Building Idioms In English

Here is a list of idioms based on buildings. Each idiom is followed by its meaning / definition. Example sentences are also given.

An ivory tower

An ivory tower is a place of privileged seclusion. People living in ivory towers do not have to deal with the harsh realities of life.

• Even in democracies, it is hard to find leaders who remain constantly in touch with the people. Most of them live in an ivory tower just like the kings they replaced.

Chickens come home to roost

An idiom used to mean that you will always have to face the consequences of your bad actions.

• Bad deeds are like small children. They always come home to roost.

Hit the roof

To hit the roof is to lose one’s temper and show their anger.

• Dad hit the roof when he discovered that I had dropped out of school.

Hold the fort

To hold the fort is to look after a business or home when the person who normally takes care of these things is away.

• My boss is away on a business trip. Presently I am holding the fort.

Nothing to write home about

Used to refer to something that was not as good as expected.

•I watched that film yesterday after reading all of those five star reviews, but it was nothing to write home about. (= It was a mediocre film.)

Put your own house in order

If you ask someone to put their own house in order, you want them to solve their own problems before telling you how to solve yours.

• Don’t you think you should put your own house in order, before giving me advice?


If something is run-of-the-mill, it is quite ordinary.

• I am tired of watching the same run-of-the-mill shows on television.

The writing on the wall

Used to refer to the chances that something bad will happen.

• Good leaders should be able to see the writing on the wall.
• If the administrators were efficient, they should have seen the writing on the wall and come up with an effective strategy to deal with the menace called terrorism.

Waiting in the wings

If you are waiting in the wings, you’re waiting for a chance to take over a new role.

• Rahul is waiting in the wings but he won’t get a chance until a member of the cricket team drops out.
• We have millions of youngsters waiting in the wings for an opportunity.

Bank on something/someone

If you can bank on someone, you can be certain that they will be there for you when you need them.

• You can always bank on true friends.

Lock the barn door after the horse has bolted

To lock the barn door after the horse has bolted is to take measures to protect something after damage has already occurred.

• Hiring a watchman after last week’s burglary was a bit like locking the barn door after the horse had bolted.

Like a ton of bricks

When something hits you like a ton of bricks, it has a huge impact on you.

• The news of her death hit me like a ton of bricks.

Burn your bridges

To burn the bridges is to do something that would make it impossible to go back to a previous situation.

• You may quit the job if you don’t want to, but don’t burn your bridges. It always makes sense to leave on a positive note.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Used to mean that it takes a lot of time to do an important job.

• I have been working on this website for years and I am still not finished but that is hardly surprising. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Castles in the air

Castles in the air are day dreams.

• If you are always building castles in the air, you won’t make any progress in life.

Be in the doghouse

To be in the dog house is to be in real trouble.

• He was really in the doghouse when his father discovered that he was into drugs.

Make oneself at home

To make yourself at home is to act as if you are at home.

• She always makes herself at home when she visits her in-laws.

House of cards

A house of cards is a poorly thought out plan or action. It can also refer to a flimsy structure.

• One by one, his plans came crashing down like a house of cards.

On the house

If something (for example, drinks) is on the house, it is provided free by a business.

• The pub was celebrating its first anniversary so drinks and snacks were on the house.

Bring the house down

To bring the house down is to excite the audience with one’s performance.

• She really brought the house down with her splendid performance.

Go through the mill

To go through the mill is to experience a great deal of hardship.

• Since her husband’s untimely death, she has been going through the mill.

Go through the roof

To go through the roof is to become very angry.

• When my mom discovered that I had failed my test, she went through the roof.

Hit the roof

To hit the roof is to go into a rage.

• When she discovered that her son was into gambling, she hit the roof.

Be a tower of strength

To be a tower of strength is to give strong support.

• My family was my tower of strength all through the years I spent battling depression.

Climb the wall

To climb the wall is to be so bored that you become frustrated.

• The delay was so maddening that she started climbing the wall.

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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