2020 so far



It’s on everyone’s lips

It’s talked about. It’s a frequent topic of conversations.

“The Coronavirus is on everyone’s lips these days.”


Easier said than done

Quite self-explanatory. We use this phrase when we think that talking about something, or giving advice about it, is easier than actually doing it.

“I go on and on about how much vocabulary students would learn if they found some time to read in English everyday but considering their busy lives, I know it’s easier said than done.”


Familiarity breeds comtempt

A losss of respect that happens after having known someone for a long time, including their bad qualities.

“There is an African proverb that says that familiarity breeds comtempt and distance brings respect.”


Get on with your life

To overcome something bad that happened and go back to living a normal life again.

“Stop thinking about the past and get on with your life.”


Strike up a conversation

Start talking to somebody.

“Striking up a conversation with a stranger on the bus was never an issue for her.”


Wake up and smell the coffee

Don’t be naive.

“Stop pretending nothing is going on. She’s leaving. Wake up and smell the coffee.”


Go with the flow

Be relaxed and let things happen rather than trying to control what’s happening around you.

“We didn’t have a say in the planning so we just went with the flow.”


Have a say

To be able to give an opinion and have some influence.

“When students have a say, the learning process becomes more relevant for them.”


Have high standards

To have an expectation of excellence and good quality in what you do

“The literature programme “Página 2″ has high standards and never disappoints their loyal audience.”


Nip in the bud

If you nip something in the bud, you put a stop to something soon after it has started. For example, a bad habit or a problem. A bud is a young flower that has not blossomed yet.

“Doing overtime is what is expected of workers in this office since the arrival of the new manager. Let’s nip it in the bud before it becomes a habit.”


Be out of step

If people or things are out of step, they do not agree or move at the same rate

“It is said by some that Japan is quite out of step with other countries on transgender issues but the country currently has three transgender politicians in government who are campaigning for greater acceptance.”


Have your brain in gear

Thinking clearly and effectively.

“My brain is not in gear today. Going for a walk will help me think more clearly.”


Lighten the load

To help someone who is very busy, upset or overwhelmed

“Is there anything I can do to lighten the load while your mum is in hospital?.”


It takes two to tango

Used when two people are involved in a situation and both must take responsabitity for it.

“It takes two to tango. Don’t put all the blame on your partner. You both took the decision to set up the business.”


Get ahead of yourself

To act too early, before your are prepared.

“Give it more time until you know how to handle this situation properly. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”


A shock to the system

An unpleasant feeling you experience when there is a sudden change in your life.

“Coming back to the winter after a month of summer weather is inevitably a shock to the system.”




Under your belt

Something achieved that has now become part of your experience.

“With twenty years of teaching experience under my belt, I am glad to say that I still find this job incredibly motivating and rewarding. 


Spill the beans

Reveal secret information.

“He shouldn’t have been let in on the secret just before going to the pub. All it took was a few beers for him to spill the beans. 


You can’t have it both ways

You can’t benefit from two things at the same time.

“Students have the time and freedom to travel but less money to do so. You can’t have it both ways.


Be a weight off your mind

To stop worrying about something

“Great to know you can take care of my dog while I am away. That’s a weight off my mind.


Be down with the kids

Try to be in tune with the younger generations by showing interest in what they like, think or do .

“Oh, so now, you are taking up skateboarding with your daughter. I hope trying to be down with the kids doesn’t cause any injuries.


Be all ears

If you tell someone that you are all ears, it means you are ready to pay attention to what the other person has to say, to listen intently.

“Tell me more. I’m all ears.”


Give someone the cold shoulder

To ignore someone and keep away from them

“No wonder everyone in the office is giving him the cold shoulder. So much gossip got him to this point.”


The ins and outs 

The small details and facts about something. Knowing the ins and outs of something gives you an insight into how it works.

“In my blogpost “The ins and out of collocations” published in May last year, I went through the various collocation word combinations.”


Short of

Not having enough of it.

 “Being short of money, they will have to make do with a staycation* this summer.”

* Stacation: a holiday within your own country.

Move with the times

To be modern and adapt to the changes that new times bring.

 “The professor received a letter jointly written by his students in which they asked him to move with the times and start using gender-neutral language in the classroom.” 


Give or take

Approximately, it could be a bit more or a bit less.

“During the intensive course, there will be pauses of half an hour, give or take a few minutes.”


Never a dull moment

There are exciting things happening all the time. Dull is a synonym for boring so it is another way to say something or someone is far from boring.

“With three kids and two pets at home, there is never a dull moment.”


Like-minded people

People with whom you have things in common, for example in terms of lifestyle or the way you spend your free time, Also, people with similar opinions or tastes.

“In my experience, small youth hostels are an ideal place to meet like-minded travellers and make friends.”


Sugar the pill

Imagine you have to deliver bad news. You could say it bluntly or you could try to make it more palatable, less harsh by sugaring the pill (also, sweetening the pill).

“Let’s sugar the pill and tell them it was a minor incident. They don’t need to know all the graphic details about the road ambush.”


Keep it to a minimum

Use/do/keep as little of something as possible

“In China, people are trying to keep social gatherings to a minimum due to the virus scare.”


Stock up on something

To buy a lot of it.

“Before the snowstorm, families in remote mountain villages stocked up on food and drink in view of a week of blocked roads.”


In full swing

Fully operational.

“It took them a few months to get things sorted but by now, the new dancing school is in full swing.”


Not mince words

If you don’t mince your words, you say what you think directly and not worried that you might offend someone.

“Being so frank and unable to mince his words creates some awkward situations but everybody knows where he stands.”


A closed book

Someone you don’t know much about because they are very private and don’t reveal any information about themselves. Also, someone you can’t figure out or understand.

“He’s such a closed book. We don’t know anything about his private life. All our conversations revolve around work.”


Pump money into

Invest a lot of money to make something work successfully.

“China is pumping billions of yuans into the economy to counteract the devastating effects of the Coronavirus outbreak.”




In a nutshell

Summing up; briefly

“Tomorrow will be a full working day, everything back to back from morning to evening. In a nutshell, don’t call me.


It’s not my cup of tea

It’s not my thing; I don’t really like it.

“Tarantino is not my cup of tea. Let’s watch something else.


Push your luck

Say that you have been lucky but you want more of that, taking more risks and perhaps ending up losing it all.

“You’ve got my word that I will help you once a week, but you keep asking for more. You are pushing your luck. I hate to say this but, if you don’t stop insisting, I might stop helping altogether.


Take the mickey (out of someone)  


Make fun of someone; tease them.

“No way, you can’t be serious! Are you taking the mickey?.


A steady job

A job that you can rely on because it is going to last.

“Thankfully, Kate had landed a steady job before the pandemia crisis started so her financial situation will not be a problem.


A blessing in disguise

When a negative situation brings with it a positive outcome, which was not expected.

“Losing his job proved to be a blessing in disguise as it gave him the time and energy to write and become a published author.


Pressed for time

In a hurry.

“Could you call me back later? I’m pressed for time now.


Just the ticket

Just what is needed.

“This mouth-watering chocolate cake is just the ticket now.  Thank you!.


It does (exactly) what it says on the tin

When you buy a product or a service that does what it says on the tin, you know what to expect and that is what you will get.

“When you stay at a YHA hostel, you don’t get any nasty surprises. It does exactly what it says on the tin.


Stand the test of time

If something stands the test of time, it remains popular and strong, regardless of the passage of time.

“Appealing to adults as well as younger audiences, the Harry Potter saga has stood the test of time.


To be on the cards

Something is very likely to happen.

“Major changes are on the cards in the coming months.


Give credit to someone

Acknowledge an accomplishment.

“Not enough credit was given to the sherpas that led the first Himalayan expeditions.


Go under the knife

To be operated on; to undergo surgery.

“He put off going under the knife for as long as he could, but his knee was more and more painful and he had to face up to it.


At a loose end

If you find yourself at a loose end, you have nothing to do.

“You surely have some plans for the weekend but if you find yourself at a loose end, give me a call and we’ll organise something.


Between a rock and a hard place

In a situation situation where both alternatives are unpleasant or undesirable.

“In the Bridges of Madison County, Francesca found herself between a rock and a hard place, having to decide between losing her family or losing Robert.


Reinvent the wheel

Try to do something that has already been done.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to solve this problem; there are systems in place that we can follow.


In the same boat

In the same unpleasant situation

“This pandemic has proved that we are in the same boat.”


Sweeping changes

Radical changes

“Never have we undergone so many sweeping changes in such a short period of time.”


In the pipeline

Ready to be made available soon.

“The podcaster announced that he had several episodes in the pipeline, but wouldn’t release them all at once.”


At length

In great detail and for a long time.

“The discussed it in length over the weekend, but no agreement was reached.”


So much so

It indicates that something is true to a great degree.

“The doctor was convinced of her view, so much so that she recorded a video in the hope that it would get viral.”


Business as usual

When you continue doing what you normally do regardless of difficult circumstances.

“Barely anybody can now say, it is business as usual seeing how our lives have been so disrupted.”





To little effect

Not producing much change or a good result.

“He won’t answer the phone. We’ve been trying to reach him all day to little effect.


Cultural references

Ideas that relate to the culture of a country.

“Cultural references make understanding series and films a lot more challenging.


Guess what!

You can use this to attract people’s attention before saying something surprising.

“Guess what! My book has been published.


A hard-and-fast rule

A strict rule, not to be broken.

“New Zealand has hard-and-fast rules when it comes to what you can bring into the country.


Burn the candle at both ends

Having so much to do that you have to get up very early and go to bed late in order to finish it.

“Go home and get some rest. Burning the candle at both ends day after day is going to make you ill.


Music to my ears

Something you are very pleased to hear.

“You passed your test with flying colours! That’s music to my ears.


With flying colours

If you pass a test with flying colours, you have had a high score.

“I couldn’t wait to tell you that I have passed the test with flying colours.


It goes without saying

There is no need to say it because it is obvious.

“Thank you for putting me up this week! It goes without saying that you can come over and stay with me when you visit my country.


Set a low bar 

Not demanding a lot from something or someone.

“I know you are desperate to find a job. Any job! But, don’t set a low bar and end up being exploited in a crappy place.


Go out of your way

To make an extra effort in order to help someone.

“A group of care workers have gone out of their way to help the residents of a care-home on the Isle of Wight stay safe from the coronavirus. How? By moving in with them.


Jazz up something

To add something that makes it more interesting or exciting.

“Lately, I’ve been trying to jazz up my meals by experimenting with the aromatic flavours of some Asian recipes.


Go overboard

Apart for falling off a boat, going overboard means do too much; more than is necessary or reasonable.

“Can we try to not go overboard with the food next Christmas, mum?


All eyes are on 

To say that all eyes are on somebody or something means that this person or thing is the centre of attention.

“Some world leaders are finding it hard to accept that all eyes are on epidemiologists and their opinions based on expertise.”


Nothing to write home about

Not exciting or special.

“I stayed till the end of the play, out of respect, but their version of Orwel’s 1984 was nothing to write home about.”


A catch-22

If you are in a catch-22 situation, you are in a no-win situation with contradictory rules.

“Ok, so I need to have experience to get the job but there is no way I can gain experience without working. A catch-22!”


To skyrocket

To rise sharply

“I’ve heard that the Amazon sales of home improvement materials  have skyrocketed over the last few weeks in the UK. It seems there is a lot of DIY happening during the lockdown.”


Turn a blind eye (to something)

To pretend you don’t notice something, as if it wasn’t happening.

“Correcting every single mistake was detrimental so she had to turn a blind eye to some of them.”


Tick along or tick over

Continue working but making very little progress.

“How is your business doing, Mark?” “Ticking along, really.”


Push someone’s buttons

Make someone angry.

“No wonder she avoids visiting her parents. Her mum knows exactly how to push her buttons.


To be high-maintenance

Something or someone that requires a lot of time, attention, work, money, etc.

“The hair style you are suggesting is high-maintenance. I’d rather not have to use straighteners every day.




A long shot

When something is very unlikely, but you still give it a try.

“It’s a long shot, but if you happen to be free on Saturday you could join us for a walk in the mountains.


Have a grasp of something

Understand it well.

“You have a good grasp of English grammar. Can you help your classmate with the relative clauses homework?


Pick your brain

Ask for information to someone who knows about a certain subject.

“Can I pick your brain about web design?


The elephant in the room

Something obvious that no-one wants  to bring up or talk about, and therefore remains ignored.

“Their grandfather’s racist behaviour had been the elephant in the room for years, but now it was time to address it.


Better late than never

Done late, but at least done.

“Sorry I didn’t remember yersterday, but better late than never. Happy birthday!.


Come to nothing

When something comes to nothing, it fails.

“Our plans to spend a week on the Isle of Wight came to nothing.


The cherry on the cake

One last thing that makes something good, even better.

“They all reunited for lunch in the garden after a long period apart, and the sunny weather was the cherry on the cake.


Undivided attention

Complete attention

“Despite my wish to explain my view, I gave him my undivided attention until he finished speaking.



Not connected to the main electricity grid or other public supplies such as gas.

“They are working towards their objective to move into a sustaible off-the-grid home in the country.


Out of your depth

To feel like you don’t belong because you are not prepared to deal with what is happening in a certain situation or with a group of people.

“During the first month of her educational exchange in Boston, she felt out of her depth in most classes, but it all changed when she got used to the American system.


Out of character

Not behaving as one usually does; uncharacteristic.

“Crying in public was totally out of character for her, always so calm and in control.


See the back of

This phrase can be followed by someone or something and it means that your are glad and relieved that you will not have to deal with it/him/her… any more.

“Seeing the back that unispiring desk job was a moment of pure joy.


A turning point 

A time of significant change that will affect the future.

“Inheriting a farm in the south was a turning point in his life.


A wealth of

A large amount.

“If one takes the time to think about it, there is a wealth of things to be thankful for every single day.


That’s not to say (that) 

We can use this phrase to correct what we just said. It means: it doesn’t mean (that).

“The book is dense and full of complex ideas, buy that is not to say she didn’t understand it.


A quick fix

A quick solution to a problem that will only solve it temporarily, but is not effective in the long term.

“This stone wall will work for now, but it’s only a quick fix. We will need to build something more solid if we want to  prevent landslides.


Be all very well

To indirectly show that you disagree with something.

“That dream of becoming a farmer is all very well, but are you aware of the full-time commitment it entails?


Have it in for someone

You can say that someone has it in for you when they clearly dislike you and make things difficult for you.

“The teacher had it in for her because she had been late for class more than once, even though it hadn’t been her fault at all.


Work wonders

Have a beneficial effect. Also, do wonders.

“Swimming regularly works wonders for your health.


Free up time

Find time to do something

“We are both busy. but let’s free up some time next week to go for a long walk and catch up.


Behind closed doors

Done in private.

“On the surface, they looked like a happy couple but what happened behind closed doors remained a mystery.


Take your mind off something

Stop worrying or thinking about something unpleasant

“Let’s go for a walk. That will help you take your mind off things.




Get the picture

To say informally that you understand the idea.

“I don’t neet to hear any more. I get the picture.


Get to the bottom of something

To discover the truth.

“Nobody knows who is behind the hate comments but we’ll get to the bottom of it.


Pay close attention

To concentrate and give all your attention to something you are doing.

“If you pay close attention to the explanation in class, you will do the exercises without any difficulties.


In (one’s) own right

If someone has or is something in their on right, they have earned it by themselves.

“Her parents being actors has little to do with her success. She is an accomplished actress in her own right.


Test the water(s)

Before diving into a swimming `pool, we sometimes test the water temperature. Likewise, we can observe or study something in order to decide whether it will be succesful.

“A limited number of the product has been launched in a small community. Just enough to test the waters.


Reap the benefits

To obtain something as a result of your effort

“They have been working hard this year and now it is time to reap the benefits.


To be up in the air

To be uncertain

“She would like to make a career change, but in the current situation everything is up in the air.


At the latest

No later than

“Please, send me your confirmation by Tuesday at the latest.


So much so

To a great extent

“She was determined to stay in her country, so much so that she was ready to split up with her partner.


To have strings attached

When something you are offered or you want to achieve comes with certain less desirable conditions or obligations that you also have to accept as part of it.

“The offer to move into a more spacious office at the top of the building was very tempting, but we decided to turn it down because we realised it had strings attached. The price was lower but we had to commit to a five-year rental agreement.


Give me a break! 

Don’t be ridiculous!

“Are you saying I can’t do it myself? Give me a break!.


In check

Under control

“Speaking English everyday keeps your fluency in check.


Next to nothing

Very little

“On the way back from work, I used to buy books in the second-hand bookshop for next to nothing.




Take it easy


“This weekend I am just going to take it easy. It’s been a hectic week.


The tip of the iceberg

When we can only see a part of something much bigger.

“The school soon realised that misbehaviour among the kids in that group was only the tip of the problem when they found out that they were cases of bullying.


On the flip side

A good alternative to “on the other hand”.

“The job will offer me excellent opportunities for promotion. On the flip side, I am sure that doing overtime will be the rule rather than the exception .


Have second thoughts

When someone starts having second thoughts about a decision they made, they may be reconsidering it.

“They were about to move in together, but after a bitter argument over money, she started having second thoughts.


Hold your horses

If you tell someone to hold their horses, you are asking them to wait; especially to convey the idea that they need to stop a bit and think.

“Hold your horses! Let me finish my point before you jump to conclusions.


Make/do a U-turn

When a car makes a u-turn, it turns and goes back in the direction it came from. It can also be used to express a complete change of ideas or strategy.

“The UK government has made a U-turn encouraging telework whenever possible in contrast with his call for people to go back into their offices a few weeks ago.


Know-it-all (or know-all)

Someone who acts as if they know everything; more than other people.

“He’s such a know-it-all. And of course, he won’t listen to any different views. Hard to put up with him.


About time too

To indicate that something should have happened earlier. For example when someone should have arrived earlier.

“Oh here you are. About time too!.


Get it over with

To do something your were dreading so that you don’t have to think about it any more.

“The first day in a new school is always tricky. Come on, let’s get it over with! You will feel more at home tomorrow.


Bits and bobs

Random  small objects. Also, many different types of little jobs.

“I have to sort out a few bits and bobs at the office but I’ll join you at the pub later.


Think the world of

Have a high opinion of something or someone

“Her followers think the world of her and the views of her videos on youtube keep growing exponentially.


Get the hang of something

When you get the hang of something, you learn how to do it.

“I know learning how to use a smart phone at your age is tough, but with a bit of daily practice you will get the hang of it soon.


Pushed for time

To have very little time.

“He does his best work when he is pushed for time.


Bring to a standstill

Cause something or someone to stop

“The sudden death of one of the committee members brought the negociations to a standstill.


Leave it alone 

Don’t touch or change something.

“Leave it alone! This lamp is very fragile and it could easily break. Go and play with something else.


Home at last

We use this phrase to express our joy when arriving home (e.g. after a long time away or perhaps a tiring or uncomfortable journey home).

“It’s back to school on Monday. Have you got everything you need?.


Back to school

The summer holiday is over and the school year starting.

“It’s back to school on Monday. Have you got everything you need?.