Top Idioms & Phrases for Competitive Exams [Complete List]

May 25, 2021
Idioms & PhrasesMeaning
Rank and FileOrdinary People
By fits and startsIn short periods, not regularly
A wee bitA little
Out of the woodFree from difficulties and dangers
Under his thumbUnder his control
At one’s wits endIn a state where one does not know what to do
Between the devil and the deep seaBetween two dangers
Burn the midnight oilWork or study hard
Call a spade a spadeSpeak frankly and directly
Come off with flying colorsBe highly successful
Hoping against hopeWithout hope
Hit the nail on the headDo or say the exact thing
An axe to grindA personal interest in the matter
To get rid ofDispose of
At daggers drawnBitterly hostile
To play ducks and drakesTo act foolishly or inconsistently
To take the bull by the hornsTo tackle a problem in a bold and direct fashion
Rain cats and dogsRain heavily
To move heaven and earthTo make a supreme effort
No availWithout any result
Bark up the wrong treeAccuse or denounce the wrong person
Keep one at bayKeep one at a distance
Make a clean breast of itConfess – especially when a person has done a wrong thing
Have a card up one’s sleeveHave a secret plan in reserve
Like a cat on hot bricksVery nervous
Cat and dog lifeLife full of quarrels
Cock and bull storyMade up story that one should not believe
Cry for the moonAsk for the impossible
The pros and consThe various aspects of a matter in detail
Be in a tight cornerIn a very difficult situation
Cross one’s t’s and dotBe precise, careful and one’s i’s exact
At arm’s lengthTo keep at a distance
Out of the questionImpossible
Out of the wayStrange
Show a clean pair of healsRun away
Keep one’s fingers crossedThe anxiety in which you hope that nothing will upset your plans
In the nick of timeJust at the last moment
Sitting on the fenceHesitate between two decisions
Spread like wild fireSpread quickly
The gift of the gabTalent for speaking
By hook or by crookBy fair or foul means
Feather one’s own nestMake money unfairly
Throw out of gearDisturb the work
Take to one’s heelsRun away
Tooth and nailWith all one’s power
Die in harnessDie while in service
Take a leaf out of one’s bookImitate one
Leave no stone unturnedUse all available means
A man of strawA man of no substance
Read between the linesUnderstand the hidden meaning
In cold bloodDeliberately and without emotion
A thorn in the fleshA constant source of annoyance
Smell a ratSuspect something foul
Harp on the same stringDwell on the same subject
Bury the hatchetEnd the quarrel and make peace
Leave one in the lurchDesert one in difficulties; leave one in a helpless condition
Like a fish out of waterIn a strange situation
At one’s beck and callUnder his control
To make both ends meetTo live within one’s income
In hot waterIn trouble
Nip in the budDestroy in the early stage
Stick to one’s gunsRemain faithful to the cause
To eat humble pieTo apologize humbly and to yield under humiliating circumstances
In high spiritsVery happy
Put the cart before the horsePut or do things in the wrong order
To all namesTo abuse
On tenterhooksIn a state of suspense and anxiety
Wash one’s dirty linenDiscuss unpleasant in public-private matters before strangers
To bell the catTo face the risk
A hard nut to crackA difficult problem
Let the cat out of the bagReveal a secret
A big gunAn important person
Kill two birds with one stoneTo achieve two results with one effort
Take one to taskRebuke
Gain groundBecome Popular
To blow one’s ownTo praise one’s own trumpet achievement
A bosom friendA very close friend
A brown studyDreaming
Turn a deaf earDisregard / ignore what one says
A close shaveNarrow escape
Turn over a new leafChange for the better
Make up one’s mindDecide
In the long runEventually; ultimately
Bring to lightDisclose
Pay off old scoresTake revenge
Hard and fast rulesStrict rules
At the eleventh hourAt the last moment
A close shaveNarrow escape
To cut a sorry figureTo make a poor show
With a high handOppressively
Burn one’s fingersGet into trouble by interfering in other’s affairs
Laugh one’s head offLaugh heartily
Chew the cudPonder over something
Play second fiddleTake an unimportant part
Above boardHonest and open
Through thick and thinUnder all conditions
Put a spoke in one’s wheelTo upset one’s plans
At sixes and sevensIn a disordered/disorganized manner, chaotic
At homeComfortable
Alpha and omegaThe beginning and the end
At seaConfused and lost
A bosom friendA very close friend
At one’s beck and callAt one’s service
By leaps and boundsRapidly
To burn one’s boatsGo back on a decision
To beat about the bushTalk irrelevantly
To burn candle at both endsTo waste lavishly
Take one to taskRebuke
A bone of contentionA source of quarrel
Add fuel to the fireTo aggravate the situation
An acid testA critical test
At a snail’s paceVery slowly
A bolt from the blueSomething unexpected
To build castles in the airMake imaginary schemes
Once in a blue moonSomething that happens very rarely
Beating around the bushAvoiding the main topic
Cry over spilled milkComplaining about a loss or failure from the past
Chip on your shoulderWhen someone is upset about something that happened a while ago
Piece of cakeSomething that is easy to understand or do
Golden handshakeA big sum of money given to a person when he/she leaves a company or retires
Spill the beansTo disclose a secret
Blessing in disguiseSomething good and useful that did not initially seem that way
Mean businessBeing Serious or Dedicated
Come hell or high waterPossible obstacles in your path
Apple of one’s eyeBeing cherished
Bite off more than you can chewNot able to complete a task due to lack of ability
The best of both worldsThe benefits of widely differing situations, enjoyed at the same time
Feeling a bit under the weatherFeeling slightly ill
Icing on the cakeSomething that turns good into great
Cost an arm and a legBe very expensive
Jump the bandwagonTo join a popular activity or trend
Ball is in your courtWhen it is up to you to make the next decision or step
To be in the doldrumsTo be in low spirits
To sit on the fenceTo remain neutral
Break the iceTo initiate a social conversation or interaction
Hear it on grapevineTo hear rumors about something or someone
Can’t judge a book by its coverCannot judge something primarily on appearance
It takes two to tangoActions or communications need more than one person
Let the cat out of the bagTo reveal the secret carelessly or by mistake
Black and blueFull of Bruises
Be on cloud nineBe very happy
Last strawThe final problem in a series of problems
A bird’s eye viewA view from a very high place that allows you to see a very large area
A litmus TestA method that helps to know if something is correct
At the drop of a hatWillingness to do something instantly
Afraid of one’s own shadowTo become easily frightened
A house of cardsA poor plan
Fool’s paradiseFalse sense of happiness
Get a raw dealTo not be treated as well as other people
Give cold shoulderTo ignore
Hand to mouthLive on only basic necessities
Make a faceTo show dislike or disappointment through facial expressions
It’s Greek to meSomething that is not understandable
To pour oil on troubled watersTo make peace
Don’t put all your eggs in one basketDo not put all your resources in one basket (in one place or thing)
To put in a nutshellTo say in a few words or to make something concise
Back outTo withdraw from a promise or contract
Blow upTo explode
Back UpTo support and sustain
Back UponTo be relevant
Break DownFailure in something
Break offTo end or discontinue
Break UpTo disperse / dissolve
Bring upTo rear
Call forthTo provoke
Call outTo shout
Call uponTo order
Carry onTo continue
Cast awayTo throw aside
Catch up withTo overtake
Come offTo take place
Cry DownTo make little of
Catch up withTo overtake
Cry out againstTo complain loudly against
Cut outDesigned for
Drop inTo Visit Casually
Drop outTo fall
Fall backTo Recede; To Retreat
Fall downFrom a higher position to a lower one
Fall offTo Withdraw; To Drop Off
Fall underTo come under
Get alongTo Prosper; To Progress; To Proceed
Get on withTo Live Pleasantly Together; To Progress
Get intoTo be involved in
Give inTo Surrender; To Yield
Give overNot to do any longer
Go afterTo Follow; To Pursue
Go DownTo be accepted
Go withoutTo remain without
Go byTo follow
Hang aboutTo Loiter near a place
Hang uponTo depend upon
Hold outTo Endure; To Refuse to yield; To continue; To offer
Hold toAbide By
Keep offTo ward off
Keep up withTo keep pace with
Knock outTo win by hitting another one
It takes two to tangoBoth people involved in a bad situation are responsible for it
Last strawThe final problem in a series of problems
Keep something at bayKeep something away
Kill two birds with one stoneTo solve two problems at a time with just one action
Let sleeping dogs lieLeave something alone if it might cause trouble
Open the floodgatesRelease something that was previously under control
Out of the blueHappen unexpectedly
Out on a limbDo something  risky
Over the TopTotally excessive and not suitable for the occasion
Pen is mightier than the swordWords and communication have a greater effect than war
Push one’s luckTrying to obtain more than what one has
Reap the harvestBenefit or suffer as a direct result of past actions
Roll up sleevesTo get yourself prepared
See eye to eyeTo be in agreement with
Shot in the darkA complete guess
Sink your teeth intoDo something with a lot of energy and enthusiasm
Take with a grain/pinch of saltTo doubt theaccuracy of information
Skating on thin iceDo or say something risky
Tight spotA difficult situation
Strike while the iron is hotTo act at the right time
Take the plungeVenture into something of one’s interest despite the risks involved
Take a nosediveRapid drop or decrease in value
Think the world ofAdmire someone very much
Stand in a good steadTo be useful or be of good service to someone
Take a back seatChoose to be less important in a role
Wave a dead chickenDo something useless
Whale of a timeEnjoy a lot
Wrap one’s brain aroundConcentrate on something to understand
Zero in on somethingFocus all attention on one thing
Above allChiefly, Mainly
On Account ofDue to
On no accountNot for Any Reason
A Fidus AchatesA faithful friend or a devoted follower
The Heel of AchillesA Weak Point
An AdonisA very handsome man
To assume airsTo affect superiority
To stand aloofTo keep to oneself and not mix with others
To lead to the altarTo marry
An AnaniasA Liar
An ApolloA Man with Perfect Physique
To Upset the Apple CartTo disturb the peace
Apple Pie OrderIn perfect order
Arcadian LifeA blissful, happy, rural and simple life
To take up armsTo fight or go to the war
To GrindTo have some selfish objective in view
To break the back of anythingTo perform the most difficult part
To backbite a personTo speak disguise about someone
He has no backboneHe has no will of his own
To cause bad bloodTo Cause Enmity
Bag and BaggageWith all one’s belongings
To keep the ball rollingTo keep things going
Barmecide feastImaginary Benefits
Bee-lineThe shortest distance between two places
Behind one’s backWithout one’s Knowledge
Behind the scenesIn Private
To hit below the beltTo act unfairly in a contest
To bite the dustTo be Defeated in Battle
A Wet BlanketA person who discourages enjoyment or enthusiasm
In Cold BloodDeliberately
A blue StockingA learned/educated or intellectual woman
At First BlushAt first sight
A Bolt from the BlueSomething completely unexpected that surprises you
One’s bread and butterOne’s means of livelihood
To breadth one’s lastTo Die
To make bricks without strawTo attempt to do something without proper materials
To kick the bucketTo die
Good wine needs no bushThere is no need to advertise something good
To burn the candle at both endsTo expend energy in two directions at the same time
If the cap fits, wear itIf you think the remarks refer to you, then accept the criticism
Care killed the catDon’t fret and worry yourself to death
To Catch one’s eyeTo attract attention
To take the chairTo preside a meeting
She is no chickenShe is older than she says
To pick and chooseTo make a careful selection
To square the circleTo attempt something impossible
Every cloud has a silver liningAdverse conditions do not last forever
Close fistedMean
Cut your cloth according to your clothLive within your income
A cock and bull storyA foolishly incredible story
To be cock sureTo be perfectly sure or certain
To throw cold water upon anythingTo discourage efforts
Off colorNot in the usual form
To commit to memoryTo learn by heart
Too many cooks spoil the brothWhere there are more workers than necessary
Crocodile tearsHypocritical Tears
By hook or by crookBy fair or foul means
Cut and driedReadymade
Up to dateRecent
Evil daysA period of misfortune
Halcyon DaysA time when there are peace and happiness in the land
To step into dead man’s shoesTo come into an inheritance
Go to the devilBe off
Devil’s bonesDice
Devil’s PlaythingsPlaying Cards
Give a dog a bad name and hang himOnce a person loses his reputation
Every dog has his daySooner or later, everyone has his share of good fortune
To throw dust in one’s eyesTo try to deceive someone or mislead someone
A white elephantA useless possession which is extremely expensive to keep
To set the Thames on fireTo do something sensational or remarkable
A burnt child dreads the fireOne who has had a previous unpleasant experience is always scared of situations where such experiences are likely to be repeated
A fish out of waterAnyone in an awkward
Foul playCheating
To jump from a frying pan into fireTo come out of one trouble and get into a worse
All that glitters are not goldThings are not always as attractive as they appear
To die in harnessTo continue at one’s occupation until death
Make hay while the sun shinesTake advantage of all opportunities
Lock, stock and barrelThe whole of everything
A miss is as good as a mileComes nowhere near it. If someone narrowly misses the target it still is treated as a missed one or failure.
To move heaven and earthTo exert all efforts
One swallow does not make a summerIt is unreliable to base one’s conclusions on only a single test or incident
If wishes were horses, beggars might rideIf wishing could make things happen, then even the most destitute people would have everything they wanted
A nine days’ wonderAn event which relates a sensation for a time but is soon forgotten
Yellow pressNewspapers which publish sensational and unscrupulous stories and exaggerates the news to attract readers.
A ball park figureA general financial figure
To balance the booksTo make certain that the amount of money spent is not more than the amount of money received.
A cash cowA product or service that makes a lot of money for a company
Devil’s AdvocateTo present a counter argument
Don’t give up the day jobYou are not very good at something. You could not do it professionally.
To cook the booksTo modify financial statements
To get the sackTo be dismissed from your job
To be snowed underTo be very busy
To work your fingers to the boneOrTo sweat bloodTo work really hard
Hear it on the grapevineTo hear rumors
In the heat of the momentOverwhelmed by what is happening in the moment
Not a spark of decencyNo Manners
Speak of the devil!This expression is used when the person you have just been talking about arrives
Whole nine yardsEverything. All of it
Your guess is as good as mineTo have no idea about anything