Idioms

 Actions speak louder than words 

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.

 April showers bring May flowers

 Ask for the moon

 Autumn years

B

 Back of one’s hand

 Back to the salt mines

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 all fingers and thumbs

Be/feel under the weather

 Be/get on your high horse

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 someone’s good/bad books

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.

Between the devil and the deep blues sea

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.

Blow your own trumpet/horn

 Break the ice

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.

C 

Call it a day

 Can’t get enough of it

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.

D

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.

E

(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.

F

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.

 Fuddy-duddy

G

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 a long way

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.

H

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.

 Home free

 Hunky dory

I

It’s a pity/it’s a shame

J

January Blues

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.

K

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.

L

 (The) lesser of two evils

Let sleeping dogs lie

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.

M

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.

Money talks

(The) moon on a stick – anything one could possibly desire.
Ex: Frank promised the moon on a stick to his wife when he proposed.

N

Never say die

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 enough room to swing a cat

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.

O

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.

 Out of the blue

P

(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.

Pros and cons

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.

Q

R

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.

S

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.

Spring into action/life

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) stitch in time saves nine

(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.

T

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.

 Take something with a grain (pinch) of salt

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.

U

Up and down – move repeatedly forwards and backwards along the given path.
Ex: We were walking up and down the beach every evening.

V

W

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!

X

Y

 You can’t judge a book by its cover

Z

 

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