hands  since we last ate here?

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

  • I’m so good at building model airplanes I could do it with one hand tied behind my back.
  • Playing the guitar was hard at first but now I can do it with one arm tied behind my back.

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

  • I wanted to wait three months before I told my boss I was pregnant but my morning sickness forced my hand  and I had to explain why it was always late.
  • When our neighbors all bought iPads for their children it forced our hands  to do the same.

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

  • My boss is great because she’ll get her hands dirty  and help us with mailings and phone calls whenever we get really busy.
  • My son was never one to get his hands dirty.  Even when he was a boy, he used his allowance to pay his sister to mow the lawn and clean his room.

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

  • You’ve got both arms full of groceries—can I give you a hand  opening the door?
  • I’m so glad you lent me a hand  with the cleaning—I never would’ve finished on time.

go hand in hand:  to work well together.

  • Try these headphones—they go hand in hand  with that MP3 player.
  • I think peanut butter and honey go hand in hand  but everyone else likes peanut butter and jelly or jam.

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

  • I’m the fourth girl in the family so almost all my clothes are handed down to me.
  • This printer was handed down to us  from the accounting department.

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

  • Could you please hand out these brochures  to each person?
  • I can’t attend the management meeting so if they hand out any documents  can you please get copies for me?
  • They handed out free ice cream cones  to all the kids at the shopping mall today.

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

  • The policeman stopped the car for speeding and asked the driver to hand over  his driver's license and insurance.
  • The robber told the bank to hand over  the money immediately or he’d shoot the hostage.
  • The state police handed over  the suspect to federal investigators for prosecution.

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

  • The spouse who earns money outside the home often has the upper hand  in the marriage.
  • Both teams have excellent players but our coach is better so we have the upper hand.

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

  • During registration we have our hands full  with many different tasks.
  • At the moment I can’t take on any new clients because my hands are already full.

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

  • Unfortunately, I’ve got a serious problem on my hands  with the new factory in Thailand so I’ve got to travel there tomorrow.
  • Our twins were quiet babies but now we’ve got very noisy and active two-year-olds on our hands.

in good (safe) hands:  being taken care of or managed very carefully.

  • 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.
  • I thought getting a financial advisor would keep my money in safe hands  but it’s been the opposite case.

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

  • Keep your hands off the antiquesI don’t want to have to buy something because you break it.
  • You and your husband need to discipline your son—for now I’m going to keep the school’s hands off the situation.

lay a hand on someone:  to physically hurt someone.

  • If my husband ever lays a hand on me I will leave him immediately and never return.
  • His father used to lay a hand on him  almost everyday—until he grew up and was big enough hit back.

on hand:  something that is immediately available.

  • The new fire station has two fire trucks on hand  to handle any emergencies.
  • Please call us today—our experienced financial advisers are on hand  to provide free consultations.

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

  • 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.
  • On the one hand  I really want to see my friends, on the other  I know I’ll be worried about my research paper if I go out.

one’s hands are tied:  someone is unable to act or do something.

  • I wish I could sell you a ticket to the game but the system is down right now so my hands are tied.
  • Unfortunately, my hands are tied  because my son left his phone here at home so there's no way for me to contact him.
  • Can you hold this dress until Friday? My hands are tied  until I get my paycheck.

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

  • The party got out of hand  and they had to call the police.
  • My father’s drinking is getting out of hand  so were trying to persuade him to get help.
  • My request to work from home once a week was rejected out of hand,  so I’m thinking about quitting.

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.

  • I’m sorry I can’t shake your hand  today because I broke my finger.
  • I hate it when businessmen shake hands  really hard.

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

  • 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.
  • Do you think it's wise at this time to show your hand  before you file for a divorce?

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

  • Normally I don’t like to exercise but I’m going to try my hand at golf.
  • Yesterday, I tried my hand  at baking bread and it was so easy and delicious I’m going to do it every week.

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

  • When my kids became 18 years old I washed my hands of doing their laundry.
  • I had to wash my hands of my daughter  when she got on drugs and refused to stop lying and stealing from us. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.

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

  • When I broke both of my legs my mother had to come and wait on me hand and foot.
  • He’s disgusting—he makes his poor wife wait on him hand and foot  while he watches television.


get the hang of something:  learn how to do something.

  • I got the hang of ice-skating  the first time I tried it.
  • I never got the hang of playing  video games so I hate them.

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

  • The kids that hang around  the library always do well in school.
  • My parents don’t let me hang around  with older boys.

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

  • Hang in there—it usually takes six months to find a good job.
  • Running the last five miles of the marathon was excruciating but I hung in there  and finished the race.

hang it up:  to stop doing something.

  • You’ve been working for 12 hours!  Why don’t you hang it up  and go to sleep?
  • I used to go to the clubs every Saturday night but I had to hang it up  when I got a job.

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

  • Hang on I’ll be right back.
  • She’s hanging on  the hope her ex-boyfriend will come back to her but it’s not going to happen.

hang onto:  to keep something.

  • I’m going to hang onto  your passport until we check you into the hotel and then I’ll return it to you.
  • Hang onto  this ticket—you’ll need it to get into the seminar.

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

  • I can’t believe you’re hanging me out to dry  when you promised to drive me to work!
  • When my husband left me I was lucky my parents didn't hang me out to dry,  even though they warned me not to marry him.

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

  • Sorry I can’t go with you. I like to hang out with my parents  on Sundays.
  • Do you want to hang out with us  tomorrow?
  • We used to hang out  a lot last semester but now we never see each other.

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

  • Even though we were 20 points behind, we hung tough  and played hard the whole game.
  • The director of the company is hanging tough  on his decision to make everyone work overtime next month.

hang up:  to end a telephone connection.

  • Before we hang up I want to tell you about my vacation plans next month.
  • Sandy, hang up  the phone and do your homework!

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

  • I can’t believe my mother just hung up on me  when I asked her for some money.
  • Whenever telemarketers call our house, I just hang up on them.


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

  • 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.
  • He's got his head in the sand  and refuses to fire his secretary who's stealing from him.


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

  • That doctor has a heart of goldhe listens to his patients and always calls us later to make sure we are feeling better.
  • Your sister has a heart of gold.  She was so kind to us at your wedding and let us stay at her house all weekendshe pampered us in every way!


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

  • Even though my grandparents are very different they are still a match made in heaven.
  • I'm not sure that Sandy and Jeff are a match made in heaven—they fight constantly.
  • Nutella hazelnut spread and bananas are a match made in heaven!


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

  • 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.
  • My roommate and I hit it off  the first time we met and have been close friends now for almost 40 years.

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

  • As soon as we hit the road  we got into an accident so we never went camping last weekend.
  • I'm so tired I better hit the road  now—I have a two-hour drive back to city.


to get hitched:  to marry. (informal)

  • I thought I'd never get hitched  but after your mom got pregnant there wasn't really any other choice in those days.
  • We're getting hitched  on June 15th so save the date!


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.

  • 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.
  • Are we off the hook  or are we still going to your parents' house for dinner on Sunday?
  • If we get one more call from a telemarketer during dinner I am going to take the phone off the hook!


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

  • 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.
  • We're really fortunate that the company's CEO is coming to the staff meeting this morning. We'll be able to hear all of the latest news and developments straight from the horse's mouth.

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

  • Honey, you better hold your horses—we're driving through a school zone.
  • Hold your horses  kids—we'll be there in fifteen minutes.
  • I'm sorry but I have to hold my horses  and talk this over with my wife before making a final decision.


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.

  • 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.
  • Does your boyfriend always have you jumping through hoops  like this?


eleventh hour:  the last moment or almost too late.

  • I waited until the eleventh hour  to submit my application but luckily I finished it on time.
  • Quentin don't wait until the eleventh hour  to do your homework! You need to go to bed early tonight.

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

  • I met a really nice girl at happy hour  yesterday so I'm going back this evening to meet her for another drink.
  • Did you know that Guapos has $3 margaritas and $2 bottled beer during their happy hour? 

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

  • I hate my job so my lunch hour  is my favorite part of the day.
  • I'm trying to lose weight so every day I walk 45 minutes during my lunch hour.

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

  • 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.
  • We're driving to the beach on Friday so we have to leave early to avoid rush hour  traffic.

Have you signed-up for my free newsletter? I include an audio magazine article every month that's choc full of new vocabulary and idioms.

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. Don't worry. This is a safe environment in which to practice. I will revise any mistakes in your practice sentences.

So try to use one or two idioms from the list above in your own sentences.

› "H" Idioms

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.