Idioms & Phrases

Idioms & Phrases


Rank and File

Ordinary People

By fits and starts

In short periods, not regularly

Out of the wood

Free from difficulties and dangers

Under his thumb

Under his control

At one’s wits end

In a state where one does not know what to do

Between the devil and the deep sea

Between two dangers

Burn the midnight oil

Work or study hard

Call a spade a spade

Speak frankly and directly

Come off with flying colors

Be highly successful

Hit the nail on the head

Do or say the
exact thing

An axe to grind

A personal interest in the matter

At daggers drawn

Bitterly hostile

To play ducks and drakes

To act foolishly or inconsistently

To take the bull the horns

To tackle a problem
in a bold and
direct fashion

Rain cats and dogs

Rain heavily

To move heaven and earth

To make a supreme effort

Bark up the wrong tree

Accuse or denounce
the wrong person

Keep one at bay

Keep one at a distance

Make a clean breast of it

Confess – especially when a person has
done a wrong thing

Have a card up one’s sleeve

Have a secret plan in reserve

Like a cat on hot bricks

Very nervous

Cat and dog life

Life full of quarrels

Cock and bull story

Made up story that one should not believe

Cry for the moon

Ask for the impossible

Be in a tight corner

In a very difficult situation

At arm’s length

To keep at a distance

Show a clean pair of heals

Run away

Keep one’s fingers crossed

The anxiety in which you hope that nothing will upset your plans

In the nick of time

Just at the last moment

Sitting on the fence

Hesitate between two decisions

The gift of the gab

Talent for speaking

Feather one’s own nest

Make money unfairly

Throw out of gear

Disturb the work

Take to one’s heels

Run away

Tooth and nail

With all one’s power

Die in harness

Die while in service

Leave no stone unturned

Use all available

A man of straw

A man of no substance

Read between the lines

Understand the hidden meaning

In cold blood

Deliberately and
without emotion

A thorn in the flesh

A constant source of annoyance

Smell a rat

Suspect something

Harp on the same string

Dwell on the same subject

Bury the hatchet

End the quarrel and make peace

Leave one in the lurch

Desert one in
difficulties; leave
one in a
helpless condition

Like a fish out of water

In a strange situation

At one’s beck and call

Under his control

To make both ends meet

To live within one’s income

In hot water

In trouble

Nip in the bud

Destroy in the early stage

Stick to one’s guns

Remain faithful to the cause

To eat humble pie

To apologize humbly and to yield under humiliating circumstances

In high spirits

Very happy

Put the cart before the horse

Put or do things in the wrong order

On tenterhooks

In a state of suspense and anxiety

Wash one’s dirty linen

Discuss unpleasant in public-private matters before strangers

To bell the cat

To face the risk

A hard nut to crack

A difficult problem

Let the cat out of the bag

Reveal a secret

Kill two birds with one stone

To achieve two results with one effort

Take one to task


Gain ground

Become Popular

To blow one’s own

To praise one’s own trumpet achievement

A bosom friend

A very close friend

A brown study


Turn a deaf ear

Disregard / ignore
what one says

A close shave

Narrow escape

Turn over a new leaf

Change for the better

Make up one’s mind


In the long run

Eventually; ultimately

Bring to light


Pay off old scores

Take revenge

Hard and fast rules

Strict rules

At the eleventh hour

At the last moment

A close shave

Narrow escape

To cut a sorry figure

To make a poor show

With a high hand


Burn one’s fingers

Get into trouble interfering in other’s affairs

Laugh one’s head off

Laugh heartily

Chew the cud

Ponder over something

Play second fiddle

Take an unimportant part

Above board

Honest and open

Through thick and thin

Under all conditions

Put a spoke in one’s wheel

To upset one’s plans

At sixes and sevens

In a disordered/
manner, chaotic

Alpha and omega

The beginning and the end

At sea

Confused and lost

By leaps and bounds


To burn one’s boats

Go back on a decision

To beat about the bush

Talk irrelevantly

To burn candle at both ends

To waste lavishly

A bone of contention

A source of quarrel

Add fuel to the fire

To aggravate the situation

At a snail’s pace

Very slowly

A bolt from the blue

Something unexpected

To build castles in the air

Make imaginary schemes

Once in a blue moon

Something that
happens very rarely

Beating around the bush

Avoiding the
main topic

Cry over spilled milk

Complaining about
a loss or failure
from the past

Chip on your shoulder

When someone is
upset about something
that happened a while

Piece of cake

Something that is easy
to understand or do

Golden handshake

A big sum of money given to a person
when he/she leaves
a company or retires

Spill the beans

To disclose a secret

Blessing in disguise

Something good and useful that did not initially seem that way

Mean business

Being Serious or Dedicated

Come hell or high water

Possible obstacles in your path

Apple of one’s eye

Being cherished

Bite off more than you can chew

Not able to complete a task due to
lack of ability

The best of both worlds

The benefits of widely differing situations, enjoyed
at the same time

Feeling a bit under the weather

Feeling slightly ill

Icing on the cake

Something that turns good into great

Cost an arm and a leg

Be very expensive

Jump the bandwagon

To join a popular
activity or trend

Ball is in your court

When it is up to you to make the next decision or step

To be in the doldrums

To be in low spirits

To sit on the fence

To remain neutral

Break the ice

To initiate a social conversation or interaction

Hear it on grapevine

To hear rumors about something or someone

Can’t judge a book its cover

Cannot judge
something primarily
on appearance

It takes two to tango

Actions or communications need more than one person

Black and blue

Full of Bruises

Be on cloud nine

Be very happy

Last straw

The final problem in a series of problems

A bird’s eye view

A view from a very
high place that
allows you to see
a very large area

A litmus Test

A method that helps to know if something is correct

At the drop of a hat

Willingness to do something instantly

Afraid of one’s own shadow

To become easily frightened

A house of cards

A poor plan

Fool’s paradise

False sense of

Get a raw deal

To not be treated
as well as
other people

Give cold shoulder

To ignore

Hand to mouth

Live on only basic necessities

Make a face

To show dislike or disappointment
through facial

It’s Greek to me

Something that is not understandable

To pour oil on troubled waters

To make peace

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Do not put all
your resources in
one basket
(in one place or thing)

To put in a nutshell

To say in a few words
or to make something