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

  • Working at the university library lets me have my cake and eat it too :  I can study and make money at the same time.
  • My roommate thinks he can have his cake and it it too  but I'm not sure the two women he is dating would agree if they knew about it.

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

  • All of her boyfriends are rich but the millionaire businessman she’s dating right now takes the cake.
  • My brothers swear a lot but when my sister watches football her swearing takes the cake!

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

  • He was so excited to get accepted into an Ivy League school that getting a scholarship was just icing on the cake.
  • If we sign this client it will be icing on the cake  because we've already reached this year's sales target.


call for (something):  to demand or require something.

  • When the actor was found dead in his apartment the police called for  an investigation.
  • Your new job promotion calls for  a celebration!

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

  • She’s called in sick  again today. I think she must be pregnant.
  • The line is really long because the cashier called in sick  and the manager is ringing up sales.

call it quits:  to stop doing something.

  • I tried and tried to learn speak French but now I’m calling it quits.
  • Are you really going to call it quits  with your diet after just two days?
  • My parents called it quits  and got divorced two months ago.

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

  • It’s sad they called off the wedding  after they sent the invitations.
  • We'll have to call off the picnic  if it doesn't stop raining by ten o'clock.

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

  • It’s great to have a boyfriend to call on  when you need help around the house.
  • Luckily I can call on my mother  to help babysit my kids when there's an emergency.
  • Don't hesitate to call on me  when you move to your new apartment.

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.
  • Did you see who won the race? No, it was a close call  so we'll have to wait for them to announce the winner.
  • I've never been married before but I had a close call  when I was 21 and dating a girl from Spain.

on call:  available and ready to work.

  • My father is a doctor so he’s on call  a lot and sometimes goes to the hospital at night.
  • I'm trying to find a job anywhere and am also on call  with several temporary employment agencies.

something to call your own:  something that you own.

  • 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.
  • I know it's old and needs painting but this little cabin is finally something to call my own.

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

  • The race for the governor is too close to call  but I think our candidate will win.
  • The polls before the election had our candidate winning by 9 points but now the race is too close to call.


(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.

  • The investigation of donations made to the winning candidate during the election has really opened a can of worms.
  • I'd never have imagined that my daughter's selling cookies at the park would open a can of worms  but now we are in trouble with three different government departments.


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.

  • During midterm examinations all the students burn the candle at both ends.
  • If you keep burning the candle at both ends  you will end up with high blood pressure or some awful health problem.

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

  • 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!
  • Everyone on my street has a landscaping service but I have so many interesting plants, no one's garden can hold a candle to mine.


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

  • 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.
  • Sadly for me, my ex-husband held all the cards  in our relationship.

in the cards:  to be expected to happen.

  • I think a promotion will definitely be in the cards  if you continue to make your sales targets.
  • What does your horoscope have in the cards  for this month?
  • I guess going to an ivy-league university just wasn't in the cards  for me.

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

  • Play your cards right  in college and you’ll get a great job after you graduate.
  • If I play my cards right  I'll get a huge bonus check at the end of the year.

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

  • If you lay all your cards on the table  maybe she'll give you a second chance.
  • After my parents laid all their cards on the table  they realized the only thing keeping them together was my little brother and I.


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

  • I could care less  if all of my friends smoke. I’ll never do it because it’s bad for my health.
  • The salesperson is so slow it's obvious she couldn't care less  if we buy anything or not.

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

  • It was great to see you, take care.
  • Take care of yourself  and please send a message to let us know you arrive home safely.

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

  • If you don’t take care of your health  you'll get sick.
  • I'm always so stressed about money I think it's time I take care of my credit card debt.

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

  • Who cares  what day you do the grocery shopping as long as you are able to buy the food.
  • Who cares  if it's vegetarian food as long as it's free.


carry on:  to continue doing something.

  • When my husband lost his job he was brave and carried on  as if everything was okay.
  • As the British say, 'keep calm and carry on.'

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

  • I need some temporary employees to help carry me through  the extra work at tax time.
  • Listening to calming music helped carry me through studying  for my final exams.


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

  • Your dad will get off your case  when you finish your homework.
  • Our coach is going to get on your case  if you don't start stretching after practice.

in any case:  in whatever event happens or results.

  • 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 day of the summer.
  • We're driving to the meet in any case,  so you're welcome to ride with us.

in case:  if this situation happens.

  • In case  I’m not home by seven o’clock, please start cooking dinner.
  • I made snacks to take with us to the festival in case  they don't have vegetarian food.

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

  • In case of  any problems with the kids, please call us immediately.
  • Here's my email address—in case  you find the photo I'd live to get a copy.
  • In case  it snows, we'll take the bus or taxi to the theatre.

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

  • I always have an extra clean shirt and tie at work, just in case  a client stops in unexpectedly.
  • You should never gossip via email at work—just in case  the management team monitors your email.
  • I brought my umbrella just in case  it rains this afternoon.

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

  • 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.
  • Our children made a good case for an increase in their allowance  so we're giving them an extra $25 each week.
  • The prosecution failed to make a case for a murder conviction  so the defendant will be tried on manslaughter charges instead.

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

  • My wife is always on my case  about keeping the garage clean and tidy.
  • My parents were never on my case  about anything—I guess I was a pretty good kid.

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

  • Don’t worry I’m already on the case  and ordered extra supplies two days ago.
  • I woke-up early to get ready for the party we're hosting and was surprised to see my husband was already on the case,  cleaning the kitchen.


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

  • I wanted to say something at the meeting but the cat got my tongue.
  • I went to the senior dance with my dream girl but it was awful because the cat had my tongue  the entire evening.
  • Ugh! Cat's got my tongue  every time the professor asks me a question in class—even when I know the answer!
  • Jane:  Are you reading my emails again?  Pauline: (no reply);  Jane:  Answer me!  Pauline: (still says nothing);  Jane:  What's wrong? Cat got your tongue?

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

  • I’m getting your father new golf clubs for his birthday but please don’t let the cat out of the bag.
  • Never, ever tell Martha anything personal—she always let's the cat out of the bag.

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

  • 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.
  • I love the sound when it's raining cats and dogs  outside.
  • The weather forecast called for light rain throughout the day but it was raining cats and dogs  this afternoon and there was hail too.


catch someone off guard:  to surprise someone.

  • When my boss told me he was raising my salary he really caught me off guard.
  • I hope I didn't catch you off guard  when I arrived without calling.
  • I've prepared answers to every question anyone might think of asking because I hate when the audience catches me off guard.

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.
  • We're trying to make sure our boss is up-to-date on the legislation so he won't be caught with his pants down  when he debates his opponent.
  • Yesterday I caught my husband with his pants down  singing and dancing to my Taylor Swift CD while holding my hairbrush as a microphone.

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

  • Since it was raining all weekend I caught up on  my laundry and ironing.
  • I'm so exhausted that tonight I'm going to catch up on sleep.
  • Last night I caught up on old episodes  of "Sex in the City"  and "Desperate Housewives".

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

  • My girlfriend bought me this tie and I don’t know what I’m going to do because it's so ugly I’d never be caught dead  wearing it.
  • I took a taxi to the party because I wouldn't be caught dead  riding in my father's old car.

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

  • 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 2:00 a.m. in the morning.
  • We have a lot of work to do so please don't get caught up in the internet.


fat chance:  having little or no possibility of happening.

  • Fat chance  I’m going out tonight because I have to work late.
  • She gave me her phone number but fat chance  I'll call her.

give half a chance:  to give someone an opportunity.

  • If my parents only gave me half a chance  I could show them I’m responsible but they never trust me to do anything.
  • Please give me half a chance  and I'll show you how nice and charming I am.

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

  • Without chemotherapy she won’t have a fighting chance  of surviving breast cancer.
  • If we don't finish painting this evening we won't have a fighting chance  of completing the renovation on time.

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

  • I wish that man would stop asking because there’s no chance  I’ll ever go on a date with him.
  • I guess there's no chance we'll get there on time.
  • I tried my best but I didn't have a chance  against the more experienced player.

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

  • There’s no chance in hell  that I can finish this report by the deadline.
  • You don’t have a snowball's chance in hell  of making it to the airport in time for your flight.

on the off chance:  in the unlikely possibility.

  • On the off chance  you get home before I do, can you please order us a pizza for dinner?
  • I'm bringing my bathing suit with me on my business trip on the off chance  I find time for a quick swim.

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

  • I’m sorry to say that you don’t stand a chance  of becoming a professional basketball player because you're too short.
  • Do you think I stand a chance  of becoming president one day?

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

  • I know it’s unlikely I’ll become a pop singer but I don’t care—I’m taking my chances  anyway.
  • In tennis, the professionals have to take their chances  making shots close to the lines in order to win.


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

  • 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?
  • I cannot believe I forgot to pack my cocktail dress for the gala dinner. Well, there's no point crying over spilled milk.  I'll have to go shopping for a new one.


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

  • I highly recommend you hire Jessica. One of her best strengths is that she's as cool as a cucumber  whenever we have large conferences.
  • Since I attended all my classes and started studying weeks in advance I was as cool as a cucumber  during my final exams.
  • My sister was as cool as a cucumber  at her wedding but her fiance was a complete nervous and crying wreck!

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.

Which are your favorite English idioms?

The best way to learn—and remember—English idioms is to practice using them. Which are your favorite expressions from the list? Try to write a sample sentence below in the comments section using one of these English idioms from the list.

› "C" Idioms

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