Common Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions for IELTS Learners

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IELTS idioms


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    Common Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions for IELTS Learners Mr.Bi


    Increase your vocabulary and speak more natural English by studying the idioms and expressions below. These are some of the most common expressions in English.

    Caution: maximum two expressions in an IELTS essay or speaking test to avoid verbosity and ambiguity. Some idiomatic expressions appear to be less formal in academic writings.

    Expression 1: as easy as pie means "very easy" (same as "a piece of cake")

    Example: He said it is a difficult problem, but I do not agree. It seems as easy as pie to me!

    Expression 2: be sick and tired of means "I hate" (also "can't stand")

    Example: I am sick and tired of doing nothing but work. Let us go out tonight and have fun.

    Expression 3: bend over backwards means "try very hard" (maybe too much!)

    Example: He bent over backwards to please his new wife, but she never seemed satisfied.

    Expression 4: bite off more than one can chew means "take responsibility for more than one can manage"

    Example: John is so far behind in his studies. Besides classes, he plays sports and works at a part-time job. It seems he has bitten off more than he can chew.

    Expression 5: broke means "to have no money"

    Example: I have to borrow some money from my Dad. Right now, I'm broke.

    Expression 6: change one's mind means "decide to do something different from what had been decided earlier"

    Example: I was planning to work late tonight, but I changed my mind. I shall do extra work on the weekend instead.

    Expression 7: Cut it out! means "stop doing something bad"

    Example: That noise is annoying. Cut it out!

    Expression 8: drop someone a line means "send a letter or email to someone"

    Example: It was good to meet you and I hope we can see each other again. Drop me a line when you have time.

    Expression 9: figure something out means "come to understand a problem"

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    Common Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions for IELTS Learners Mr.Bi

    Example: I do not understand how to do this problem. Take a look at it. Maybe you can figure it out.

    Expression 10: fill in for someone means "do their work while they are away"

    Example: While I was away from the store, my brother filled in for me.

    Expression 11: in ages means "for a very long time"

    Example: Have you seen Joe recently? I have not seen him in ages.

    Expression 12: give someone a hand means "help"

    Example: I want to move this desk to the next room. Can you give me a hand?

    Expression 13: hit the hay means "go to bed" (also "hit the sack")

    Example: It's after 12 o'clock. I think it's time to hit the hay.

    Expression 14: in the black means "the business is making money, it is profitable"

    Example: Our business is really improving. We have been in the black all year.

    Expression 15: in the red means "the business is losing money, it is unprofitable"

    Example: Business is really going poorly these days. We have been in the red for the past three months.

    Expression 16: in the (very) nick of time means "not too late, but very close"

    Example: I got to the drugstore just in the nick of time. It's a good thing, because I really need this medicine!

    Expression 17: keep one's chin up means "remain brave and keep on trying"

    Example: I know things have been difficult for you recently, but keep your chin up. It will get better soon.

    Expression 18: know something like the back of your hand means "know something very, very well"

    Example: If you get lost, just ask me for directions. I know this part of town like the back of my hand.

    Expression 19: once in a while means "sometimes, not very often"

    Example: Have you been to the new movie theatre? No, only see movies once in a while, I usually stay home and watch TV.

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    Common Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions for IELTS Learners Mr.Bi

    Expression 20: sharp means "exactly at a that time"

    Example: I'll meet you at 9 o'clock sharp. If you're late, we'll be in trouble!

    Expression 21: sleep on it means "think about something before making a decision"

    Example: That sounds like a good deal, but I'd like to sleep on it before I give you my final decision.

    Expression 22: take it easy means "relax"

    Example: I don't have any special plans for the summer. I think I'll just take it easy.

    Expression 23: to get the ball rolling means "start something, especially something big"

    Example: We need to get this project started as soon as possible. I'm hoping you will help me get the ball rolling.

    Expression 24: up to the minute means "the most recent information"

    Example: I wish I knew more about what is happening in the capital city. We need more up to the minute news.

    Expression 25: twenty-four/seven means "every minute of every day, all the time"

    Example: You can access our web site 24/7. It's very convenient!

    Expression 26: Put off means postpone

    Example: Charrie can't forgive Archie for putting off their wed

    Expression 27: Dispose of means to get rid of

    Example: She disposed of her dirty shoes.

    Expression 28: Break open means to open with the use of force or violence

    Example: The thieves broke open the bank safe.

    Expression 29: Turn away means to dismiss

    Example: He turned away all the employees before taking the phone call from his wife.

    Expression 30: To plead guilty means to confess one's guilt

    Example: The case will continue because he did not plead guilty.

    Expression 31: To build castles in the air means to indulge in reveries

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    Common Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions for IELTS Learners Mr.Bi

    Example: The newlyweds are building castles in the air.

    Expression 32: To take pride in means to be proud of

    Example: My grandmother takes pride in her garden.

    Expression 33: Go cold turkey means to suddenly stop taking a drug which you had been taking regularly

    Example: "Did it take you a long time to quit smoking? No. I just went cold turkey, and I never smoked again."

    Expression 34: Tear down means destroy

    Example: They will tear down the house by noon.

    Expression 35: Stick by means to adhere closely to

    Example: I love him very much for sticking by me.

    Expression 36: Iron will means great determination

    Example: She may look very fragile, but she has an iron will.

    Expression 37: Good breeding means polite manner, usually formed by a good education

    Example: Everybody expects him to have good breeding because he's a Yale graduate.

    Expression 38: Crave for means to yearn for

    Example: Many pregnant women crave for green mangoes.

    Expression 39: Keep up with means to keep pace with

    Example: Allen speaks so fast that it is very hard to keep up with what he is saying.

    Expression 40: Stand up for means to defend

    Example: Even if his whole family disagrees, he will stand up for their relationship.

    Expression 41: To take a fancy to a thing means to admire someone or something as a desire to have it

    Example: Megan has taken a fancy to my dress.

    Expression 42: To move heaven and earth means to do something by using all means necessary

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    Common Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions for IELTS Learners Mr.Bi

    Example: Ken will move heaven and earth just to make his wife happy.

    Expression 43: Save your skin means save your life

    Example: Don't worry about me because I know how to defend myself. Just save your skin.

    Expression 44: hot button means hot issue

    Example: Last year the election in the US was a hot button.

    Expression 45: go fly a kite means to leave me alone

    Example: I'm very busy right now. Why don't you go fly a kite?

    Expression 46: blow off steam means to express frustration or anger

    Example: Don't blow off steam in front of your father if you don't want to be grounded for a month.

    Expression 47: at the end of one's rope means being at the limit of one's patience or endurance

    Example: I hope she did it correctly this time for I am already at the end of my rope. I do n't want to end up firing her.

    Expression 48: all over the map means the act of not sticking to the main topic of discussion

    Example: I don't like attending meetings conducted by our new boss because it's often all over the map.

    Expression 49: have a score to settle (with someone) means to have a problem to clear up with someone; to have to get even with someone about something.

    Example: I have a score to settle with John since he insulted me at our party.

    Note: a similar expression of this idiom is to settle a/the score (with someone), though they are not the same.

    Expression 50: To take (someone/something) into account means to remember to consider someone or something, to consider something to be an important factor in some decision

    Example: We will take your long years of service into account when we make our final decision.

    Expression 51: To get/grate on ones nerves means to annoy someone, especially by doing something again and again (informal)

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    Common Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions for IELTS Learners Mr.Bi

    Example: If we spend too much time together, we end up getting on each other's nerves.

    Expression 52: Day in, day out means doing something every day over a long period, often causing it to become boring

    Example: Life can become very tedious if you do the same work day in, day out.

    Expression 53: In a row means in a series without interruption

    Example: They have won six games in a row.

    Usage note: often used with periods of time: I haven't had a good meal for three days in a row.

    Note: You may want to check this link:

    Expression 54: In due course means in a normal or expected amount of time (formal)

    Example: The vice president will become president in due course.

    Expression 55: Look on the bright side means consider the positive aspects of a negative situation

    Example: Look on the bright side. Things could have been much worse than they are.

    Expression 56: Ahead of time means beforehand, before the announced time (Typically: arrive ~; get there ~; leave ~; show up ~)

    Example: If you show up ahead of time, you will have to wait.

    Expression 57: Rain cats and dogs means to rain very hard

    Example: It's raining cats and dogs.

    Expression 58: catch/get someone's eye means to appear and attract someone's attention and interest

    Example: One of the books on the top shelf caught my eye, and I took it down to look at it.

    Expression 59: Catch someone red-handed means to catch a person in the act of doing something wrong (often ~ doing something)

    Example: The teller caught Mary red-handed trying to cash a forged cheque at the bank.

    Expression 60: catch ones breath means (1) to struggle for normal breathing after strenuous activity or (2) to stop breathing for a moment because something surprising or frightening

    Example 1: The jogger stopped to catch her breath.

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    Common Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions for IELTS Learners Mr.Bi

    Example 2: I caught my breath when I saw the scar on her face.

    Expression 61: To be born with a silver spoon (in ones mouth) means to be the child of a wealthy family

    Example: His complete lack of concern about money is natural of someone who was b orn with a silver spoon in his mouth.

    Expression 62: A blessing in disguise means something that at first appears to be bad or unlucky but is actually good

    Example: Losing my job was a blessing in disguise - I never would have found this one if it hadn't happened.

    Here are some idioms for you to further practise (They are of the same importance with the aforementioned expressions I keep them in table just to refresh your mind)

    If someone takes after you they resemble you

    Way to go! Used to tell somebody that you are pleased about something they have done. Good work! Well-done!

    Hard up Lack money

    Baby shower A party held to honour and present gifts to someone especially a bride to be

    Unauthorized loan Humorous way of saying something is stolen

    Put up with the idea To tolerate it

    Put away the idea to shun it or drop it

    On one's toes Well prepared

    Be in someone's shoes be in the same situation as someone

    Pulling ones leg Joking with someone

    Come rain or shine Whatever the circumstances

    Take a rain check on something To promise to accept at a later date

    For a rainy day In an emergency/for a possible future time of need

    Put something together To assemble it

    Lay into someone Physically or verbally attacking someone

    Lay into something Eat something quickly with enthusiasm

    Lay off someone Fire /discharge/dismiss someone from duties

    Get one's cards To be dismissed from job

    Test the waters Make peoples views and opinions clear

    Stand the test of time Strong enough to last for a very long time

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    Common Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions for IELTS Learners Mr.Bi

    Read between the lines To detect a meaning not expressed but implied

    Give someone a run for their money

    Force someone to use all their skill to succeed /give a fierce competition

    Run someone ragged To wear/exhaust/tire someone

    Make the blood run cold Frighten

    Put someone in the running Enter someone into a contest

    Run into someone Meet someone unexpectedly / accidentally

    Do/does not stand a chance Has no possibility of succeeding

    Breeze through something Do something easily and quickly

    Stand someone up To fail to keep an appointment or date with them

    On the cards Likely to happen

    Concession stands Place where food is sold

    Get some shut eye Get some sleep

    Back out of something To withdraw from something

    Make light of something Treat as unimportant

    Hush something up Keep silent

    Make short work of something To do it very quickly

    Water something down Make something less difficult

    Stumble across something Discover something by chance

    Take something up Pursue a new interest

    Tag along Accompany

    Win hands down/win at a canter Win very easily

    To not agree more To agree very much

    Fit the bill Perfectly suited to something /just right

    Foot the bill Pay the bill

    The writing is on the wal...