English Idioms

Do you know these idioms?

A Needle In A Haystack
A Piece Of Cake
A Watched Pot Never Boils
Bite The Bullet
Burn The Candle At Both Ends
Cat Got Your Tongue
Down In The Dumps
Draw The Line
Head Above Water
Hit The Road
Hit The Sack
On Thin Ice
Put All Your Eggs In One Basket
Sit On The Fence
Spill The Beans
Straight From The Horse’s Mouth
The Lion’s Share
Throw In The Towel
Tighten One’s Belt
Walking On Air

What is an idiom?

It is a commonly used phrase that, when taken as a whole, has a particular meaning that you would not be able to deduce from the meanings of the individual words. An idiom is typically figurative, hence a prior understanding of its usage is usually necessary.

Are idioms commonly used?

Yes! Apart from literary work such as short stories and novels, idioms are also used in everyday conversations and speeches. You can also frequently hear them in movies and television shows.

Do I need to learn idioms for the PSLE English examination?

Absolutely! Idioms are included in the MOE English syllabus. Idioms like ‘a piece of cake’ and ‘once in a blue moon’ are introduced in the lower primary levels. From then on, students are required to build up their knowledge of idioms (much like building up vocabulary) and know their applications in sentences. There are many areas in which a student may find having good knowledge of idioms empowering:

In Paper 2 (Vocabulary MCQ)

This is an actual question that appeared in the preliminary examination paper of a top school in 2021.

It is hard to understand what Leon is trying to tell us with all the unimportant information that he provides. He always likes to ____________________________________.
(1) put his foot down
(2) beat about the bush
(3) make a beeline for it
(4) leave no stone unturned

Idioms are frequently tested in the Vocabulary MCQ section.

In Paper 1 (Continuous Writing)

Idioms can be used to “add colour” and introduce powerful imagery into essays. It is an effective way to inject creativity into essays and make them more interesting to the reader.

For example, instead of writing:
“Mike scanned the area carefully, hoping to detect a movement in the bushes or a figure escaping into the depths of the forest. He felt sick but he could not rest. The dangerous fugitive still had not been captured after escaping from prison the day before. Mike and his team of police officers combed through the forest, doing all they could in order to find the fugitive.”

“Mike scanned the area carefully, hoping to detect a movement in the bushes or a figure escaping into the depths of the forest. He was feeling under the weather but he could not rest. The dangerous fugitive was still on the loose after escaping from prison the day before. Mike and his team of police officers combed through the forest, leaving no stone unturned in their search.”

We have more examples on how to use idioms in your essays to impress the reader.

In Paper 3 (Stimulus-Based Conversation)

Having the ability to summon good vocabulary (idioms and phrasal verbs too) to mind and use more advanced words during an oral examination is a huge advantage that will enable a student to score points. Where the context is appropriate, idioms can be injected into a conversation to make it more interesting.

For example, instead of saying:
“Tik Tok is a very popular social media app. My friends are all avid users so I decided to join them.”

“Tik Tok is a very popular social media app. My friends are all avid users so I decided to jump on the bandwagon.”

Idioms are definitely helpful in impressing the examiners during the PSLE Oral Stimulus-Based Conversation.

The Idiom Power List

This is a comprehensive list of commonly used idioms. For each idiom, we have provided the meaning and an example sentence. Do take the time to learn how an idiom is used in a sentence. For assessment objectives, we have online quizzes for idioms set up in our Vocabulary online module.

  • a bad egg
    a dishonest, ill-behaved or unreliable person
    The new boy is always getting into trouble and does not follow any of the rules. I think he is a bad egg.
  • a bed of roses
    a comfortable situation; an easy life
    The life of the royal family is a bed of roses.
  • a bitter pill to swallow
    something that is very unpleasant but must be accepted
    Losing the game to an inexperienced player was a bitter pill to swallow for Dave.
  • a blessing in disguise
    something that seems bad or unlucky at first, but results in something good later
    Losing the job turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Evan as it gave him the freedom and time to pursue his interest in business.
  • a chip off the old block
    someone whose appearance, character or personality resembles that of their parent
    Leon is a chip off the old block with his brown eyes and his dad’s smile.
  • a clean bill of health
    a declaration or confirmation that someone is completely fit and healthy or something is in good condition
    The elderly man was relieved when he received a clean bill of health from the doctor.
  • a close shave
    a narrow escape from serious danger or trouble
    The passengers in the jeep had a close shave when a mine exploded just a few metres away.
  • a dime a dozen
    extremely common and therefore not very valuable or special
    Action movies are a dime a dozen these days.
  • a dog with two tails
    used to say that someone is very happy and excited about something
    When Joe got the promotion, he was like a dog with two tails.
  • a greenhorn
    a young, immature or inexperienced person, especially one who is extremely gullible or easily deceived
    Ken is just a greenhorn and does not have all the experience that you do.
  • a hard nut to crack
    a person or thing that is difficult to deal with, understand or influence
    He is a hard nut to crack, but I think I have a way to get his approval.
  • a hot potato
    a situation or subject that makes everyone feel uncomfortable about and that no one wants to deal with
    The minister will not be speaking on this topic as it is a political hot potato.
  • a needle in a haystack
    something that is impossible or extremely difficult to find, especially because the area you have to search is too large
    Finding the receipt in this huge pile of documents is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
  • a penny for your thoughts
    used to ask what someone is thinking about
    You’ve been awfully quiet tonight, Mary – a penny for your thoughts?
  • a perfect storm
    an extremely bad situation in which many bad things happen at the same time; the worst possible situation
    Everything went wrong. It was a perfect storm.
  • a piece of cake
    something that is easy to do
    Preparing a feast for 10 people is a piece of cake for Chef Koh.
  • a slap in the face
    a surprising act that offends or insults someone
    It was a real slap in the face when the bank rejected my loan application.
  • a slap on the wrist
    a warning or punishment that is not very severe
    In the past, officers who mistreated prisoners often received a mere slap on the wrist.
  • a slip of the tongue
    an unintentional mistake made while speaking
    I did not mean to tell her about the incident. It was a slip of the tongue.
  • a snowball effect
    a situation in which something increases in size or importance at a faster and faster rate
    The more successful you become, the more publicity you get. It is a kind of snowball effect.
  • a storm in a teacup
    a situation in which people are very angry or upset about something that is not important
    I don’t know why they are still arguing over this matter. It is just a storm in a teacup!
  • a tall story
    a story that is very difficult to believe; a greatly exaggerated story
    After dinner, Aunt Mary told me a tall story about her pet dog.
  • a thorn in one’s flesh
    a person or thing that causes a lot of problems for someone; a constant source of irritation
    My new neighbour likes to play loud music at night. He is a thorn in my flesh!
  • a walk in the park
    something that is easy and pleasant to do
    The previous project was a walk in the park compared to this one.
  • a watched pot never boils
    used to mean that time passes very slowly when one is waiting for something to happen if that is the only thing one is thinking about
    You should do something with your time instead of just sitting there waiting for the news. After all, a watched pot never boils.
  • a white elephant
    something that costs a lot of money but has no useful purpose
    The stadium is likely to become a white elephant after the sports events are over.
  • an eye for an eye
    used to say that a person who treats someone else badly should be treated in the same way
    I don’t believe in that kind of an eye for an eye justice.
  • apple of one’s eye
    a person or thing that someone loves very much
    His daughter is the apple of his eye.
  • at one’s fingertips
    (especially of information) readily available; accessible
    Because the internet is so easy to access these days, we have every resource imaginable at our fingertips!
  • at someone’s beck and call
    always ready to do whatever someone asks
    Your mother can’t be at your beck and call all the time.
  • at the drop of a hat
    to do something immediately without stopping to think about it; willingly and without hesitation
    People should sort out their own minor problems and not just call the police at the drop of a hat.
  • at the eleventh hour
    very late or at the last possible moment
    The exhibition was cancelled at the eleventh hour.
  • barking up the wrong tree
    to have a wrong idea, or do something in a way that will not lead to the right information or result
    If you think she is going to help you, you are barking up the wrong tree.
  • be in black and white
    in written or printed form, and not just said
    We must have the agreement in black and white before we can proceed with the payment.
  • beat about the bush
    to discuss a matter without coming to the point
    Stop beating about the bush and say what is on your mind!
  • behind one’s back
    in one’s absence
    We should not gossip about Ann behind her back.
  • beyond the call of duty
    more than one is expected or required to do
    We want to reward emergency workers who go beyond the call of duty to help others.
  • bite the bullet
    to do or accept something unpleasant, or to be brave in a difficult situation
    I hate going to the dentist, but I’ll just have to bite the bullet.
  • bite the dust
    to end in failure
    His career bit the dust when he lost his job.
  • blow hot and cold
    to alternate inconsistently between two moods, attitudes or courses of action
    He has been blowing hot and cold about the trip to Canada.
  • blow one’s own trumpet
    to talk boastfully about one’s achievements
    I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet, but this cake I baked is quite delicious!
  • born with a silver spoon in mouth
    born into a very wealthy family
    She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and has never experienced hardship before.
  • break a leg
    (spoken) used to wish somebody good luck
    I know you can do it! Break a leg!
  • break new ground
    to do something that has not been done before
    Benson has really broken new ground with his latest invention. I have never seen anything like that!
  • break the ice
    to do or say something that makes people who do not know each other feel more comfortable
    I tried to break the ice by talking to the people next to me about the weather.
  • bring home the bacon
    to earn a salary and provide the necessities of life
    Mr. Tan works hard to bring home the bacon for his family.
  • build castles in the air
    to daydream; to have unrealistic plans or hopes for the future
    Instead of building castles in the air, Tom should work harder if he wants to achieve success.
  • burn the candle at both ends
    exhaust one’s energies or resources by leading a hectic life, especially by going to bed late and getting up early
    Evelyn has been burning the candle at both ends for a month now. I am worried that she might fall sick as a result.
  • burn your bridges
    to do something that makes it impossible for you to return to the situation you were in before
    You have just burned your bridges by insulting your manager in front of your colleagues.
  • bury the hatchet
    to stop an argument and make peace
    After many years of conflict, the two countries finally decided to bury the hatchet.
  • by hook or by crook
    by any possible means
    I decided I was going to the concert by hook or by crook.
  • by leaps and bounds
    very quickly
    The total number of species on the planet appears to be growing by leaps and bounds.
  • call a spade a spade
    to speak frankly about something, even if it is not polite or pleasant
    The lawyer said, “Let’s call a spade a spade. Lilian didn’t borrow the money. She stole it.”
  • call the shots
    to be the person who makes all the important decisions in a situation or in an organisation
    You have to get Penny’s approval because she is the one who calls the shots around here.
  • carry weight
    to be important or meaningful, especially in influencing others
    Dr. Tay has worked in the industry for decades, so his opinions carry a lot of weight.
  • cat got your tongue
    used to ask someone why he or she is not saying anything
    With the way you are keeping quiet, one would wonder if the cat got your tongue?
  • caught in the act
    to be seen doing something illegal or immoral
    The men were caught in the act of digging up buried explosives.
  • come to the point
    to talk about the most important problem or matter immediately
    Stop avoiding the issue and come to the point!
  • cook one’s goose
    to interfere with, disrupt or ruin something for someone
    I cooked my own goose by not showing up on time.
  • cost an arm and a leg
    to be extremely expensive
    I want a new car that does not cost an arm and a leg.
  • cross the line
    to do something that is outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour
    My mother looked at me angrily, and I knew I had crossed the line.
  • cut corners
    to do something in a cheaper or easier way to save money or effort
    Don’t be tempted to cut corners when renovating your house.
  • cut somebody some slack
    to treat someone in a less harsh or critical way
    Would you cut John some slack? He is trying his best to solve the problem.
  • dead broke
    having no money at all
    Can I return you the money next week? I am dead broke right now.
  • down in the dumps
    feeling very sad
    John is a bit down in the dumps. Let’s try to cheer him up.
  • draw the line
    set a limit on what one is willing to do or accept
    I will do whatever my company asks me to, but I draw the line when someone asks me to lie for them.
  • drive a hard bargain
    to be very determined to get what one wants when discussing something, especially a business deal
    You drive a hard bargain, but I will accept your terms.
  • face the music
    to be confronted with the unpleasant consequences of one’s actions
    After several years of cheating his clients, Joseph finally had to face the music.
  • fan the flames
    to do or say something to make an argument, problem or bad situation worse
    His speeches fanned the flames of racial tension.
  • fight tooth and nail
    to try with a lot of effort or determination to do something
    We fought tooth and nail to get our proposal accepted by the committee.
  • fish in troubled waters
    to try to gain an advantage from a difficult situation or from someone else’s problems
    Thomas is clearly seeking to fish in troubled waters by selling his goods at a high price during this time.
  • fly off the handle
    to become very angry suddenly
    Theresa tends to fly off the handle when her friends disagree with her.
  • foot the bill
    to pay for something
    It is a business lunch, so the company is footing the bill.
  • get into hot water
    to encounter trouble or difficulty, especially one which will result in punishment
    You will get into hot water if you break the traffic rules.
  • get one’s act together
    to take action to become well-organised, prepared or in a better state of life
    You need to get your act together if you want to be successful by the age of thirty.
  • get one’s feet wet
    to start doing something for the first time
    Why are you so nervous about operating this simple machine? Just get your feet wet and you will be familiar with it in no time.
  • get one’s goat
    to make someone annoyed or angry
    It really gets my goat when people invade my personal space.
  • get out of hand
    to become difficult or impossible to control
    Police officers were deployed when the situation began to get out of hand.
  • get to the root of the matter
    to find or understand the cause of a particular problem or issue
    We still do not understand what happened. We must get to the root of the matter.
  • get wind of something
    to hear a piece of information that someone else was trying to keep secret
    I do not want my colleagues to get wind of the fact that I am leaving the company.
  • give someone the cold shoulder
    to deliberately ignore someone or be unfriendly to them
    After Lisa got the promotion, a few of her colleagues started giving her the cold shoulder.
  • give someone a taste of their own medicine
    to treat someone as badly as they have treated you
    Lionel is always late for appointments and keeps people waiting, so we decided to give him a taste of his own medicine.
  • hang in there
    said as a way of telling someone to not give up despite difficulties
    Work can get tough but hang in there and it will be alright.
  • have a bee in one’s bonnet
    to talk and think a lot about something
    He always has a bee in his bonnet about workplace safety.
  • have a big mouth
    to be likely to reveal personal or confidential information to other people
    Be careful of what you say around her – she has a big mouth.
  • have a bone to pick
    to want to talk to someone about something annoying that the person has done
    Hey, I have a bone to pick with you! Why did you tell Amy that I broke the vase?
  • have a field day
    to get a lot of pleasure or advantage from doing something, especially one which is bad for someone else
    The reporters had a field day when they found out about the politician’s dishonest act.
  • have a finger in the pie
    to be involved in a matter, especially in an annoyingly interfering way
    You have to bear a share of the responsibility if you want to have a finger in the pie.
  • have a frog in one’s throat
    to be unable to speak normally because one’s throat is dry and hoarse
    The cold has left him with such a frog in his throat that he can barely talk.
  • have a sweet tooth
    to have a great liking for sweet-tasting food
    Please feel free to add more sugar if you have a sweet tooth!
  • have an axe to grind
    to have a private reason for doing or being involved in something
    When I see him supporting someone who could be his rival, I cannot help but think that he has an axe to grind.
  • have an eye for something
    to have an ability to notice or make good judgments about something
    Emily has a keen eye for detail, so each gown is beautifully made.
  • head above water
    to avoid being consumed by a stressful or unpleasant situation (often related to work or finance)
    The business is in trouble, and we are trying our best to keep our heads above water.
  • heads will roll
    used to say that people will be severely punished or will lose their jobs because of something that has happened
    When the director finds out about this grave error, heads will roll.
  • hit the jackpot
    to have a big success or make a big profit, usually through luck
    He seems to have hit the jackpot with his new invention.
  • hit the nail on the head
    to describe a situation or problem exactly
    Aaron hit the nail on the head when he said that the problem was caused by calculation errors.
  • hit the road
    to leave a place or begin a journey
    We better hit the road before traffic gets worse!
  • hit the roof
    to get extremely angry
    Adam’s parents are going to hit the roof once they hear about his behaviour at the party just now.
  • hit the sack
    to go to bed
    I am really tired after working the whole day. I am going to hit the sack now.
  • hold one’s tongue
    to refrain from speaking or replying despite wanting to say something
    I wanted to point out the error to the manager, but I held my tongue.
  • in a nutshell
    very briefly, giving only the main points
    Prices are increasing and unemployment is rising. In a nutshell, the economy is in trouble.
  • in a pickle
    in a troublesome or difficult situation
    You left us in a pickle when you postponed the meeting without informing us.
  • in mint condition
    in new or perfect condition
    This is a fine car. It runs well and is in mint condition.
  • in the long run
    over or after a long period of time; eventually
    You may want to give up now, but I am sure you will regret it in the long run.
  • in the loop
    informed and actively participating in something such as an ongoing discussion or project
    Please keep Timothy in the loop so he can continue to advise us on the procedure.
  • in the nick of time
    at the last possible moment; just in time
    We reached the train station in the nick of time.
  • in the red
    spending and owing more money than is being earned
    Apparently, the company had been in the red for some time before it went out of business.
  • in the same boat
    to be in the same unpleasant situation as others
    As tough as it is to live with a disability, remember that you are not alone – a lot of other people are in the same boat.
  • in the soup
    in a bad situation; in trouble
    Her provocative comments landed her in the soup.
  • in the twinkling of an eye
    very quickly
    A computer can do the calculations in the twinkling of an eye.
  • jump on the bandwagon
    to join or follow something once it is successful or popular
    There will always be people ready to jump on the bandwagon and start classes in whatever is fashionable, even though they have little or no training.
  • keep a person at arm’s length
    to avoid being very close to or friendly with someone
    They no longer trust Amy and are keeping her at arm’s length.
  • keep an eye on
    to watch someone or something carefully; to monitor someone or something closely
    Could you keep an eye on my bag while I visit the washroom?
  • keep the ball rolling
    to maintain the progress of a project, plan etc.
    I have started the preparations for the trip, but it is up to you to keep the ball rolling.
  • kick the bucket
    to die
    I want to travel the world before kicking the bucket.
  • leave no stone unturned
    to try every possible course of action in order to achieve something
    The detective left no stone unturned in his search for the robbers.
  • lend a hand
    to provide help
    I am sure your neighbour will be happy to lend a hand.
  • let someone off the hook
    to allow someone who has been caught doing something wrong or illegal to go without being punished
    The kind judge decided to let Owen off the hook as it was his first offence.
  • let the cat out of the bag
    to reveal a secret carelessly or by mistake
    How did Tom find out that we were planning a surprise party for him? Who let the cat out of the bag?
  • live from hand to mouth
    to have just enough money to live on and nothing extra
    My father earned very little and there were three kids in my family, so we lived from hand to mouth.
  • look on the bright side
    be optimistic or cheerful in spite of difficulties
    Looking on the bright side, I will have plenty of time to pursue my interests now that I am unemployed.
  • lower the bar
    to lower the standards of quality that are expected of or required for something (the opposite is ‘raise the bar’)
    The company has lowered the bar for new candidates to fill the vacant positions.
  • make a mountain out of a molehill
    to exaggerate the importance of something trivial; to make a slight difficulty seem like a serious problem
    Stop worrying! You are making a mountain out of a molehill!
  • make both ends meet
    to earn just enough money to live on
    Many people are struggling to make both ends meet because wages are failing to keep pace with rising prices.
  • miss the boat
    to lose an opportunity to do something by being slow to act
    There were tickets available last week, but he missed the boat by waiting till today to try to buy some.
  • more than meets the eye
    more to something than there appears to be at first; not as simple as it looks
    Let’s keep investigating. I have a feeling that there is more than meets the eye.
  • nail in the coffin
    something that makes it more likely that someone or something will fail, be destroyed etc.
    Every mistake is one more nail in the coffin of his professional soccer career.
  • nip in the bud
    to stop something immediately so that it does not become a worse problem
    A bad habit in a child should be nipped in the bud.
  • no laughing matter
    a serious and important thing that people should not joke about
    It is no laughing matter when you lose your way in the forest.
  • no pain, no gain
    used to say that it is necessary to suffer or work hard in order to succeed or make progress
    I cycled for six hours yesterday as part of my training for the competition. My legs are aching now, but no pain, no gain!
  • on a silver platter
    delivered or given to one, without having put forth much or any effort
    Amy expects to have everything handed to her on a silver platter just because she is the director’s daughter.
  • on the ball
    to be quick to understand and react to things; alert, focused and able to react to something quickly
    We need someone who is really on the ball to answer questions from the press.
  • on the horizon
    coming in the near future
    Scientists believe that a major breakthrough is on the horizon.
  • on the loose
    able to move freely; not controlled or held in a prison, cage etc.
    The prisoner escaped last week and is still on the loose.
  • on thin ice
    in a dangerous or risky situation
    If you keep buying things that you can barely afford, you’ll be on thin ice very soon.
  • once in a blue moon
    rarely; once in a long while
    Madam Goh’s son only visits her once in a blue moon.
  • one’s bread and butter
    one’s livelihood or main source of income
    Casual clothing has always been this fashion company’s bread and butter.
  • out of the question
    not possible or allowed
    Asking my neighbour for help was completely out of the question.
  • pack a punch
    to be very strong, forceful or energetic
    Be careful – these hot peppers really pack a punch!
  • part and parcel
    an essential or basic element; a necessary part which cannot be avoided
    Travelling is part and parcel of my job.
  • pass the buck
    to shift responsibility or blame to another person
    It was his mistake but he tried to pass the buck to the security guard.
  • pass the hat around
    to try to collect money by asking people or organisations
    Everyone passed the hat around to help the Lim family pay for the cost of the damage.
  • pass with flying colours
    to win, achieve or accomplish something exceptionally well or very successfully
    Penny was rather anxious about her results, but she managed to pass with flying colours.
  • pat on the back
    a show of praise or approval
    You deserve a pat on the back for making all these possible.
  • pay lip service
    express approval of or support for something without taking any significant action
    Mr. Chong claimed to be in favour of the idea but so far he has only paid lip service to it.
  • pay through the nose
    to pay an unreasonably high price for something
    You can get good meals on airplanes these days, but you have to be prepared to pay through the nose.
  • pipe dream
    an idea or plan that is impossible or very unlikely to happen; a fanciful or impossible plan or hope
    Grace’s plan for opening her own restaurant was just a pipe dream, given that she had no financial resources.
  • play cat and mouse
    used to describe behaviour in which someone says or does different things to deceive or control other people, to avoid being caught etc.
    Freddy played cat and mouse with the police officers for several hours before confessing to the crime.
  • play second fiddle
    to play a supporting or minor role in relation to someone else; to be less important than someone else
    Unwilling to play second fiddle anymore, Kathy resigned and started her own company.
  • pull strings
    to make use of one’s influence and contacts to gain an advantage unofficially or unfairly
    We heard that Mr. Yong had pulled strings in order to get his daughter into the school.
  • pull up one’s socks
    to make an effort to improve one’s work or behaviour because it is not good enough
    You have to really pull up your socks if you want to score well for the test next week.
  • pull yourself together
    to start controlling your emotions and behave calmly after being very angry, shocked, upset etc.
    Just pull yourself together and conquer the difficulties ahead!
  • put all your eggs in one basket
    to depend on a single person or plan of action for your success
    I know you want to be a singer, but you still need to have a good education. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  • put the brakes on
    to slow or stop the progress of something or someone
    The new regulations will help to put the brakes on rising property prices.
  • put the cart before the horse
    to do things in the wrong order
    I think you are putting the cart before the horse by inviting people to the party before planning for it.
  • put your best foot forward
    to try as hard as possible to do something difficult
    I must put my best foot forward to complete this project on time.
    to try to make the best possible impression
    You really need to put your best foot forward in the interview if you want to get this job.
  • rain cats and dogs
    used to describe very heavy rain
    It is not safe to drive now because it is raining cats and dogs.
  • read between the lines
    to find meanings that are intended but that are not directly expressed in something said or written
    Maggie said she could afford it, but reading between the lines I do not think she has enough money.
  • recharge one’s batteries
    to regain one’s strength and energy by resting for a while or through recreation
    It is amazing how a walk along the beach can help you recharge your batteries.
  • red tape
    official rules and processes that seem unnecessary and delay results
    Rescue work is often hampered by red tape at national borders.
  • red-handed
    in the act of committing a crime or misdeed
    Joseph was caught red-handed stealing money from the cash register.
  • rock the boat
    to do or say something that upsets people or causes problems
    Don’t rock the boat until the discussions are over.
  • rocket science
    something that is very difficult to learn or understand
    Designing a website may be challenging but it is not rocket science.
  • save face
    avoid humiliation
    Sally managed to save face in front of the customers because her manager addressed the complaint in time.
  • save one’s skin
    to help someone get out of a dangerous or difficult situation
    Raymond does not care about us. All he is worried about is saving his own skin.
  • save the day
    to find or provide a solution to a difficulty or disaster
    Just when things looked hopeless, Mike came along and saved the day.
  • see eye to eye
    to be in full agreement with someone
    I don’t see eye to eye with my parents on many things.
  • see red
    to become very angry suddenly
    I see red whenever people invade my privacy.
  • see the light
    to gain an understanding of something not previously understood
    I used to wonder why people disliked Joseph, but I saw the light after knowing what happened.
  • seventh heaven
    a state of extreme joy
    Malcolm was in seventh heaven when the principal praised him.
  • shed crocodile tears
    to pretend to be sad or to sympathise with someone without really caring about them
    The sight of Mabel shedding crocodile tears over Joe’s misfortune made me sick.
  • silver lining
    a sign of hope in an unfortunate or gloomy situation
    If there is a silver lining to losing my job, it is that I will now have time to pursue my interest in music.
  • sit on the fence
    to avoid making a decision or choice
    Adam is not afraid of making decisions and is a person who never sits on the fence.
  • smell a rat
    to recognise that something is not as it appears to be or that something dishonest is happening
    If I reject his request, he will definitely smell a rat.
  • sow the seeds
    to do something that ensures a certain outcome in the future
    They have been sowing the seeds of their own downfall with their fraudulent practices over the last few years.
  • speak of the devil
    used in speech to say that someone one has been talking about has unexpectedly appeared
    Well, speak of the devil! We were just talking about you!
  • spill the beans
    to disclose a secret or reveal something prematurely
    We were trying to keep the secret from Amanda, but Peter spilled the beans.
  • spin a yarn
    to tell somebody a story, usually a long one which is often not true
    Joe arrived an hour late and started spinning a yarn about his car breaking down.
  • stand on one’s own two feet
    to support oneself without help from other people
    You cannot rely on your friends’ help every time you face a problem. It is time for you to learn to stand on your own two feet.
  • stand one in good stead
    for something to be of great use and benefit to someone
    Any experience you can get in dealing with the public will stand you in good stead no matter what line of work you go into.
  • stand one’s ground
    to refuse to change one’s opinion or give in to an argument
    I kept persuading my grandmother to retire but she stood her ground.
  • stir up a hornet’s nest
    to cause a situation that makes people very angry or upset
    The politician’s offensive remarks about poverty stirred up a hornet’s nest among voters.
  • straight from the horse’s mouth
    to hear something straight from the person who has direct personal knowledge of it
    You do not need to believe me. Go speak to him and hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.
  • sweep under the rug
    to hide something that is illegal, embarrassing or wrong
    He tried to sweep his past mistakes under the rug.
  • take something with a pinch of salt
    to regard something as exaggerated; to believe only part of something
    You have to take everything she says with a pinch of salt, because she tends to exaggerate.
  • take the bull by the horns
    to deal with a difficult situation in a very direct and confident way
    Vicky decided to take the bull by the horns and try to solve the problem without any further delay.
  • take to one’s heels
    to begin to run away
    The robbers took to their heels when they saw the police officers approaching.
  • take up arms
    to pick up weapons and become ready to fight
    They took up arms to defend their city.
  • tell a white lie
    to tell a harmless or insignificant lie, often in order not to offend or upset someone
    David told a white lie as his excuse for missing the party.
  • the ball is in one’s court
    it is up to one to make the next move
    We did what we could, and now the ball is in your court.
  • the best of both worlds
    all the advantages of two different situations and none of the disadvantages
    Tommy has the best of both worlds – a wonderful family and a great career.
  • the last straw
    the last in a series of bad things that causes one to finally lose patience or for something to finally stop working
    Megan has always been rude to me, but it was the last straw when she started to insult my brother.
  • the lion’s share
    the largest part or most of something
    As the largest shareholder, Danny claims the lion’s share of the profit that the company makes.
  • through thick and thin
    under all circumstances, no matter how difficult
    My sister stood by me through thick and thin.
  • throw caution to the wind
    to do something without worrying about the risks or negative results; to behave in a way that is not considered sensible or careful
    I threw caution to the wind and rode as fast as I could.
  • throw down the gauntlet
    to issue a challenge; to invite someone to fight or compete with you
    A price war looks likely now that the top petrol company has thrown down the gauntlet to its competitors.
  • throw in the towel
    to quit or abandon something; to admit defeat or failure
    Despite the sudden setback, we are not ready to throw in the towel yet.
  • tighten one’s belt
    to take measures to reduce spending
    You have to tighten your belt if you are spending more than your income.
  • tip of the iceberg
    a small part of something (such as a problem) that is seen or known about when there is a much bigger part that is not seen or known about
    We receive about 100 complaints from customers every year and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • to the nines
    to the greatest degree or extent; to a point of perfection
    Most of Marilyn’s photographs show her dressed to the nines.
  • too close for comfort
    close enough to make a person feel nervous, worried or upset
    The bus came a little too close for comfort!
  • turn over a new leaf
    to start to act or behave in a better or more responsible way
    She turned over a new leaf and began getting to work on time.
  • turn turtle
    (of a boat) to turn upside down
    The waves caused the small boat to turn turtle.
  • two peas in a pod
    used to say that two people or things are very similar to each other
    My sister and I are like two peas in a pod. We enjoy participating in all sorts of activities together.
  • under fire
    to be criticised or held responsible for something
    The politician came under fire after it was discovered that he had spent the campaign money on lavish parties.
  • under the radar
    not getting attention; unnoticed
    Keith tried to stay under the radar as he went about his business.
  • under the weather
    to feel slightly unwell
    I was under the weather yesterday but I am feeling much better now.
  • up to scratch
    good enough; satisfactory
    Her performance in the concert last night was not up to scratch.
  • up to the mark
    of a satisfactory standard or quality; up to the usual standard of performance, quality etc.
    All work delivered must be up to the mark.
  • ups and downs
    good times and bad times; successes and failures
    Every business has its ups and downs.
  • walking on air
    feeling extremely happy about something
    She was walking on air after she found out that she had won the award.
  • weather the storm
    to endure a period of hardship or disorder
    It was the toughest period in my life, but I was able to weather the storm with the support of my family.
  • when pigs fly
    used to say that one thinks that something will never happen
    John plans to clean his room every week, but he will probably do it only when pigs fly.
  • wild goose chase
    a search that is completely unsuccessful and a waste of time because the person or thing being searched for does not exist or is somewhere else
    We only realised we were on a wild goose chase after a whole day spent in the forest.
  • with open arms
    with great affection or enthusiasm
    Many parents have welcomed the new arrangements with open arms.
  • your guess is as good as mine
    used to tell someone that you do not know any more than they do about something
    I have no idea. Your guess is as good as mine.

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