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The Idiomatic Fridge

English Idiom - The Idiomatic Fridge

We came across this fantastic cartoon by John Atkinson, from his site Wrong Hands, and thought it would be the perfect topic for a vocabulary lesson. It’s called The Idiomatic Fridge because all of the “foods” in here are actually idioms in English!

idiomatic fridge

Before we get started, take a look! Do you know any of these?

fish out of water

icing on the cake

piece of cake

top banana

second banana

tall drink of water

milk and honey

full of beans

bowl of cherries

bunch of baloney

whole enchilada

small potatoes

bad apples

good egg

big cheese

Definitions and Example Sentences

top banana 🍌

The idiom top banana is used to describe the best or most popular person in a show, group or organization.

Of all the comedians in the world, Robin Williams was the top banana. Would you agree?

second banana 🍌🍌

Going hand in hand with top banana is second banana which means the second best or most popular person in a show group or organization.

President Obama was top banana, but he would be nowhere without his second banana, Vice President, Joe Biden.

whole enchilada 🌮

The whole enchilada is a funny way of explaining that something is complete and comes all packaged together.

When considering vacation packages, I decided to go for the whole enchilada  and get a deal that included the room, transportation to the airport, and unlimited food and alcohol. I didn’t regret it, I had an amazing trip!

small potatoes 🥔

If something is small, insignificant, or cheap, we might say that it’s just small potatoes.

The price we pay for health insurance is small potatoes compared to what we would pay for medicine without it.

bad apples 🍎

If a bad apple is stored in a container with good apples, it will typically cause the other apples to rot faster. Someone who is very negative can make people around them very negative as well, so we call a negative or badly behaved person a bad apple or a rotten apple.

Joey always complained about his homework in class, and then I started noticing my other students didn’t want to do their work either. I think he’s a bad apple!

good egg 🥚

A good egg is pretty much the opposite of a bad apple. If you someone is just all around (like an egg!) a nice, helpful, and responsible person, he or she is considered a good egg.

When I broke my leg, my neighbor mowed my lawn and made me dinner without me even asking! What a good egg!

big cheese 🧀

If someone is very important and successful, we might call them the big cheese, or a big shot.

After Alex got promoted, he thought it was the big cheese around the office, but he quieted down once he realized he still wasn’t such a big shot...

tall drink of water  🚰

This isn’t an expression that we use very often anymore, but it’s still a funny one! If someone is very beautiful, handsome, and overall just very attractive, you could say that they are a tall drink of water. Imagine drinking a tall glass of water on a hot day. This is how some people feel when seeing someone very attractive!

Even after all these years of marriage, when my wife comes into the room I still think she’s a tall drink of water!

milk and honey 🥛 🍯  

This term is used to explain a land that has plenty of everything that you could possibly need to survive, and is therefore considered a perfect place to live.

When I moved to Florida, it had everything I could want, beaches, friendly people, and good food! I thought it was the land of milk and honey until I realized that I missed snow!

full of beans 🥫 

If you have a ton of energy, are very happy, and can't sit still you’re full of beans. 

On this beautiful summer day, we were full of beans and couldn't wait to go play outside!

bowl of cherries 🍒

When something is very nice, and everything is going perfectly in your day, or your life, we might say that it’s like a bowl of cherries.

Today I found $100 on the sidewalk! Life is a bowl of cherries!

However, this expression is actually used more often in a sarcastic or ironic way, meaning exactly the opposite of perfect.

My car broke down, and I was late for work so I lost my job. Life is a bowl of cherries, huh?

bunch of baloney 😡

If someone is telling you lies, or a fake story, we call this a bunch of baloney.

The car salesman promised me a good price on a car, but when I went to actually buy it, it was much more expensive than he originally said. What a bunch of baloney!!

fish out of water 🎣

A fish out of water is very uncomfortable, doesn’t know what to do and usually can’t survive. When someone is in a situation that they are unfamiliar with, or very uncomfortable with, we call them a fish out of water.

When Lexi visited China for the first time, she felt like a fish out of water because she didn't know anyone, couldn't speak Chinese, and had no idea where to find her hotel.

icing on the cake 🎂

This is another idiom that can be used positively or sarcastically. The icing on the cake is the colorful, sugary cream that goes on the top of the cake. It is the last thing done to make the cake look perfect.

We use this positively to talk about the final thing that made a situation just perfect:

The dinner was already amazing, but the waiter gave us a free bottle of wine, which was really the icing on the cake.

We also use it negatively, sarcastically, or ironically when a situation seems like it can’t get any worse, but then it does:

It rained on my wedding day, my mom couldn’t come because her flight was delayed, and the caterer canceled but the icing on the cake was that my husband got food poisoning! It’s ok though, the honeymoon was amazing!

piece of cake 🍰

Something that is very easily accomplished or achieved is known as a piece of cake.

I got the job! I had the right qualifications and had great answers prepared for their questions, so the interview was a piece of cake.

Other free English resources:

Idiomatic Fridge

Idiomatic Fridge

Check out this blog post to learn what "going hand in hand" means!

Check out this blog post to learn what "going hand in hand" means!


Most Common English Verb Tenses


Most Common English Verb Tenses

English Verb Form Frequency

We spend a lot of time in English class studying all the different verb tenses. I can't tell you how many times my students have asked me, "How often do we really use the future perfect progressive???" My answer is usually that it is very rare, but it's meaningful, and it can be helpful to understanding how the past perfect progressive works as well. But that really is a good question:

How often do we use each verb tense in English?

Let's start by saying that there is no one answer. As you may know, the English we use for speaking is different from the English we use in writing. There are many different situations to be speaking or writing in, and in each of those situations we would see different verb frequencies. Even from person to person, our individual speaking style might lead one person to use, for example, the present tense more often than another person. We can, however, observe some useful patterns.

The 5 Most Common English Verb Tenses

If you are looking for a quick answer, here it is:

5 Most Common English Verb Tenses
# Tense Frequency
1 Simple Present 57.51%
2 Simple Past 19.7%
3 Simple Future 8.5%
4 Present Perfect 6.0%
5 Present Progressive 5.1%

Some quick insights from the top 5:

  • The simple present accounts for more than half of the verbs in English speech

  • The 5 most common verb tenses total up to over 95% of usage

  • The simple tenses are the top three verb tenses

For a more in-depth analysis, read on!

The Source Material

For this post, I looked at an interesting research study by Krámský (1969). Krámský took several different samples of three different styles (or registers) of English—novels, plays, and specialized (academic and technical) texts. He analyzed 20,000-word samples from each text, counting each form of each verb, and sharing all his data.

His results are complex, and grouped in ways that might not be too helpful, but I have tried to regroup them and show them in charts that are more useful for language teachers and learners.

Before we look at some of those patterns, I want to include a caveat, or warning. When compared to all the language in the world, Krámský's sample is actually very, very small. Ideally, we would get this information from a larger base of language called a corpus, like the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Unfortunately, information of this kind is currently difficult (if not impossible) to get from most corpora. Still, the general proportions and patterns that Krámský found should be fairly accurate. The one other warning is that the texts Krámský used as samples of spoken (or colloquial) English are actually plays, written to sound like spoken English. It is very possible that examples of actual spoken English would be different from the language found in the plays.

Ok, now let's get to the fun stuff!

Verb Tense Frequency

First, I've broken each text type down by verb tense: past, present, and future:

As you can see, there are some big differences between different text types. Spoken English is mostly in the present tense (68.9%), but fiction is mostly past tense (57.6%). Specialized texts overwhelmingly use the present tense (87.1%).

This makes a lot of sense. In fiction, we generally tell stories that take place before: first this happened, then that happened, then that happened. When we speak, though, we talk a lot more about what we think and feel and like, what we do, who people are, our experiences and all of these things are expressed in the present tense. In specialized texts, we are often writing about things that are generally true, and here again, we use the present tense a lot.

The future tense is less used in all text types: 9% in speech, 2% in fiction, and 4% in specialized texts.

This table breaks down each tense by frequency in all three text types:

Usage of Verb Tenses by Frequency in each Genre
Tense Speech Fiction SPecialized
Present 68.9% 40.3% 87.1%
Past 22.4% 57.6% 8.7%
Future 8.7% 2.1% 4.3%

Verb Aspect Frequency

The tenses are easy enough—past, present, future—but the really tricky thing about learning English verbs is the four aspects: simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive. Thankfully, there isn't as much difference between the different styles of English when it comes to aspect. Take a look:

The charts look generally the same. In every style of English, the simple aspect—simple present, simple past, and simple future—makes up over 85% of verbs that we use. The lesser-used aspects all fall in the same order: after simple, it's perfect, then progressive, then perfect progressive gets a tiny little sliver of use.

Most Used Tenses and Aspects

5 verb forms make up 96% of all verbs in spoken English.

I think this may be one of the most useful insights from Krámský's work for teachers and students. Although there are 12 tense/aspect combinations in English, 5 of these cover around 96% of spoken English.

Notice that the simple present alone accounts for 57% of verbs. Next is the simple past (19.7%), then simple future (8.5%), followed by present perfect (6.0%) and then present progressive (5.1%). If you want to know which verb tenses to learn first, these five will definitely give you the most bang for your buck!

The remaining 7 tense/aspect combinations are each under 1.5% of spoken English verbs. Of course, it is valuable to learn all the combinations, but if you want to prioritize the most useful verb tenses, this should be helpful.

Active and Passive Voice

The passive voice is another of those constructions that challenges students and leads to the question, how useful is this? Well, again, Krámský's work gives us some idea how useful they are. Here is a breakdown of active and passive constructions in the three registers: 

The vast majority of verbs in English are in the active voice.

It is not surprising that the vast majority of verbs are active. The most important takeaways that I see are these: 97.5% of verbs in spoken English are active, but the passive voice is much more common in specialized and academic texts, in which only 82.2% of sentences are active.

Complete Table of Most Common Verb Tenses in English

Usage of Verb Tenses by Frequency in Spoken English
# Tense Frequency
1 Simple Present 57.51%
2 Simple Past 19.7%
3 Simple Future 8.5%
4 Present Perfect 6.0%
5 Present Progressive 5.1%
6 Past Progressive 1.4%
7 Past Perfect 1.2%
8 Present Perfect Progressive 0.7%
9 Future Perfect 0.2%
10 Future Progressive >0.1%
11 Past Perfect Progressive >0.1%
12 Future Perfect Progressive >0.1%

If you found this useful, please share the images or the link and tag us! #ginsenglish and @ginsenglish. 

More free grammar resources:


Level:  B1+
Topics:  Grammar, Verbs


British Bad Words


British Bad Words

One of the most interesting and difficult things about learning a new language is learning which words are bad, and how bad they are. If you learn English, for example, we have the words crap and shit. Both have the same meaning, but shit is a much stronger word. Your mom might tell you not to say shit, but most people don't mind crap.

A recent article at British newspaper The Indepedent describes a survey that was done by the British government's Ofcom (of + com = office of communications). This office decides what language is okay to say on TV. In the UK some language and content is acceptable after 9:00, when most kids are not watching, but not okay before that.

In the survey, they asked 200 people to rank bad words. Different rankings were mild (not bad, okay for kids), medium (maybe okay on TV before 9:00pm), strong (mostly okay on TV after 9:00pm), strongest (never okay before 9:00, generally okay after).

Here's the full list (sorry Mom! 🙊)

If you like this, check out these other great English posts!




British Bad Words


Anatomy of an Email - Greeting


Anatomy of an Email - Greeting

The punctuation you use at the end of an email greeting is important!  

If you found this Ginseng English tip helpful, please share with #ginsenglish and follow @ginsenglish on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook! Also, consider signing up for our online English courses!

Email English Greetings Ginseng Card


Portmanteau Words

A portmanteau word is a words that is made by combining two other words.

Portmanteau is a French word (pronounced /pɔːtˈmantəʊ/ in English) for a big suitcase that can hold many things. Because these words "hold" more than one other word inside them they were called portmanteaus by Lewis Carroll, the writer of Through the Looking Glass, who enjoyed using them in his writing).