In your element
In your natural environment and doing things you are familiar with
“We all left the planning in the group leader’s hands. Organising and distributing tasks, she was in her element.”
On your doorstep
Very close to where you live.
Similar to: At a stone’s throw away.
“The flat was very conveniently placed in a safe area of London and she had the tube station on her doorstep.”
Get to the bottom of something
To discover the truth about a situation.
“There have been a number of incidents in the building and the neighbours are trying to get to the bottom of the problem.”
Simple to do or understand.
“They knew he would say yes to the salary rise. That was a no-brainer . “
There is more to it than meets the eye
Something is more complicated than it seems.
“Sharks have a fearsome reputation as killer creatures but there is more to it than meets the eye. “
For the most part
“Podcasts nowadays are incredibly assorted and for the most part, free of charge. “
At your fingertips
Accessible, easy to find.
“She may say she is hopeless at cooking and has zero imagination but there is no exuse really because nowadays, recipes are at our fingertips on the Internet. “
Get ahead of yourself
To do something prematurely.
“You are getting ahead of yourself by renting an apartment in London when you don’t still now if the company will take you on.”
Be in two minds
You can’t decide what to do.
“The student was in two minds about moving abroad.”
Can’t see the wood for the trees
Too involved in a situation or focused on the details and unable to see the bigger picture and understand the situation as a whole.
“She was so concerned with her day-to-day problems at work that she couldn’t see the wood for the trees. In the big scheme of things, she was a very successful entrepreneuse and her business was flourishing but her worries didn’t let her perceive it.”
Middle of the road
Not extreme but moderate. Acceptable to most people. Can be used about opinions, political beliefs, music, etc.
“The mayor was a very middle-of-the-road sort of person and managed to ward off fierce criticism.”
A foregone conclusion
A result that you can predict before it happens.
“The voters inevitably came to a foregone conclusion about the major blow to women’s rights that the candidate’s victory would represent.”
In one sitting
If you do something in one sitting, you set out to do a task and finish it in the one single period of time.
“The journalism student sat at his desk and read through a tabloid* and a broadsheet** in one sitting.”
(UK) *Tabloids: also called the gutter press are a kind of newspapers that are considered sensationalist and unrealiable journalism. ** Broadsheets on the other hand are quality papers, traditionally larger in size, thus the name. Although the size of some of them has changed, the name prevails.
The lesser of two evils
You have two choices and both of them are bad/unpleasant, but one seems less so than the other.
“Not knowing what politician to vote for, in the end he decided to choose the lesser of two evils, as it was always the case .”
A win-win situation
A win-win situation or result is good for anyone who is involved.
“Going for a cycle with my dog is a win-win situation. He gets his daily exercise and I take a break and some fresh air.”
To stock up on something
To buy a large amount of something and accumulate it for the future.
“In view of the snow forecast, remote communities are stocking up on food supplies.”
A fine line between
To express that there are similarities between two things that may seem initially different.
“There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.”
Note: also A THIN LINE
Keep an eye out for
To stay tuned to something. To keep looking for something and stay alert.
“She always keeps an eye out for gigs in the local area and then passes on the information to the rest of her pals.”
Start with a clean slate
Common phrase you hear a lot around New Year.
It means: a new beginning.
Note: Slate is a kind of rock that is split and used as material to build roofs. Also used for blackboards.
“January is regarded to be a clean slate by many. A time to start afresh and incorporate life changes and improvements.”
Note: also START WITH A CLEAN SHEET
Learn the hard way
To learn something from a bad experience or a mistake
“Listen to your parents’ advice about drinking and driving so that you never have to learn the hard way.”
Go along with
Agree with somebody or support someone’s proposal
“The rescue team leader suggested waiting till the heavy rain let up and they all went along with that.”
A bad patch
A difficult time
“These are troubled times for his business. He’s going through a bad patch but I am sure he’ll bounce back. “
Have the gift of the gab
Have a way with words. Speak fluently and confidently. .
“Good comedians have the gift of the gab.”
Practise what you preach
Follow your own advice
“The teen was annoyed by her mother’s double standards and told her to practise what she preaches.”
Keep up with the times
(also move with or change with the times)
To be modern and adapt to the time you are living in
“Some elderly people are finding it hard to keep up with the times when it comes to technology .”
Off the top of my head
You say something without having the time to think about it or check the facts.
“I know the gallery offers free entry an hour before closure but I can’t remember exactly what days of the week off the top of my head. I would need to look it up.”
Out of the blue
“It was on her twelfth birthday that out of the blue, the girl announced she had written a novel and aspired to become a writer.”
Put something on hold
Stop the progress of something and leave it till later
“Paternity put his promising career on hold, which he secretly resented at first but then came to terms with and never regretted.”
What’s in store
What’s coming in the future, what is about to happen
“What’s in store for you this year?.”
A better understanding
Offer an insight.
“Reading all of the president’s personal letters helped the biographer have a better understanding of the politician’s trajectory.”
To be in for a surprise
Same as saying you are going to have a surprise.
“Get familiar with the CAE speaking before exam day or you might be in for a surprise.”
Day in, day out
Happening every day for a long period of time
“The girl was given rice for dinner day in, day out.”
Jump to conclusions
Come to a conclusion without having enough information
“Let’s not jump to conclusions before we’ve heard both sides of the story .”
Words fail me
Unable to find the right words to express something,
“She was so surprised by the news that words failed her and the next few seconds seemed like hours.”
Go a long way
Go far, be successful
“When it comes to relationships, honesty goes a long way.”
Out of the question
It’s impossible, not open to negociations.
“When the tenants asked their landlord for investement in home improvements, he replied it was out of the question for the time being.”
In tip-top shape
In perfect condition
“The council offers courses to keep your bicycle in tip-top shape.”
Do your bit
To do your part of what has to be done.
“Each volunteer did their bit and before they knew it, the task had been completed and they could call it a day.”
Go from strength to strength
To be more and more successful
“Norah Jones’s musical career is going from strength to strength.”
Go hand in hand with
“Industrialisation goes hand in hand with pollution.”
Word of mouth
People spread information by telling each other
“The news was passed by word of mouth and before she knew it, everyone was aware of her pregnancy.”
In retrospect, looking back.
“Back then, taking over her parents’ business seemed the logical move but with hindsight, she now regrets not having pursued her dream to study art.”
On the spur of the moment
Do something suddenly, without any previous planning.
“They were heading home for dinner but on the spur of the moment, they decided to step into the new Indian restaurant close to their apartment.”
It can also be an adjective: e.g. a spur-of-the-moment decision
Rack your brains
Try hard to remember or think of something
“Much as I have been racking my brains, I can’t find an answer to your question.”
A far cry from
Very different from
“Her house in the suburbs is a far cry from the little flat she used to live in as a student.”
It (all) boils down to ….
It is the most important aspect of it
“It all boil downs to respect when it comes to long-term successful relationships.”
By the book
If you do something by the book, you do it methodically, following all the rules
“In the podcast By the book, the two presenters live by the rules of a self-help book for two weeks and then explain their experience to their audience.”
That’s not like you/her/him
Use this phrase when somebody is behaving out of character, not as they usually do.
“Late again? That’s not like you.”
Keep somebody in the loop
Keep somebody informed so that they are aware of the situation.
“Please, keep me in the loop if there are any changes.”
To have an ulterior motive for acting in a particular way. Try to obtain personal advantage, sometimes financial.
“There should be more control over politicians who promote policies in which they have vested interests.”
A walk in the park
“After having spent a year studying English in the UK, the exam in the local language school seemed like a walk in the park for her. ”
Put on the spot
If you put somebody on the spot, you ask them a question that is difficult or embarrassing to answer.
“Programmes like Hald Talk on the BBC put their interviewees on the spot.”
The pay gap
The difference between the average pay of men and women
“In 2018 a survey revealed that More than half of Spanish employers reject gender pay gap audits.”
Not on speaking terms (with)
They refuse to talk to each other
“It is very sad to hear that a person is not on speaking terms with a sibling.”
There is no accounting for taste
Different people like different things
“As I was cycling back home this morning, I saw a woman proudly wearing the most outrageous coat and I told myself: there is no accounting for taste.”
The stakes are high
You risk losing a lot if you fail
“The mountaineers attempted a climb to the summit in bad weather conditions, well aware that the stakes were high. “
A defining moment
It’s a moment that marks a major change and probably will have a big influence thereafter.
“Being diagnosed with dyslexia was a defining moment in his life. At last, he could make sense of his failings to comply with the school system demands and was given the right tools to learn and progress. “
You’ll get there!
It’s a way to encourage someone to have faith that they will achieve their goal
“Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Keep training every day and you’ll get there.”
Put on the map
Make a city or company well-known, It can also be used for a person who becomes famous.
“The novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and subsequent film have put the channel island of Guernsey on the map.”
On the face of it
Apparently, on the surface
“On the face of it, bargain-hunting can save you money but in fact, it can be extremely time-consuming.”
Not rocket science
Not difficult to understand
“Just go to the post office and fill in the forms. Postal vote is not rocket science.”
Catch somebody off their guard
Surprise someone by doing something when they don’t expect it
“The question caught her off her guard and she stumbled over her words trying to give an answer.”
Not for the faint-hearted
Not suitable for people who are easily frightened or shocked
“The abundance of violent scenes in Game of thrones make it a series not qualified for the faint-hearted.”
Have a knack for something
Have talent in a certain skill
Quote: “Writers have to have a knack for listening. I need to be able to hear what is being said to me by the voices I create.” Jeanette Winterson
Prove your point
If you make or prove your point you show that it is true.
“Galileo Galilei, who believed in the Copernican system of heliocentrism, devised a telescope that could enlarge objects up to 20 times to prove his point.”
To work like a charm
It is very effective.
“The patient followed the doctor’s advice and it worked like a charm.”
Not all it’s cracked up to be
Not as good as people say
“Princess Diana once said that being a princess is not all it’s cracked up to be.”
Push your luck
When you have already achieved something but try to achieve more at the risk of losing everything.
“They pushed their luck too far and lost all the money they had won at the Casino.”
At the expense of
If you do something at the expense of something else, you have to sacrifice the second.
“Rachel manages to juggle several projects at the same time at the expense of her sleep.”
Take it to heart
To be affected by what somebody says
“At first, the Youtuber took a lot of the negative comments to heart but eventually he had to learn to live with that.”
Sleep on it
To think about something before reaching a decision, often the following day
“You don’t have to give me an answer now. Sleep on it and get back to me tomorrow.”
Back in the day
In those days, in the past. Sometimes refers to a period we look back on with fondness.
“Back in the day, we used to go hiking every weekend.”
The trail of data we leave when surfing the net
“We can’t predict what the effects of our digital footprint might be.”
Entitled to (your opinion)
Having the right or permission to do something, in this case, the right to having your opinion
“Regardless of the fierce opposition you are meeting, you are entitled to your opinion.”
Back to square one
Start again without any progress made
“The latest discoveries made their work irrelevant and they are back to square one.”
In its infancy
At an early stage, still developing
“Research on Augmented Reality in nursing still in its infancy, according to the BMC website.”
Favouring development and innovation.
“The company’s philosophy is based on forward-thinking and breaking new ground.”
To do the same that somebody else has done; copy, imitate.
“In the final scene of the movie Dead Poets Society one student stands on the desk in rebellion and others follow suit.”
Pave the way for
To do something that will lead to a situation in which something is made possible
“Yesterday’s meetings with politicians will pave the way for changes in the animal welfare laws in the UK.”
For the sake of
Bearing in mind someone’s benefit
“They stay together for the sake of the children.”
Note: (Also) To achieve a purpose
“Let’s all respect each other for the sake of peace.”
A situation that creates anxiety and makes you feel tense.
“The candidate couldn’t explain his strenghts in a nerve-racking interview thad made him feel uncomfortable and insecure.”
A glimmer of hope
A small optimistic sign that indicates that something will get better
Also: a ray of hope
“The testimony of the new witness gave the defendant a glimmer of hope.”
Lower the bar
Reduce the standards of quality.
“Lowering the bar will allow more candidates to have access but no doubt have a negative impact on the overall service.”
A rule of thumb
A rough or practical principle which is based on experience rather than exact calculations or theory
“As a general rule of thumb, the more a person lives in the present, the happier they are.”
Take it the wrong way
Misunderstand or misinterpret a message or situation and be offended by it.
“We had to be extremely careful to use the right wording with her so that she wouldn’t take it the wrong way and be upset without any grounds.”
In the wrong
Responsible for something bad
“The driver admitted to be in the wrong and accepted to compensate the cyclist for the damage.”
Leave a lasting impression
To create a feeling or effect that continues for a long time.
Also Make a lasting impression
“Mandela’s message left a lasting impression on his fellow citizens and across the world.”
Rise to the challenge
To manage to succeed when confronted with a difficult situation
Also Rise to the occasion
“The firm suffered a terrible blow when the crisis hit hard, but eventually managed to rise to the challenge and stay afloat.”
It takes all sorts
Short for It takes all sorts to make a world, this phrase is said to indicate that there are all kinds of people in the world hinting at the idea that we should tolerate their own differences.
Frequently used in the the abbreviated version:
UK – It takes all sorts
US – It takes all kinds
“Sunbathing for hours is not my thing, but I guess it takes all sorts.”
In the back of my mind
If you have something in/at the back of your mind, you intend to do it but you don’t actively think about it or take any action.
“It’s been in the back of my mind to reply to your wedding invitation for two weeks but I haven’t got round to doing it until now.”
By all means
“Can I give you my answer in a few days? – Yes, by all means.”
Set in stone
If something is set in stone, it has been decided and it is very difficult to change.
“We have drawn up a plan for the holiday but nothing is set in stone yet.”
It’s (all) downhill (from here)
Much easier after a period of dealing with difficult work/things.
“You’ve finished the research for your thesis and given it a structure. It’s all downhill from here.”
Note: It’s downhill can also mean to “get worse” in another context:
“The first chapters are gripping but it’s all downhill after that and I lost interest in the book.”
Come a long way
To make a great amount of progress overtime
“The podcast has come a long way since it first started ten years ago.”
The ball is in someone’s court
It is someone’s responsibility to do something or take a decision now. For example, when you have done your bit and it’s now the other person’s turn to make a move.
“In my latest blogpost, I have put forward several ideas for you to keep your English afloat this summer. The ball is in your court now.”
No strings attached
To show that an offers carries no special conditions or something unpleasant you have to accept as part of it
“In Salem (Massachusetts), Sidewalk Talk volunteers listen with no strings attached.”
Have a soft spot for
To be particularly fond of someone or something
“They have a soft spot for Canada and travel there as often as they can.”
If you have get-up-and-go, you have a positive attitude, energy and drive to take action.
“This project needs people with lots of get-up-and-go.”
On another note
Changing the subject
“….I’ll send in the reports tomorrow.
On another note, we are all meeting up for after-work drinks on Friday. You are more than welcome.”
Have a think
(British) Think about something carefully
“Let me have a think about it and I’ll get back to you.”
Nothing to write home about
Mediocre, not exciting
“The play was nothing to write home about, a bit of a waste of time and money really.”
I can’t make head nor tail of something
I don’t understand it at all.
“I can’t make her nor tail of the lyrics of this song but I love the tune.”
To show you accept it when someone says something reasonable.
A: “I don’t mind doing overtime today as long as I can take an afternoon off next week.”
B: “Fair enough.”
Up to no good
Doing something bad, illegal or immoral
“The neighbours feared that the group of teens hanging out in the street were up to no good and called the police.”
Keep to a/the minimum
to limit to the smallest amount possible
“The doctor told her patient to keep his alcohol intake to a minimum.”
Or close at hand. Very near, accessible when needed.
“Always keep tissues close at hand when young kids are around.”
Lose your nerve
To lose the courage to do something that you were planning to do.
“Just before going into the classroom to meet a group of students, the girl lost her nerve and couldn’t face up to it.”
Miss the point
Fail to understand what is important in a message
“But you are missing the point, the main idea in her speech is that we can and should do something to stop global warming.”
(Have) a craving for
To crave or have a craving for something means to have a strong desire for something.
“My workmate had a craving for chocolate this morning and quickly popped out to the shops to get some.”
That takes the biscuit
It is too much. The most annoying thing in a series of things. (US- the cake)
“Late as usual and now you want us to start all over again. That really takes the biscuit!”
(It) gives me the shivers
It makes me feel frightened
“The way that man looked at the girls gave me the shivers. He shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a school.”
Apart from a ship that breaks ice in frozen waters, an ice-breaker can be something that someone says or does to make it easier to start a conversation among people who meet for the first time.
“As an ice-breaker, the teacher handed out small pieces of paper where the students had to write three activities they were into, and then walk around and share.”
Few and far between
Not happening very often
“Screenings of films in their original version are few and far between in this city.”
Get your (own) way
“With her convincing arguments, she always gets her own way.”
Save for a rainy day
Put something aside for the future when you may need it more.
“I’d rather not spend it all now and save some for a rainy day.”
The million-dollar question
A very difficult question to answer
“What will happen next? That’s the million-dollar question.”
Tie the knot
“It took everybody by surprise when they decided to tie the knot and move to Australia.”
Across the board
General. Affecting everyone or everything in a group, situation, etc.
“Environmental policies should be implemented across the board in order to have a significant positive impact globally speaking.”
A bitter pill (to swallow)
An unpleasant situation that is difficult to accept.
“The realisation that they would never see their father again was a bitter pill to swallow.”
Let your guard down
(also drop or lower your guard)
You are not alert when you should
“Don’t let your guard down when travelling around that area. It’s quite rough.”
Behind someone’s back
Without someone’s knowledge or consent.
“They have been seeing each other for months behind their parents’ back.”
Miss the point
Not understand what is important about it or overlook it.
“I see what you mean but you are missing my point.”
Off the record
Not intended to be made public or official.
“After the press conference, the party leader spoke off the record to a group of journalists that had stayed behind.”
Have a frog in your throat
Have difficulty speaking because you are hoarse.
“You sound like you have a frog in your mouth. Go home and don’t speak for the rest of the day.”
Drop a hint to somebody
Suggest something in an indirect way
“Dropping hints to him won’t do it. We’ll have to tell him directly.”
Go down that road
To take a particular course of action
“Let’s not go down that road. It will only add to the problem.”
Be comfortably off
To have enough money to live without any financial problems.
“They are comfortably off since their grandparents died and left them a large inheritance.”
On the defensive
Protecting oneself from criticism
“A series of thinly veiled accusations put him on the defensive and made constructive dialogue impossible.”
The bottom line
(informal) the most important factor, the conclusion.
Note: In Business the final line in the accounts of a company stating the total profit or loss that has been made
“The bottom line is: therapy worked, medication didn’t.”
Aches and pains
Minor pains and discomforts, typically in the muscles.
“She puts everything down to the aches and pains of old age but it might be something more serious.”
Take its toll
If something takes its toll on someone, it has an adverse effect
“The lack of sleep was starting to take its toll on them.”
You can’t go (far) wrong
… with a particular thing or action. It’s likely to be right.
“If you are into big cities, you can’t go far wrong with this European capitals tour package.”
In short supply
Few, not enough
“Run-free dog parks are in short supply in my city.”
Your mind blanks out
You forget everything
“That appalling moment when your mind blanks out and you just want the earth to open up and swallow you.”
Go on a shopping spree
Indulgent and excessive buying
“Now wonder their house is full of clutter, they go on shopping sprees at every opportunity.”
Far from it
Not at all true.
“Vegetarian food is not bland. Far from it! Try some of the recipes in this book and you will see for yourself.”
To be close to someone’s heart
If something is close to your heart, it is extremely important to you and you are very concerned by it.
“The fight against climate change is a cause that is very close to her heart and she has inspired millions of people around the world to take a stand.”
No time like the present
It means, don’t leave something for later; it’s better to do it now.
“Let’s get it done as soon as possible and have a worry-free weekend. No time like the present.”
To be or get under way
“The long-awaited changes to the regulation are already under way.”
Take somebody up on an offer
Accept the offer that somebody has made.
“I’ll take you up on your offer to spend a week in the South of France with you, guys. If it’s still on, that is.”
A hard pill to swallow
Something difficult to come to terms with.
“The management refusal to renew their contract after years of dedicated work and outstanding results, was a hard pill to swallow.”
Deep in thought
Very reflective. Thinking hard.
“The doctor sat there for what seemed like hours, deep in thought, until she came with a solution.”
Pass the buck
To make someone responsible for a problem that you should be dealing with. Click here to read about the origin of this idiom.
“Passing the buck to your friend is not going to help you learn to solve your own problems.”
Float somebody’s boat
If something floats your boat, you are interested in it.
“Tell somebody else to come along, a massive rock concert like that doesn’t really float my boat.”
Stuck in traffic (or in a traffic jam)
Unable to keep moving at the speed you wish because there are too many cars.
“We left home during rush-hour and inevitably, ended up stuck in traffic.”
To find a compromise between two people or groups of people.
“Seeing that we couldn’t convince them to join forces with us, we understood that we had to accept some of their points they were making and meet halfway.”
A speedy recovery
If an ill person makes a speedy recovery, they get better quickly.
“I hope you will make a speedy recovery. Take care!.”
A hard act to follow
An achievement which sets a standard regarded as being hard to measure up to.
“After the success of her first novel, she had a hard act to follow when writing her second.”
Distance yourself from
Become less involved with something or be separated mentally from it
“The journalist distanced himself from the controversial opinions he was reporting.”
The amount of good or services that someone can afford to buy.
“Pensioners are fighting to make sure that their future purchasing power doesn’t dwindle.”
Think on your feet
To think as you speak and make decisions without prior thought,
“The emergency workers were prepared to think on their feet and that saved lives and further damage.”
A knee-jerk reaction
A quick automatic response without thinking (similar to the reflex movement of the knee when hit sharply),
“His knee-jerk reactions get him into trouble once and again. He should take more time to ponder important decisions.”
Rush off 0ne’s feet
“I’ve been rushed of my feet all day. Not much energy left for cooking an elaborate dinner, I’m afraid.”
Go over the top
To do something in an extreme, unreasonable way.
“They’ve gone over the top with their wedding.”
Go off on a tangent
To change from one subject to another. Also, go off-topic.
“The podcaster often goes off on a tangent and that makes his programme very entertaining to listen to.”
Walls have ears
Be careful what you say in certain places as somebody may be eavesdropping.
“Tell me when we get home, walls have ears.”
Behave according to the rules or the principles of justice
“It is essential that all participants play fair or they will be excluded.”
To try and do so many things simultenously that none of them is given enough attention.
“You’ve been spreading yourself thin for too long now. Slow down or it will take a toll on your health.”
Fit like a glove
To be the exact size and fit perfectly.
“Your dress fits like a glove; no need to take it in or buy a new one. That will save me a fortune!”
Pay a compliment
To say something nice to someone
“It is incredibly rewarding when a student pays you a compliment for your work.”
Get in the way
Be an obstacle
“She’s got all these bright ideas about the book she would like to write, but then life gets in the way and she can’t find the time for that.”
Disillusioned with life, unenthusiastic.
“The world-weary approach he gives to his writing gets me down.”
Watching several episodes of a programme in one sitting.
“You binge-watched a whole season of Game of Thrones last weekend. OMG!.”