Idiomatic Expressions, their Meaning and Examples
Below are some of the most useful idiomatic expressions, their meanings and examples that you need to rehearse for your IELTS – International English Language Testing System. Your ability to use them appropriately and where relevant will earn you higher scores in the IELTS Exam. These idiomatic expressions are needed for both the speaking and writing test especially, though they will still find usefulness in the listening and reading test. Kindly practice with them as much as you can, Happy learning!
- A bitter pill
Meaning: A situation or information that is in-pleasant but must be accepted
Example: Getting a poor performance review was a bitter pill to swallow, but it made me a better worker.
- Actions speak louder than words
Meaning: People’s intension can be judged better by what they do than what they say.
Example: You keep saying that you’ll do your fair share of the housework. Remember that actions speak louder than words.
- A dime a dozen
Meaning: Very common and no particular value
Example: Experts in this field are a dime a dozen.
- Add insult to injury
Meaning: To act a way that makes a bad or displeasing situation worse
Example: My car barely started this morning, and to add insult to injury, I got a flat tire in the driveway.
- All ears
Meaning: Listening intently, fully focused or awaiting an explanation
Example: I’m all ears, tell me what happened with you.
- Barking up the wrong tree
Meaning: Looking in the wrong place, accusing the wrong person
Meaning: If you think I’m the guilty person, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
- Beat around the bush
Meaning: Avoiding the main issue, not speaking directly about a topic
Example: Don’t beat around the bush—just tell me the truth.
- Bed of roses
Meaning: An easy, comfortable situation or an easy life
Example: Who said life would be a bed of roses? If I had a million bucks, I would be in a bed of roses.
- Best of both worlds
Meaning: To get all the advantages of two things at the same time
Example: She works in the city and lives in the country, so she gets the best of both worlds.
- Bite off more than you can chew
Meaning: To talk a task that is way too big
Example: I bit off more than I could chew when I volunteered to manage three little league teams in one season.
- Call it a day
Meaning: To declare the end of a task
Example: I’m tired. Let’s call it a day.
- Can’t judge a book by its cover
Meaning: Cannot judge something primarily on appearance
Example: This report may look dull, but don’t judge a book by its cover
- Cat nap
Meaning: To have a short, light sleep, a doze
Example: I’m really tired. I need a cat nap right now!
- Couch potato
Meaning: A lazy person
Example: The only thing you do all day is watching TV. You’ve become a real couch potato, haven’t you?
- Cry over spilled milk
Meaning: When you complain about a loss from the past
Example: Yes, we made a mistake, but there’s no point in crying over spilled milk.
- Curiosity killed the cat
Meaning: Being inquisitive can lead to an unpleasant situation
Example: I know curiosity killed the cat, but I can’t stop the investigation until I know where the donations are really going.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Meaning: Do not put all your resources in one possibility
Example: relax! Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
- Have a blast
Meaning: To have a good time or to enjoy
Example: The kids are having a blast running around the beach all day.
- Hit the road
Meaning: To depart, to start the journey
Example: We better hit the road before traffic gets even worse.
- Hit the sack/sheets/hay
Meaning: To go to bed
Example: It’s 10 pm. I’m going to hit the hay.
- It takes two to tango
Meaning: Actions or communications need more than one person
Example: She may want to argue, but it takes two to tango and I won’t stoop to her level.
- Kill two birds with one stone
Meaning: To accomplish two different things at the same time
Example: John learned the words to his part in the play while peeling potatoes. He was killing two birds with one stone.
- Miss the boat
Meaning: Someone missed his or her chance
Example: There were tickets available last week, but he missed the boat by waiting till today to try to buy some.
- Off the hook
Meaning: To escape a situation of responsibility, obligation or (less frequently) danger
Example: I couldn’t get myself off the hook no matter what I tried.
- Pushing up daisies
Meaning: Euphemism for dying or death
Example: If you talk to me like that again, you’ll be pushing up the daisies!
- A picture paints a thousand words
Meaning: A visual image is far more descriptive than words
Example: Wow! She is so elegant! A picture paints a thousand words!
- Piece of cake
Meaning: A job, task or other activity that is easy or simple
Example: No problem. When you know what you’re doing, it’s a piece of cake.
- Once in a blue moon
Meaning: Happens very rarely
Example: Once in a blue moon, I buy a fashion magazine, just to see what people are wearing.
- He/she’s a big fish
Meaning: Being the boss, the leader
Example: I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond than move to New York City and be a nobody!
- Spill the beans
Meaning: To reveal someone’s secret
Example: There is a surprise party for Heidi on Wednesday. Please don’t spill the beans.
|Beat around the bush
|To avoid talking about what’s important
|Get your act together
|Get organized and do things effectively
|Hit the sack
|Go to sleep
|Your guess is as good as mine
|I do not know
|Good things come to those who wait
|To have patience
|Back against the wall
|Stuck in a difficult circumstance with no escape
|Up in arms
|Being grumpy or angry about something
|Scrape the barrel
|Making the most of the worst situations or things because you can’t do anything about it
|Burn your boats/bridges
|Doing something that makes it impossible to go back to the original state.
|Break fresh/ new ground
|Doing something that has never been done before
|Sell like hot cakes
|Run around in circles
|Putting efforts into something that is not a worthwhile result
|On cloud nine
|Being very happy
|Left out in the cold
|Blow hot and cold
|Alternate inconsistently between moods and actions
|Doing something in an easier and least expensive manner
|Boil the ocean
|Taking up an almost impossible or overly ambitious project
|Keep an ear to the ground
|Staying informed and updated about everything
|Eat like a horse
|Eating too excessively
- In for a penny, in for a pound
Meaning: That someone is intentionally investing his time or money for a particular project or task.
Example: When Athlead was booming, Jim was in for a penny and in for a pound, that’s how much dedicated he was.
Also Read: go on a wild goose chase meaning
- A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush
Meaning: An opportunity in hand, currently, is better than a prospect in the future, because time never repeats itself.
Example: The detective apprehended 3 criminals and saw another one running but didn’t chase him, because she knew a bird in one hand is better than two in the bush.
- Chip off the old block
Meaning: A person is similar in behaviour or actions to his parents.
Example: When grandmother saw her grandson collecting coins like her son used to do, she knew he was a Chip off the old block.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Meaning: Treat people the same way you want to be treated.
Example: I felt Peter was a little cold today towards that homeless man, he should do unto others as he would have them do unto him, because who knows about time.
- Don’t cry over spilt milk
Meaning: Don’t cry over what has happened as it can not be fixed.
Example: Walter failed his examination but his dad came and said just one thing, “Son, Don’t cry over spilt milk.”
- Every cloud has a silver lining
Meaning: Bad things one day eventually lead to good things.
Example: See, yesterday you were so morose as your phone was stolen but look at you today, you got a promotion. Is it rightly said that every cloud has a silver lining.
- Beside yourself with joy
Meaning: To be extremely happy.
Example: I can see that you are beside yourself with joy on being selected for the job, congratulations.
- Fair and square
Meaning: Being direct or fair.
Example: To tell you fair and square, I did everything that I was meant to do, but I still feel unfulfilled.
- Having an Ace up the sleeve
Meaning: Have an advantage that is currently being withheld for future purposes.
Example: Brian kept quiet at the board meeting, who knew he had an Ace hidden up his sleeve the whole time.
- A black sheep
Meaning: Being a disgrace for the family.
Example: They don’t talk about Olive anymore, turns out he was the Black sheep for the family, he married someone else while he was still arranged to his fiancé.
- Hook, line and sinker
Meaning: Doing something or trying to achieve something with thoroughness and passion.
Example: I have set my mind to go through the spreadsheets by Monday and I am working for it Hook, line and sinker.
- Looking to your laurels
Meaning: Not be lost in your achievements and losing the sight of what is supposed to happen.
Example: Look to your laurels but do not rest on it.
- Bear a grudge
Meaning: To continue to feel angry or unfriendly for someone or something because of a particular past incident.
Example: I Bear a grudge against him for not taking me into confidence.
- By the skin of your teeth
Meaning: To just barely get by or make it.
Example: Lester made the dance team By the skin of his teeth, you see the audition gates were about to get closed.
- Down for the count
Meaning: Tired; giving up.
Example: My pet dog is down for the count after playing the whole day with the frisbee.
- Draw the line
Meaning: To stop before a point where something okay gets not okay.
Example: Hey buddy, that’s enough, Draw the line before someone comes and beats you to a pulp.
- Easier said than done
Meaning: Not as easy as it appears to be.
Example: Listen, losing weight is easier said than done, many people lack commitment.
- Break a leg
Meaning: Saying good luck to someone.
Example: Hey Barry, it’s time for you to get on the stage and present your monologue, break a leg.
- Up a creek without a paddle
Meaning: In an unlucky situation.
Example: Dan tried to dine and dash yesterday at a Chinese place but he was stopped by the waiters, guess he was up a creek without a paddle yesterday.
- Give it a whirl
Meaning: To give something a try.
Example: I am absolutely terrified of skydiving, but I think once in my life, I will give it a whirl.
- Fish out of water
Meaning: To be out of your comfort zone.
Example: Tom felt like a fish out of water when his girlfriend took him to a Star Wars convention in LA.
- In the fast lane
Meaning: A life filled with excitement.
Example: When Chris turned forty, he decided to live his life in the fast lane and quit his job for his hobbies.
- Go the extra mile
Meaning: To make an extra effort.
Example: He was willing to go the extra mile for the love of his life, Mia.
- Snug as a bug in a rug
Meaning: Warm and cosy.
Meaning: The baby looks as snug as a bug in a rug next to her mother.
- Step up your game
Meaning: To start performing better
Example: Jennifer better step up her game if she wants to make big in Basketball.
- To not see the wood for the trees
Meaning: To be so involved in trivial matters that you don’t get the important facts.
Example: He always argues on the silliest topics, it’s like he can’t see wood for the trees.
- Lose your marbles
Meaning: To go insane.
Example: Our mailman has lost his marbles, every day he drops Mr. Smith’s mail on our door.
- Straight from the Horse’s mouth
Meaning: Directly from the person involved.
Example: Listen to the news straight from the horse’s mouth, his factory burned down right in front of his eyes.
- Crying Wolf
Meaning: To ask for help when you don’t need it.
Example: You have cried Wolf so many times that no one believes you now.
- Palm off
Meaning: Pass off something as genuine when it is spurious.
Example: This shopkeeper always palms off old stock to the customers.
- Has bigger fish to fry
Meaning: Has more important work to do.
Example: Please don’t bother me today with any calls, I have bigger fish to fry.
- Look before you leap
Meaning: Calculate the risks before advancing towards a possibility.
Example: You can’t just sell all of your shares when the market is low, look before you leap, Trump is coming tomorrow, it is possible the shares will grow.
- On thin ice
Meaning: In a precarious or risky situation.
Example: Andy played hooky from work for a week saying he was sick, now his boss said that he is on very thin ice.
- Play devil’s advocate
Meaning: To argue, just for the sake of it.
Example: He was not agreeing to back off, as if he was playing devil’s advocate.
- Rain on someone’s parade
Meaning: To spoil a moment.
Example: He told his wife that he doesn’t want to rain on her parade, but they had to shift their vacation dates.
- Take a rain check
Meaning: Postpone a plan.
Example: He asked me whether I would like to have dinner with his family, but I had a thing so I said, rain check.
- Take it with a grain of salt
Meaning: Don’t take it too seriously.
Example: She tells great tales but we take whatever she says with a grain of salt.
- Like a cakewalk
Meaning: So easy task.
Example: Everyone took hours to write the code but Adam did it like a cakewalk.
- Throw caution to the wind
Meaning: Take a risk.
Example: The caretaker threw caution to the wind by taking a sick baby outside.
- Penny-wise and Pound foolish
Meaning: Careful in trivial matters but wasteful or extravagant in large matters.
Example: That man eats Ramen noodles daily for dinner but for his dog, he threw a big party. He is indeed penny-wise and pound-foolish.
- The whole nine yards
Meaning: Everything, all the way.
Example: I want to know everything there is to know about this merger, the whole nine yards of the deal.
- The best thing since sliced bread
Meaning: A really good invention.
Example: Bluetooth is officially the best thing since sliced bread.
63. Bite off more than you can chew
Meaning: Take on a difficult work that is beyond your capabilities.
Example: Andrew told his boss that he will triple the sales but in reality, he bit off more than he can chew and now all of us are in trouble.
64. Play by the ear
Meaning: To improvise.
Example: I just went to Canada and did everything by the ear, no itinerary, no schedules.
65. Ignorance is bliss
Meaning: You are better off not knowing some things.
Example: His wife always asked him what it was he did late at night, turned out, he was insider trading. But she knew nothing about this so she won’t be convicted, sometimes ignorance is bliss.
66. Put something on ice
Meaning: To put something on hold.
Example: As per the boss’ order, Michael has put his personal matters on ice.
67. You can say that again
Meaning: That’s absolutely true.
Example: “The Earth is bleeding”, you can say that again, pal.
68. Bite the bullet
Meaning: To get something over with because it is inevitable.
Example: Vik was diagnosed with second stage cancer but he didn’t want to get chemotherapy. By the will of his wife, he bit the bullet.
69. Go back to the drawing board
Meaning: Start over.
Example: It is not too late to go back to the drawing board and assess your mistakes.
70. Call it a day
Meaning: Stop working on something.
Example: Ah! So what we didn’t complete the puzzle today, let’s call it a day and come back again tomorrow.
71. Beating Around the Bush
Meaning: To talk about unnecessary things.
Example: When I asked my secretary about the missing file and documents, she was beating around the bush.
72. Be in a Tight Corner.
Meaning: Being in a difficult situation.
Example: Radha’s low grades despite her constant efforts has put her in a very tight corner.
73. At the 11th Hour
Meaning: At the last moment.
Example: While leaving for Shimla, Harshit kept his mobile phone charger in the bag at the 11th hour.
74. Swan Song
Meaning: The last piece of work of an artist before his/her death.
Example: This painting was M.F Hussain’s swan song.
75. Wild Goose Chase
Meaning: Futile Chase
Example: Catching the two thieves together on a jam-packed road was no less than a wild goose chase for the policeman.
76. Bury the Hatchet
Meaning: Ending a quarrel to make peace.
Example: My father buried the hatchet by equally diving the pasta between me and my sister.
77. To Bell the Cat
Meaning: To face a risk.
Example: He belled the cat when he was trying to escape the prison.
78. Turn a deaf ear
Meaning: To ignore what someone is saying.
Example: Whenever her mother complained of her excessive use of mobile phone, Anu turned a deaf ear.
79. At Sea
Example: I was at sea while choosing a lehenga for my sister’s wedding at Manish Malhotra’s store.
80. To be in the doldrums
Meaning: To be in a low spirit
Example: When I got to know about the increasing cases of COVID 19 in my area, I was in the doldrums.
81. Hit the books
Meaning: Going to study
Example: I won’t be able to come for dinner as I have to hit the books for my half-yearly examinations.
82. Twist someone’s arm
Meaning: To convince someone
Example: I was not planning to come to the party but by remaining me of all the good food you twisted my arm!
83. Stab someone in the back
Meaning: To betray a close person
Example: My uncle trusted his driver so much but he stabbed him at the back when he saw all the money bags.
84. Go cold turkey
Meaning: To quit or stop addictive or dangerous behaviour
Example: No one could believe that my father left eating sweets! He went cold turkey when the doctors told him that he has diabetes.
85. Ring a bell
Meaning: Sounds familiar
Example: Why does this name ring a bell in my head? Was this girl in my school?
86. Cut to the chase
Meaning: Getting to the important point
Example: As the submissions were to be made tonight, boss cut to the chase and asked us to start working.
87. Blow off steam
Meaning: Experiencing strong feelings like anger or stress
Example: Shina went running to blow off steam as she had a huge fight with mother.
88. Face the music
Meaning: Face the reality
Example: Shikha asked her husband to not run away from the problem and just face the music once!
89. To have sticky fingers
Example: The cashier had a sticky finger, he stole around $2000 and ran away from the bank.
90. Break the bank
Meaning: To be very expensive
Example: I had to break the bank to but these shoes!
Also Read: it takes two to tango meaning
91. Face the music
Meaning: Confront the unpleasant consequences of one’s actions.
Example: We have done it and now it’s time to face the music!
92. It is always darkest before the dawn
Meaning: Things will get better
Example: I know you have gone through the worst, but remember it is always darkest before the dawn.
93. Jump the gun
Meaning: To act on something promptly before the right time
Example: I think I jumped the gun by sending the e-mail before they tell the time.
94. Wear your heart on your sleeve
Meaning: Expressing yourself too openly
Example: She wears her heart on her sleeve and often gets hurt.
95. Cut no ice
Meaning: Fail to make an impact
Example: Your poetry cuts no ice with me.
96. Light at the end of tunnel
Meaning: Seeing signs of improvement in the future
Example: I see the light at the end of the tunnel for my relationship with her.
97. Through thick and thin
Meaning: Through good and bad times
Example: Books and music stay by your side through thick and thin.
98. Cry for the moon
Meaning: To ask for something that is rather difficult
Example: You are crying for the moon for this concert’s tickets!
99. Read between the lines
Meaning: Understanding the real message behind something
Example: If you try to read between the lines, her song is actually about nizagara
100. Pour out one’s heart
Meaning: To express openly
Example: I can’t pour my heart out to you if you are too distracted by everything around you.