Idioms and Phrases – Common Idiom and Phrase, Meaning and Examples (English, Study Material, Exam Preparation)

Idioms and Phrases

What is an Idiom?

The dictionary definition of the word idiom is that idiom is a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words. It is an expression that has a specific meaning. Idioms are widely asked in the SSC, Bank PO, SO, SBI and RBI exams. In this article, we will list many phrases, use them in sentences and see what kind of questions are based on the knowledge of these Idioms/Phrases.

What is a Phrase?

The dictionary meaning of a phrase is “a small group of words standing together as a conceptual unit, typically forming a component of a clause.” Phrases are a group of words that have a known meaning. You may say that Phrases and idioms are the same, but there is a difference.

Difference Between Idiom and Phrase

Both the Phrases and the Idioms are a collection of words that have a known meaning. The difference is that in an idiom, the meaning arises from common usage. While a phrase is a small group of words that have a meaning when taken together, out of the sentence. In order to check whether a given group of words is a phrase or an idiom, let's see an example.

Example

I: It is raining cats and dogs.
II: I saw a herd of cats and dogs while crossing the road.
Select the correct option that represents the bold words.

A) Both I and II are idioms.
B) I is a phrase and II is an idiom.
C) II is a phrase and I is an idiom.

Answer: The answer is obviously C. “Cats and dogs”, is an idiom while as a herd of cats or a herd of dogs is a phrase, but there is a catch here. “Cats and dogs”, is a group of words that has a given meaning! In other words, we say that every idiom can be treated as a phrase but every phrase is not an idiom.

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Some Common Phrases and Their Meaning

Let us see a few examples of commonly used Phrases and their meaning.
  • A picture paints a thousand words: Means that a visual representation of an event or happening is always very descriptive.
  • A wolf in sheep’s clothing: Someone whose appearance is a deception. A person who is dangerous but pretending to be friendly.
  • Above board: Something fair and honest.
  • Against the clock: Rushed and short on time.
  • Actions speak louder than words: It is better to act than to talk about action.
  • Back to the drawing board: When an attempt fails and it’s time to start all over.
  • To bite off more than you can chew: To take on a task that is way too big.
  • Can’t judge a book by its cover: Cannot judge something primarily on appearance.
  • Don’t count your chicken before the eggs have hatched: Don’t make plans for something that is not possible.
  • Get over it: To move beyond something that is bothering you.
  • Get up on the wrong side of the bed: Someone who is having a horrible day.
  • Being a good Samaritan: Someone who helps others when they are in need, with no conditions.
  • Hit below the belt: Contrary behaviour to the principles of fairness.
  • Hit the nail on the head: Do something exactly right or say something exactly right.
  • The icing on the cake: Something is an icing on the cake when it improves on something that you already have or in other words if you already have it good and get something on top of what you already have, it is an icing in the cake.

Some Common Idioms, Their Meaning and Sentence Example

Now that you are familiar with the idioms, let's go through the table below comprising 120+ commonly used idioms, their meaning and sentence example.

Idiom Meaning Sentence Example
A blessing in disguise Something that you think is bad but turns out to be a blessing Me catching a cold was a blessing in disguise.
A pain in the neck Refers to a person who is annoying Rayana was a constant pain in the neck.
A penny for your thoughts Used to ask someone what they are thinking I would like to give a penny for your thoughts.
A piece of cake An easy task Solving the Wordle everyday was just a piece of cake.
A snowball’s chance in hell No chance at all at surviving You will require a snowball’s chance in hell to clear this exam.
Adding fuel to the fire Aggravating the problem She was just adding fuel to the fire telling Tom’s mom about his health.
Apple of my eye Used to refer to someone whom you are very fond of or like My younger brother is the apple of my eye.
As right as rain Something is perfect I don’t know about the others, but I feel that your decision is as right as rain.
Bark up the wrong tree Following a misguided or mistaken thought or action He did not know he was barking up the wrong tree.
Beat around the bush Not saying directly Jason’s neighbour kept beating around the bush and did not give a direct answer.
Beating a dead horse Overdoing something or an action that is pointless She was just beating a dead horse in thinking she could change his mind.
Better late than never To do something rather than not doing Well, we thought it was better late than never, but where are the others?
Bite off more than you can chew To do more than you can My mom thinks that my brother is biting off more than he can chew by taking up a night job and a day job.
Bite the bullet Finish something no matter how unsatisfying or unpleasant it is / Get something over with Danny had been putting off discussing the financial management of the company but decided to bite the bullet and talk to Sid today.
Blame one’s tools Blaming something on someone else When he understood he had no way out of the problem, he blamed his tools.
Blue in the face To be exhausted due to strain or anger Usha looked blue in the face after the marathon.
Bolt from the blue Something that happens unexpectedly or without a warning The news of my friend’s pregnancy was a bolt from the blue.
Bounce off the walls To be extremely excited and energetic The children were bouncing off the walls the moment they heard about going to an amusement park this weekend.
Break a leg Used instead of good luck The teacher asked us to break a leg at the annual day dance.
Break the ice To make people feel comfortable with those who are unfamiliar to them The communication trainer conducted an activity to break the ice.
Burn bridges Do something to spoil relationships Susan did not realise she would be burning bridges when she took up the job.
By the skin of your teeth By a very narrow margin, the slightest if chances The doctors said that Manu had escaped serious injuries by the skin of his teeth.
Call it a day To stop doing something After the movie, we had planned to go to the beach, but we decided to call it a day as everyone was tired.
Cannot have a cake and eat it too Cannot have everything for yourself It is not at all that you have the cake and eat it too.
Cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs Everything has a cost to pay You just have to understand that you cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs.
Catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar Getting what you want by being nice If you ask politely, you may be able to catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.
Clouds on the horizon Problems/ Trouble Vishnu sensed that there were multiple clouds on the horizon.
Cold feet Becoming nervous It was her chance to speak and she was getting cold feet.
Come rain or shine No matter what happens Come rain or shine, I will be there for you.
Comparing apples to oranges To compare two things that are completely different and cannot be compared Comparing a doctor’s profession to a teacher’s profession is like comparing apples to oranges.
Cost an arm and a leg Used to refer to something that is extremely expensive I think it will cost an arm and a leg to get the car my brother wants.
Counting your chickens before they hatch Expecting good results before something is done She started counting her chickens before they hatched. That will only disappoint her; I hope she understands.
Cross that bridge when we get to it Deal with the problem when it happens I know there are decisions to be made about the selling of the house but we will cross that bridge when we get to it. As of now, let us focus on this.
Cry over spilt milk Worrying or complaining about something that cannot be fixed/rectified There is no use crying over spilt milk; you just have to move on with your life.
Cup of tea Not something that a person would do Cooking has never been Rachel’s cup of tea.
Curiosity killed the cat Asking too many questions or involving too much in other people’s affairs will get you into trouble It is better we don’t dig more into this case; curiosity killed the cat.
Cut corners Purchase something in the least expensive way or do something easily / reduce expenses I often cut corners in order to buy something for my brother.
Cut the mustard Do a perfectly good job The police cut the mustard in finding the gang that robbed the bank.
Devil quoting the Bible Good things being twisted for selfish and evil purposes Mephistopheles speaking about going to heaven is like the devil quoting the Bible.
Do something at the drop of a hat Do something unplanned He can plan a whole trip at the drop of a hat.
Elephant in the room A controversial problem or a major issue We had to identify the elephant in the room before we made a decision.
Every cloud has a silver lining There is always some good in every thing that happens / Something good will happen after something bad Do not be worried about your current situation; after all, every cloud has a silver lining.
Every dog has its day Everyone gets a chance Do not worry about it. Every dog has his day. Today, it is his.
Fit as a fiddle To be in good health My great grandmother is surprisingly fit as a fiddle.
Get out of hand Not in one’s control anymore The situation has gotten out of hand and there is nothing anyone here can do to help.
Get the show on the road Start something or begin an enterprise The circus company had completed its trail run and was ready to get the show on the road.
Get wind of something To have information about something secret It is so hard to get wind of what is going on here.
Get your act together To stop fooling around and do something in the way it should be done It is time you get your act together and do something useful.
Give a cold shoulder Act rudely to someone Nobody knows why Dias gave Rayon a cold shoulder.
Go down in flames To fail terribly Everything went down in flames when we lost the lottery.
Go on a wild goose chase Doing something pointless Finding the red and black dress I saw online felt like going on a wild goose chase.
Grass is greener on the other side Never being satisfied with what one gets For her, grass is always greener on the other side.
Hang in there Stay strong in a difficult situation Hang in there! Everything will be okay before you know it.
Have a method to one’s madness Seeming to be crazy but in fact, clever Everyone thinks he is crazy, but he sure has a method to his madness.
Have one’s head in the clouds To have no concentration at all I knew that you had your head in the clouds throughout the ceremony. What happened to you?
Have the ball in one’s court One can make a call / decide on their own Rahul finally had the ball in his court.
Having a monkey on your back To have a problem that you cannot solve or get rid off easily Not completing my degree is a monkey on my back.
Hear it from the horse’s mouth To know something from the person involved We finally heard it from the horse’s mouth.
Hit the nail on the head To do something the exact way in which it should be done / Also refers to giving a direct answer Harish hit the nail on the head with his decision to buy this piece of land.
It is always the darkest before dawn Something good is coming / Things will get better Do not be worried about what is going on in your life right now; it is always the darkest before dawn.
It’s not rocket science Not that difficult to comprehend Cooking sambar is easy; I will figure it out. After all, it is not rocket science.
Judging a book by its cover Judge or form an opinion on someone based on appearances People are known to always judge a book by its cover.
Jump from the frying pan into the fire Refers to a situation becoming worse He did not know he was jumping off the frying pan into the fire when he decided to speak about the problems at work.
Kill two birds with a stone Achieve two results by doing one thing None of us understood that he was trying to kill two birds with a stone when he joined the military forces.
Know which way the wind blows To understand what is happening As a detective, you are always obliged to learn which way the wind blows and then make a statement.
Leave no stone unturned To look everywhere without missing a spot or to take every effort possible to achieve something The police were determined not to leave any stone unturned.
Let sleeping dogs lie To stop discussing something that is already over or sorted out The police had warned us to let sleeping dogs lie and move ahead with our lives.
Let someone off the hook Releasing someone or letting someone go The court decided to let the guy off the hook as there was no evidence proving his crime.
Let the cat out of the bag Reveal a secret carelessly Adharsh just let the cat out of the bag by revealing the gender of the baby.
Like riding a bicycle A skill that you learn and will never forget Learning a language is like riding a bicycle; you will never forget it.
Like two peas in a pod Be together always My cousin and I are always like two peas in a pod.
Make a long story short To say something in simple words in a brief manner We decided to cut the long story short and tell them what actually happened at the mall.
Make two ends meet To have just enough money for all your needs Harry and Hani are finding it really difficult to make two ends meet.
Miss the boat To act too slowly and miss an opportunity You will miss the boat if you wait any longer.
No pain no gain Suffering or making efforts is required to achieve something It is better you start learning now. It will be difficult but no pain, no gain.
On thin ice Used to refer to a sensitive scenario or a person who is in trouble Zeke was on thin ice; he had to figure out a way to help his brother.
On top of the world A state of extreme happiness Niya seemed to be on top of the world since she heard the news of her son’s promotion.
Once bitten, twice shy Being extremely cautious as you have been hurt already Nitheesh has been extremely careful with making new friends. After all, once bitten, twice shy right?
Once in a blue moon Very rarely We met each other only once in a blue moon.
Other fish in the sea More opportunities My father told me not to worry about the competition as there would be other fish in the sea.
Play the devil’s advocate To argue or fight over something just for the sake of it We had no idea why he was playing the devil’s advocate when he knew what had happened.
Pretty penny Expensive The dress she wants for her birthday will cost a pretty penny.
Pull someone’s leg To make fun of someone Kevin’s friends kept pulling his leg all evening.
Pull the last straw The final point in a series of unfortunate events when you feel you cannot take it anymore Sheetal decided to pull the last straw and inform the manager about what was happening in the office.
Put all your eggs in one basket Doing something risky Rounak’s parents think that he is putting all his eggs in one basket.
Put something on ice To hold off something We decided to put the case on ice until we had some clue of what had happened.
Rain cats and dogs Raining heavily It has been raining cats and dogs since yesterday.
Rain on one’s parade To spoil someone’s moment of praise / To spoil something Rachel did not really think she was raining on Monica’s parade when she announced about her new job.
See eye to eye Have the same opinion or have the same point of view It is highly required that you both see eye to eye if you want this resolved.
Set the record straight To reveal the truth / To clarify In order to set the record straight, the umpires checked the camera to review the previous shot.
Snowed under To be busy My father seems to have been snowed under for the last few weeks.
So far so good Means that everything has turned out well until that point Everything so far has been so good.
Something ain’t over until the fat lady sings It is not over yet / there is more to the situation For all we know, this will not end until the fat lady sings.
Speak of the devil A phrase used to refer to a person who appears as soon as they are being mentioned Speak of the devil! Here he comes.
Spill the beans Reveal a secret Remya spilled the beans about her sister coming to her mom.
Steal someone’s thunder Directing the attention and doing something to gain praise and preventing another person from gaining praise Monica claimed that Rachel tried to steal her thunder.
Stick to your guns Stay morally strong or be firm in decisions especially when being opposed The lawyer asked Rakesh to stick to his guns if he wants to win the case.
Take everything with a pinch of salt Refers to being sceptic and not believing blindly My mom always asks to believe everyone with a pinch of salt.
Takes two to tango Two persons are equally responsible for what is happening or has happened It is not possible Sandhya is the only one involved. After all, it takes two to tango.
That ship has sailed It is too late to do something Norah said that she won’t be performing live anymore as she announced to the press, “That ship has sailed”.
The best of both worlds Good in every way Having my best friend is the best of both worlds.
The best thing since sliced bread A good and useful invention The smartphone is the best thing since sliced bread.
The devil is in the details Refers to something that seems to be good only from a distance Haven’t you heard the devil’s in the details?
The whole nine yards Refer to everything that is there He has to sell the whole nine yards if he wants to buy that house.
Through thick and thin At all times – both good and bad My friends are always there for me – through thick and thin.
Throw caution to the wind To take a risk Gaurav threw caution to the wind in trying to save me from the accident.
Time is money To work quickly in the time that is left The manager encouraged the employees to realise that time is money and work harder.
To be at loggerheads with someone To quarrel or disagree Jithin’s parents seem to be at loggerheads over something or the other all the time.
To break someone’s bubble To do or say something that proves someone else’s beliefs are not true Glint just broke my bubble when he said that he was a part of it.
To get bent out of shape To be upset, to take offence, to be angry My cousins have been bent out of shape after my uncle passed away.
To say in a nutshell To sum up the points and be brief The teacher asked us to quote the findings in a nutshell.
To weather the storm To go through something difficult My mom taught me how to stand strong and weather the storm.
Under the weather Feeling ill / Getting a cold My mom was feeling a bit under the weather.
Walk in the other’s shoes To understand what the other is going through You will not understand unless you walk in their shoes.
Walk on eggshells To be very careful with your actions and words Talking to my mom about my grades made me feel like I was walking on eggshells.
Wear your heart on your sleeve To be extremely open about what you feel and think Divya wears her heart on her sleeve; she tends to get hurt very often.
When it rains, it pours When everything goes wrong at once They not only left home late but also got stuck in traffic. When it rains, it pours.
When pigs fly When something uncanny or impossible happens Pigs would fly if you cooked.
Worth its weight in gold To be highly valuable Every word of what you say is worth its weight in gold.
Wrap your head around something Try to make sense about what is going on My mom was finding it hard to wrap her head around the fact that I am getting married tomorrow.

Practice Questions : For Idioms and Phrases

Directions (1-9): In the following examples, select the correct representation of the word or the phrase.

Question 1: He took the decision of his “own accord”.
A) Willingly
B) At his desire
C) Unwillingly
D) On his own

Answer: Option B - The meaning of doing something on your “own accord” is to do something that one does with his own desire.

Question 2: The people who think that there can be any prosperity without freedom are still in a “fool’s paradise”.
A) Living in illusions
B) In a good place
C) Being among idiots
D) Living with nice ideas

Answer: Option A - To live or to be in a “fool’s paradise” means to be living in an illusion.

Question 3: The order disqualifying the promotion of the clerk is kept “in abeyance”.
A) In suspension
B) To strengthen
C) Bring harmony
D) To revolt

Answer: Option A - To be “in abeyance” means to be in a state of suspension.

Question 4: I think the politician’s account of his education is a “Cock and Bull Story”.
A) Absurd and unbelievable story
B) Very strong and opinionated
C) Very irrational and evil
D) Uninteresting and unimaginative

Answer: Option A - “Cock and Bull Story” is a story or an account by a person which is absurd and unbelievable.

Question 5: “The President seems to have a seamy side”.
A) The President is a hardworking guy.
B) The President is an idiot.
C) The President is an unpleasant and immoral person.
D) The President has a tattoo.

Answer: Option C - The President is an unpleasant and immoral person.

Question 6: “The Economic Policies and the Social Policies should never be at loggerheads”.
A) The Economic Policies and the Social Policies should be similar.
B) Economic Policies and the Social Policies should not be similar.
C) These Policies should be in disagreement with each other.
D) The Economic Policies and the Social Policies should never be in disagreement with each other.

Answer: Option D - The Economic Policies and the Social Policies should never be in disagreement with each other.

Question 7: Someone is “adding fuel to fire” if they are:
A) Putting out the fire.
B) Starting a fire.
C) Want a situation to go from bad to worse.
D) Want to help settle a situation that is very hot.

Answer: Option C - The phrase “adding fuel to fire” is when someone wants to get a situation, from bad to worse.

Question 8: “Deep down”, he knew that he was wrong.
A) In the depth of a well.
B) The person lives in a deep place.
C) This means the deep secrets of a person.
D) It means the deep feelings of a person.

Answer: Option D - Deep down means the deep feelings of a person.

Question 9: The scientist explained his thesis in the worst way possible. It was all “Latin and Greek”.
A) Very strange
B) It was difficult
C) The thesis was impressive
D) The thesis was in Greek.

Answer: Option B - The phrase “Latin and Greek” is used for something that is very difficult to understand.

Question 10: Read the following sentences and answer the questions that follow at the end.
I: Einsteins’ theory of relativity was a “challenge of imagination”.
II: We are to meet each other “face-to-face”.
A) I is a phrase and II is an idiom.
B) II is a phrase while II is the idiom.
C) They are both phrases.
D) They are both idioms.

Answer: Option A - “Challenge of imagination” is a phrase whereas “face-to-face” is an idiom.

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