Add insult to injury – 1) to hurt someone’s feelings after doing them harm.
Ex: He added insult to injury when he called the man a rat after he had already beaten him.
2) to make bad trouble worse.
Ex: We started on a picnic, and first it rained, then to add insult to injury, the car broke down.
Against One’s Better Judgment – if we do something against our better judgment, then we don’t believe it’s a right thing to do.
Ex: I let my son drive my car against my better judgment.
Alive and kicking – healthy and active
Ex: I came down with flu last week but I’m alive and kicking now.
Apple of discord – something that causes unhappiness due to envy or contention.
Ex: They are attracted to the same person and that is the apple of discord between them.
Be a good hand at (doing) something – to be talented, gifted or skilled in some activity.
Ex: Florian is a good hand at gardening.
Be a poor hand at (doing) something – to be untalented or clumsy in some activity.
Ex: He is a poor hand at table tennis so the children don’t like to play with him.
Be in hot water – be in trouble.
Ex: Our company is in hot water because they don’t have enough money to pay off the employees’ salaries.
Be in the black – to make a profit.
Ex: We are making a great year so our accounts are in the black.
Be in the red – to not being profitable or operating at a loss.
Ex: We owe so much money that our accounts are in the red.
Be in two minds – to be unable to decide.
Ex: I’m in two minds about moving abroad. It could be a good experience but I’m not sure.
Below the belt – if something is below the belt, then we are talking about unacceptable behaviour.
Ex: He told her that she was stupid which she felt as a hit below the belt.
Be over the moon – be extremely happy.
Ex: Martha has been over the moon ever since she’s got engaged.
Bet on the wrong horse – to support a wrong person.
Ex: I doubt that our candidate would win. We bet on the wrong horse.
Big girl’s blouse – used to insult a person who other people believe is behaving in a weak manner.
Ex: ‘I can’t help you carrying these books’ ‘Oh, please stop being such a big girl’s blouse.’
Birds of a Feather – refers to people similar in character.
Ex: They are so very much alike. They’re birds of a feather.
Burn the candle at both ends – to exhaust yourself by too much work;
Ex: Mary burnt the candle at both ends by working too hard.
Burn your bridges – to do something that cannot be changed in the future, to end up your relations with a person or organization.
Ex: Don’t burn your bridges. Try and stay in touch with your ex-colleagues by all means.
Burn your fingers – to have unpleasant result from an action; it usually refers to losing money.
Ex: Many companies burned their fingers on these shares.
By the book – to do something exactly by the rules or the law.
Ex: The police wanted to make sure everything was done by the book.
Carry a torch for someone – to be secretly in love with someone.
Ex: Kate’s never noticed that Nathan has been carrying the torch for her all these years.
(A) Change of Heart – to change your attitude or feelings about something.
Ex: Lisa’s plan was to move to France but when she realized how much she’d miss her family, she had a change of heart.
Chicken feed – an amount of money that is too small to be significant.
Ex: It’s a nice job but the salary is chicken feed.
Christmas comes but once a year – Christmas is a special day in a year when we should be good-willed and generous.
Ex: Let’s make a snowman with the children. Christmas comes but once a year!
Christmas graduate – a student who leaves college after first term.
(On) cloud nine – extremely happy.
Ex: Ken proposed to me last night. We’re getting married. I am on cloud nine!
Copycat – a person who imitates someone, usually refers to children’s behavior.
Ex: Look, our little daughter is imitating Lady Gaga! She’s such a copycat!
Cost an arm and a leg – to be extremely expensive.
Ex: The fur coat cost her an arm and a leg.
Cross your fingers! (Keep your fingers crossed!) – hoping the things will happen the way we want them to.
Ex: I’m having a driving test in the morning so cross your fingers.
Crybaby – someone who cries often for no particular reason.
Ex: My little sister is such a crybaby.
Cry Wolf – to complain about something when nothing is really wrong.
Ex: You shouldn’t cry wolf, as no one will come when needed.
Curiosity killed the cat – warn someone not to try to find out someone’s private matters.
Ex: You shouldn’t ask Jill so many personal questions; you may insult her. Curiosity killed the cat.
Dab Hand – an expert at certain activity.
Ex: Juliet is a dab hand at knitting.
Dark Horse – someone we know very little about.
Ex: Sheila is a dark horse. Did you know that she paints beautifully?
Divide and rule – the policy intended to keep someone in the position of disagreement for easier manipulation.
Ex: The government’s policy of divide and rule caused great disorder in the country.
Dribs and drabs – small, negligible amounts
Ex: I haven’t eaten anything properly today. Just dribs and drabs here and there.
(At the) drop of a hat – if something happens at the drop of a hat, then it happens immediately.
Ex: When the teacher entered the classroom, all students sat down at the drop of a hat.
(An) Earful – Refers to reprimands, criticism and unwanted suggestions.
Ex: I was given an earful for lack of attention from my Maths teacher.
Earn a fortune – to earn a lot of money
Ex: He made a fortune on the stock market.
Every cloud has a silver lining – there is hope in the most difficult situations.
Ex: I’m sorry to hear that your job search is going bad. But don’t despair, every cloud has a silver lining.
Face the music – to except the consequences of our doings.
Ex: After the last night’s accident, Tim will have to face the music and tell his mum about the broken car.
(A) far cry from – totally different from
Ex: Sydney was a far cry from the small town she grew up in.
Feel the pinch – to have financial problems because you are not earning as much as you used to earn.
Ex: When his parents lost their jobs they began to feel the pinch.
Fender Bender – minor traffic accident.
Ex: Sorry I’m late. There was a fender bender on the road.
Finishing touch – final details that complete one’s work.
Ex: I just need to add final touches to my new vase.
Fish or cut bait – used to tell someone to take action or stop promising that they will.
Ex: You have to make up your mind about selling the house. It’s time to fish or cut bait!
(A) flash in the pan – a sudden and brief success which cannot last.
Ex: It was obvious that a new singer was just a flash in the pan.
Get your fingers burnt – to suffer loss as the result of doing something risky
Ex: He got his fingers burnt in foreign markets.
Give and take – people should cooperate and compromise in order to be successful.
Ex: Every relationship requires lots of give and take.
Gloves are off – a situation which includes a serious dispute or even fight in order to achieve something.
Ex: I have been a friendly person so far, but now the gloves are off!
Go Dutch – share expenses (meal, drink) equally.
Ex: You don’t have to pay for me. Let’s go Dutch!
Golden opportunity – an excellent opportunity that is unlikely to be repeated.
Ex: This is a golden opportunity we must appreciate.
Grateful for small mercies – to appreciate small advantages and benefits as things could be even worse.
Ex: Sid wasn’t badly hurt, so we were grateful for small mercies.
Hard up – not having enough money.
Ex: I’m hard up these days.
Have deep pockets – to have a lot of money
Ex: This company has deep pockets.
Head in the clouds – not being present due to daydreaming.
Ex: The teacher was talking, but Tom didn’t listen as his head was in the clouds.
High and dry – to leave someone in an unsettled or difficult situation.
Ex: They got out of the deal and left us high and dry.
High as a kite – feel excited because of too much alcohol or drugs intake.
Ex: He was drinking until he was as high as a kite.
(Of a) high order – of a high quality or degree.
Ex: The position requires Academic English skills of a high order.
(It’s) high time – used to say that you expect someone to do something soon.
Ex: It’s high time you brought my newspapers!
Hit close to home – be too personal.
Ex: I felt insulted as her remarks were too close to home.
Hit the nail on the head – to do the right thing, be right about something.
Ex: He never talks much, but whenever he does, he hits the nail on the head.
Hit the roof – to suddenly become very angry.
Ex: When my dad saw the broken window, he hit the roof.
Hit the town – go out and have fun.
Ex: It’s Saturday, we’re going to hit the town tonight
Home and dry – to have finished something successfully.
Ex: Bob and Lucy have signed the contract so they’re home and dry now.
Home and hosed – safe and successful.
Ex: I’ve passed the test so I’m home and hosed for the time being.
Jump at the chance – to quickly and unexpectedly get a lucky opportunity.
Ex: When the band singer became ill, Bob jumped at the chance and became famous.
Keep it under your hat – to keep something a secret.
Ex: I’ve heard that Paul is having an affair, but keep it under your hat.
Keep the wolf from the door – to have just enough money to buy basic necessities.
Ex: He works two jobs to help keep the wolf from the door.
Kill two birds with one stone – to solve more issues with a single decision or action.
Ex: I think I’ll kill two birds with one stone if I visit my uncle while I’m in London on business.
Let the cat out of the bag – to reveal a secret.
Ex: You shouldn’t let the cat out of the bag and tell everyone about the party. It was supposed to be a secret.
Like a cat on hot bricks – tell someone that they’re being nervous.
Ex: He’s been walking around all morning like a cat on hot bricks.
Like a ton of bricks – heavily, forcefully, like a large burden.
Ex: If Mark finds out that you broke his car, he’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks.
Like turkeys voting for Christmas – a situation in which people accept something that may have negative consequences in the future.
Ex: The idea of allowing underaged children to drive cars is like turkeys voting for Christmas.
Lucky guess – happening by chance.
Ex: I didn’t know the answer. It was just a lucky guess.
Magic touch – ability to do something excellently.
Ex: My mum has a magic touch when it comes to cooking pasta.
Many moons ago – long time ago.
Ex: Grandma used to be very pretty many moons ago when she was young.
(In the) middle of nowhere – a remote area, far from towns and villages.
Ex: The campsite was in the middle of nowhere, so I couldn’t send you a postcard.
(The) moon on a stick – anything one could possibly desire.
Ex: Frank promised the moon on a stick to his wife when he proposed.
New Heights – to reach greater success than ever before.
Ex: Our basketball team have reached new heights recently.
Next to nothing – almost nothing, very small amount.
Ex: He knows much about chemistry but next to nothing about physics.
(In the) nick of time – Just in time or in the last possible minute.
Ex: I caught the train in the nick of time.
Night after night – every night.
Ex: He’s been working as a night porter night after night.
Night and day – all the time.
Ex: They’ve been studying night and day.
Night blindness – inability to see in poor light conditions.
Ex: It’s something about his sight. He suffers of night blindness, I believe.
Night safe (depository) – a box in a bank’s wall where one can put money or valuable items when the bank is closed.
Ex: We deposited the money in a night safe.
Not have a cat in hell’s chance – not have a chance at all.
Ex: They don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of buying a decent house for that amount of money.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained – one has to take the risk in order to get something good.
Ex: I asked Rebecca to go out with me and she accepted. You know what they say – ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Old chestnut – old story or a joke which is no longer interesting.
Ex: I can’t bear listening that grandpa’s old chestnut story again.
Once in a blue moon – rarely.
Ex: Since Gary started working in Leeds I only see him once in a blue moon.
(A) pat on the back – praise for an achievement or a good job done.
Ex: His boss will give him a pat on the back for working overtime.
(A) penny saved is a penny earned – it is wise to save money.
Ex: The manager advised everyone to save and said that ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’.
(It’s a) pity – We use this phrase when something is disappointing.
Ex: It’s a pity you can’t come to the picnic with us.
Put a sock in it! – An impolite way of telling someone to be quiet.
Can’t you stop talking! Put a sock in it!
Put the cat among pigeons – there’s going to be a trouble because of something someone had said or done.
Ex: Don’t tell them about our competitors’ success, it’ll put cats among pigeons.
Raining cats and dogs – expressive idiom giving the impression of heavy rain.
Ex: It was raining cats and dogs last night.
Red tape – official rules and procedures that prevent things from being done fast and easily.
Ex: Too much red tape prevents us from moving into our new apartment.
Ring a bell – something sounds familiar but you can’t remember the exact details.
Ex: His name rings a bell but I can’t remember where I’ve heard it before.
Ring in the new year – Welcoming the new year with celebration at midnight on 31 December.
Ex: We rang in the new year last night. It was a party to remember.
(A) Rough diamond – a person with great potential but lack of refinement.
Ex: Paul is intelligent and hard-working man, but he lacks sophistication, he’s a rough diamond.
Save a bundle – save a lot of money.
Ex: I saved a bundle by buying things on sales.
Saved by the bell – when something happens and interrupts difficult situation.
Ex: Luckily someone opened the door so I didn’t have to answer the unpleasant question.
Save for a rainy day – to put some money aside for unexpected difficulties.
Ex: Fortunately, Sue had some money saved for a rainy day.
Save one’s breath – it’s no use talking to someone as they’re not listening.
Ex: Save your breath! They can’t hear you because of the noise.
(to) Save the day – to do something that solves a serious problem.
Ex: Helen’s mother saved the day when she gave us some money for the taxi.
Seize the day – Take the opportunity to do something without worrying, make the most of the present moment.
Ex: Seize the day. You may never get a chance to visit India again.
(On a) shoestring – to do something with a very small amount of money.
Ex: We travelled to Paris on a shoestring.
Shrinking Violet – very shy person.
Ex: My sister is no longer a shrinking violet. When she wants something, she says it out loud.
Sleep on it – to wait and think about things before making decision.
Ex: I have to sleep on it and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.
(A) small fortune – refers to a lot of money.
Ex: I wonder if it’s worth spending a small fortune to repair my car or should I rather buy a new one?
Small wonder – it’s no surprise
Ex: She wasn’t invited to the party. Small wonder she hadn’t showed up.
(It’s a) small world – used to show surprise.
Ex: Here we meet again. It’s a small world
Smell to high heaven – strong or unpleasant smell.
Ex: What is it you’re cooking? It smells to high heaven!
Social butterfly – outgoing, probably a bit shallow and careless person who socializes with all social groups; usually lives to party.
Ex: His sister’s going from party to party, without single worry in the world. She’s such a social butterfly.
Soft touch – easy person.
Ex: Clara is a soft touch. We can always persuade her to babysit for us.
(Be no) spring chicken – be no longer young.
Ex: Betty is no spring chicken but she still looks fresh and energetic.
Spring fever – excitement and restlessness because of the warmer spring weather.
Ex: The spring fever started. No one feels like working or studying.
(A)spring in (one’s) step – walking happily, confidently and energetically.
Ex: Gwen has been walking with a spring in her step ever since she was promoted.
Steal someone’s thunder – take the credit for someone else’s work.
Ex: Sally stole my thunder when she told everyone that she made the cake all by herself, although we made it together.
(A) stroke of good luck – something good that happens when you least expect it.
Ex: I opened the book on exactly the same page by a stroke of good luck.
(One) swallow does not make a spring – the situation is not going to improve because of one good thing that happened.
Ex: Paul’s got a good grade in Math. However, one swallow does not make a spring. He has to get good grades from other subjects, as well.
Take each day as it comes – dealing with things as they happen, and not have any plans or worry about the future; live from day to day.
Ex: I’ve been through much lately, but I learned to take each day as it comes.
There and then – happens immediately
Ex: Ashley felt that she should tell him the truth there and then
There’s more than one way to skin a cat – there are different ways of doing something.
Ex: Our negotiations may have failed this time but there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
(Be) tied to your mother’s/wife’s apron strings – refers to people who are not capable of making decision independently or without their mother or wife.
Ex: He is 45 years old but he’s still tied to his mother’s apron strings.
Tighten your belt – to reduce the amount of money that you normally spend.
Ex: We’ve had to tighten our belts since my wife lost her job.
Time and again – repeatedly
Ex: He was asking himself the same question time and again.
Tip of the iceberg – only a small part of a much bigger problem.
Ex: Recent floods are just the tip of the iceberg.
Touch-and-go – critical situation.
Ex: Everything was touch-and-go before Pauline’s operation
Touch a sore spot (point) – sensitive matter.
Ex: We shouldn’t touch a sore spot and ask him about the accident
Touch base – to talk to someone for a while.
Ex: While we were in Italy we touched base with some old friends.
Turn a blind eye – pretend not to notice something.
Ex: The government is turning a blind eye to the victims of violence
Turn a deaf ear – refuse to listen or respond, ignore.
Ex: We shouldn’t turn a deaf ear to the cries of homeless people and refugees.
Turn over a new leaf – start all over again.
Ex: Lisa turned over a new leaf and no longer smokes.
Twist of fate – a change in a sequence of events.
Ex: By a twist of fate, they met again in New York.
Up and down – move repeatedly forwards and backwards along the given path.
Ex: We were walking up and down the beach every evening.
Wet Blanket – person who spoils other people’s fun.
Ex: I don’t want to be a wet blanket but could you please turn the music down!
When the cat’s away, the mice will play – to describe what happens when the teacher leaves the classroom.
Ex: They shouldn’t be so loud, but the teacher left the classroom, and when the cat’s away, the mice will play.
Wine and dine – eat and drink well.
Ex: We used to wine and dine in expensive restaurants every night during our holiday in Greece.
Worry wart – person who worries too much, usually without need to.
Ex: Sally is such a worry wart. She’s always worrying about something!