be walking/floating on air — to be very happy and excited because something very pleasant has happened to you
E.g. When Lesley replaced her glasses with contact lenses, she was floating on air.
be up in the air — is used to say that something has not been decided yet
E.g. In the future I may be moving to Zimbabwe or to Hong Kong, but it is still up in the air.
a bad/rotten apple — one bad person in a group of people who are good
E.g. It’s not a surprise that the occasional rotten apple can always be found in every organization.
not have a bean British informal — to have no money at all
E.g. Most people in the area live in the grip of poverty and don’t have a bean to spend on.
beat about/around the bush — to avoid or delay talking about something embarrassing or unpleasant
E.g. Stop beating about the bush and tell me who robbed Mr. Tailor.
(be) off the beaten track — if a place is off the beaten track, not many people go there.
E.g. If you prefer a more leisurely holiday, you can just relax for a few days in the secluded coves somewhere off the beaten track.
Where’s the beef? American informal — something that you say when you think someone does not have enough ideas to make their plans work
E.g. Where’s the beef? Yesterday at Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons the Prime Minister made a speech but nothing definite was said about future reforms and creation of a ‘New Britain’.
go as red as a beet/go beet red American — to become very red in the face, usually because you are embarrassed
E.g. As soon as I mentioned his name she went beet red.
a big cheese humorous — an important or powerful person in a group or organization
E.g. He is just another big cheese in the government.
birds of a feather informal — people of the same kind, people who have similar characters or interests
E.g. Fiona and Sean are so much alike — tastes, interests, disposition, conduct — I’m sure they are birds of a feather.
the black sheep (of the family) — someone who is thought to be a failure, bad person by the rest of their family or group
E.g. Matthew proved to be the black sheep of the diplomatic community and behaved like a coward when he fled Glasgow.
blue blood — a person of aristocratic or wealthy ancestry.
E.g. Because his great-grandparents made millions, he is regarded as one of the city’s blue bloods.
out of the blue — something that happens suddenly and you are not expecting it
E.g. I can’t give you the answer just out of the blue. I’ll have to think over a little.
be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth — to be always lucky, successful, happy; to be the son or daughter of a very rich family
E.g. He can afford to by an expensive motorcar. It’s natural of someone who was born with a silver spoon in their mouth.
(be) sb’s bread and butter informal — a job or activity that provides you with the money you need to live
E.g. Writing bestsellers is my bread and butter.
be the breadwinner — to earn the main salary
E.g. Only in about 10 % of the British families the father is the breadwinner and the mother does not work.
break the ice — to make people who have not met before feel more relaxed with each other; to put an end to formality; to make the first step
E.g. She was so stiff when I met her that I started talking first to break the ice.
be like a bull in a china shop — to often drop or break things because you move awkwardly or roughly
E.g. Michael is like a bull in a china shop — don’t let him near those lamps.
take the bull by the horns — to do something difficult in a determined and confident way
E.g. I decided to take the bull by the horns and asked my boss for raise.
butter sb up — to get what you want by flattery
E.g. Buttering me up will get you nowhere.
butter both sides of sb’s bread — to profit from two things at the same time
E.g. Michael was able to butter both sides of his bread during his summer vacation. He offered swimming lessons to young people. In that way he could have fun at the swimming pool, and at the same time I earned some spending money!
have butterflies in one’s stomach — to feel very nervous, usually about something you are going to do
E.g. I think that you can have butterflies in your stomach when you are going to ask someone to marry you, or when you are going to reveal your feelings to a beloved one for the first time.
call a spade a spade — to tell the truth about something, even if it is not polite or pleasant
E.g. Let’s call a spade a spade — two teenagers committed suicide yesterday.
put the cart before the horse — to do things in the wrong order
E.g. Deciding what to wear before you’ve even been invited to the party is rather putting the cart before the horse, isn’t it?
(build) castles in the air — plans and hopes that have very little chance of happening
E.g. She told me about her plans to set up her own business, but as far as I can see it’s all just castles in the air.
put/set the cat among the pigeons British — to cause trouble by doing or saying something that upsets people, causes arguments, etc.
E.g. He put the cat among the pigeons by saying that he was always dressed in other people’s cast-offs being the youngest of five kids.
live/be in clover informal — living comfortably, luxuriously, in abundance because you have plenty of money
E.g. No wonder she doesn’t approve of your way of life — she has always lived in clover.
be on cloud nine American informal — to be very happy
E.g. I was on cloud nine when I got the promotion money.
a coach potato American — physically very inactive person, a slob
E.g. Mike is a bit of a coach potato: he spends hours every day just watching TV and eating pop corn.
carry/take coals to Newcastle British — to take something to a place or a person that has a lot of that thing already
Newcastle is a town in Northern England which is in the area where a lot of coal was produced
E.g. Exporting wine to France is a bit like carrying coals to Newcastle.
a cold fish — an unfriendly person who seems to have no strong feelings and who does not show their emotions
E.g. He is a real cold fish. Nobody can get along with him.
cook sb’s goose informal — if you cook someone’s goose, you do something that spoils their plans and prevents them from succeeding
E.g. He cooked his goose by failing the GCSE exam.
at the crack of dawn — very early in the morning
E.g. I love getting up at the crack of dawn.
as the crow flies — if the distance between two places is measured as the crow flies, it’s measured as a straight line between the two places
E.g. ‘How far is it from Oxford to London?’
‘About 50 miles as the crow flies.’
a culture vulture humorous — someone who is very keen to see and experience art, theatre, literature, music; big fan of anything cultural
E.g. My daughter is a real culture vulture; she goes to every art gallery and theater she can find.
not be sb’s cup of tea — if something is not your cup of tea, it’s not what you like or what you’re interested in.
E.g. Action movies aren’t really my cup of tea. I prefer dramas and comedies, to be honest.
a dark horse — a person who does not tell other people about their ideas and skills and who surprises people by doing something that they do not expect
E.g. I couldn’t even expect Margaret has shot a film. She is a bit of a dark horse, isn’t she?
(be) between the devil and the deep blue sea — to be in a difficult situation in which you have to choose between two equally unpleasant things
E.g. He is too young and he doesn’t have the guts. He is between the devil and the deep blue sea now.
wash one’s dirty linen/laundry in public British — to talk to other people about personal things that you should keep private
E.g. The case will be dropped. There’s nothing to be gained by washing a lot of dirty linen in public.
in/within walking/spitting distance (of) — very close to something or someone
E.g. There is a cinema within walking distance of my home.
a dog in the manger — spiteful and mean-spirited person; someone who keeps something that they do not really want in order to prevent anyone else from having it
The infamous ‘dog in a manger’, who occupied the manger not because he wanted to eat the hay there but to prevent the other animals from doing so, is generally said to have been the invention of the Greek storyteller Aesop (circa 620-564 BC).
E.g. If you weren’t a dog in the manger, you would have lent the bike to your brother.
(for) donkey’s years informal — a very long time
E.g. I’ve been studying Chinese for donkey’s years.
a drop in the ocean — a very small amount in comparison to the amount that is needed
E.g. Car workers have doubled the output by the end of the year but it’s a drop in the ocean compared with the previous amount of production in the factory.
as drunk as a lord/piper/skunk — is said about a person who drinks too much
E.g. Mr. Smith got drunk as a lord at lunch and went to sleep all afternoon.
be as easy as pie — to be very easy
E.g. Come on! I’m absolutely sure you’ll do this task; it’s as easy as pie!
eat crow American — to be forced to admit that you are wrong and to say you are sorry
E.g. Maggie had to eat crow and tell them they were right all along.
What’s eating sb? informal — something that you ask when someone is angry and you want to know why
E.g. I wonder what is eating him: suddenly he got angry, turned pale and wasn’t joining in our chatter.
have egg on your face informal — if someone, especially someone in authority, has egg on their face, they look silly because something embarrassing has happened
E.g. The police force had egg on its face because they arrested and beat up an innocent guy who had the same name as a suspect they were looking for.
put all your eggs in one basket — to risk losing everything by putting all your efforts or all your money into one plan or one course of action
E.g. If you’re going to invest the money in this project, my advice would be don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
make (both) ends meet — to have just enough money to buy what you need
E.g. Bob had to work overtime when his second child was born as the family could hardly make ends meet.
be/feel like a fish out of water — to feel awkward because you are not familiar with the situation or because you are very different from the people around you
E.g. I felt like a fish out of water when I had to stay with my husband’s parents for a couple of weeks.
be as fit as a fiddle — to be very healthy
E.g. My Dad’s nearly ninety now but he is as fit as a fiddle.
a fly on the wall — someone who would love to be present to see an important private or secret event
E.g. Believe me, there are some extremely curious people who would give everything only to be a fly on the wall.
the four corners of the world — every part of the earth/world
E.g. Thousands of pilgrims visited Mecca from the four corners of the world.
be full of beans informal — to be very eager and full of energy
E.g. My grandmother lived to be ninety and was still full of beans.
a generation gap — the lack of understanding between older and younger people that is caused by their different experiences, opinions and behavior
E.g. The reason of generation gap is the dissimilar scale of priorities of both young people and their parents: parents talk on the basis of all those experiences that are results of the events and dealings they had faced in their lives while kids argue according to their surroundings and fantasies.
be green with envy — to wish very much that you had something that another person has
E.g. Ann bought a new luxurious house and we’re all green with envy.
give sb a hand — to help someone do something, especially something that involves physical effort
E.g. Could you please give me a hand carrying these cases, Mike?
half-baked informal — not though about or planned carefully
E.g. I’ve a half-baked idea here, that is, on the one hand, obvious, but I haven’t seen spelled out anywhere: those free-markets are prone to viruses.
can’t make head nor/or tail of sth — to not be able to understand something at all
E.g. — Have you read the book I gave you last week?
— Yes, but I couldn’t make head or tail of it.
by hook or by crook — if you are going to do something by hook or by crook you are determined not to let anything stop you doing it and you are ready to use any methods
E.g. No matter what my Mother says I’ll marry her by hook or by crook.
as hungry as a hunter — terribly hungry
E.g. The girl is as hungry as a hunter because she has not eaten for three days.
the icing on the cake — something that makes a good situation even better
E.g. I say, the dinner was great but the dessert — that was really the icing on the cake.
a Jack of all trades — someone who has many skills or who does many different jobs
E.g. I wouldn’t say he is a sort of Jack of all trades, really: lazy, unorganized and absent-minded.
a plain Jane — a woman or girl who is not attractive
E.g. If she’d been a plain Jane, she wouldn’t have been married six times.
jump out of the frying pan (and) into the fire — to go from a bad situation to an even worse
E.g. Many kids who haven’t been doing well at school discover they’ve jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.
kill the goose that lays the golden egg — to destroy the thing that brings you profit or success
E.g. If you sell your shares now, you could be killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
kill two birds with one stone — to achieve two useful things by just doing one action
E.g. You can’t kill two birds with one stone by working and living in one place.
make a killing (on something) informal — to earn a lot of money very easily
E.g. She made a killing on the novel so she can’t be short of money.
not know beans (about) American informal — to know nothing at all about a subject
E.g. I don’t know beans about jazz fusion — I’ve never heard of it in my life.
let the cat out of the bag — to tell a secret, esp. without intending to
E.g. It was then that she threatened to let the cat out of the bag about her passionate affair with the prime minister.
be as light as a feather — to be very light in weight
E.g. She is as light as a feather — I could easily pick her up.
live (from) hand to mouth — to have just enough money to live on and nothing extra
E.g. Our parents earned very little and there were five of us so we lived from hand to mouth.
a lone wolf — a person who prefers to do things on their own
E.g. He is always very cynical, selfish and cold — a lone wolf, I admit.
not look a gift horse in the mouth — means that you should not criticize or feel doubt about something good that has been offered to you
E.g. When Tom’s father died, he received £1000. When he told his friends that he expected to have more, they told him that he shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and that he should be thankful for the money he got.
be like looking for the needle in a haystack — to be difficult or impossible to find
E.g. I’m not sure how she finds anything in her drawer. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.
be out to lunch informal — to be behaving in a very strange or silly way
E.g. If Michael believes that story, he’s really out to lunch.
Are you a man or a mouse? — something that you say in order to encourage someone to be brave when they are frightened to do something
E.g. What are you, a man or a mouse? You have to make a decision!
(out) in the middle of nowhere — in a place that is far away from where most people live.
E.g. My hotel was in the middle of nowhere. It was a disastrous holiday.
make a mountain out of a molehill — to treat a problem as if it was very serious when in fact it is not
E.g. She is the sort of person who loves to make a mountain out of a molehill. Nobody in their senses would believe such a story.
in the nick of time — at the last possible moment
E.g. The police arrived just in the nick of time. A minute later and the burglars would have escaped.
in a nutshell — something that you say when you are describing something using as few words as possible
E.g. Well, to put it in a nutshell, never dream of living on handouts.
once in a blue moon — very rarely, almost never
E.g. My brother lives in Australia, so I only get to see him once in a blue moon.
a party animal informal — someone who likes going to parties a lot and goes to as many as possible
E.g. Javier is a true party animal! He has taken a leading role in all of the Spanish celebrations and pranks. This kind of a guy would be partying every alternate day and would also be completely into music and dance.
get paid peanuts informal — to earn a sum of money that is so small that it is hardly worth mentioning
E.g. – Where did my last pay go? Oh, that’s right, I get paid peanuts and it’s lame!
when pigs fly informal — never, there is no chance at all of something happening
E.g. I’ll believe his story only when pigs fly.
(buy) a pig in a poke — to buy something you don’t know, to risk
E.g. Clothes and shoes from a catalogue are a pig in a poke. Never buy things this way — you can’t know if they will fit!
pie in the sky — an idea or plan that seems good but it is not likely to be achieved
E.g. Mary’s plans to set up her own business proved to be just pie the sky.
be a piece of cake — if you say that something is a piece of cake, you mean that it is extremely easy.
E.g. Her homework was a piece of cake because it was so easy to do.
have a lot/enough on your plate — to have a lot of work to do or a lot of problems to deal with
E.g. Stop calling me fat, I’ve got enough on my plate as it is.
What’s your poison? humorous — something that you say in order to ask someone what they would like to drink
E.g. I say, Bertie, it’s my round. What’s your poison?
Is the pope a Catholic? humorous — used to say that the answer to a question you have just been asked is obviously ‘yes’
E.g. Do I like travelling? Is the pope a Catholic?
What price (money, fame, victory, success, etc.)? — something that you say which means it is possible that the fame, victory, success, etc. that has been achieved was not worth all the suffering it has caused
E.g. A two-tier society is gradually being built, with the money-rich, time-poor one level, and the money-poor, time-rich on the other. The rich are working longer and longer hours in order to compete with each other. And what price money when more and more of us are putting ourselves on the treadmill of constant activity?
promise (sb) the moon/the earth — to promise something impossible
E.g. Before the marriage her husband had promised her the moon. Today nothing has changed: they are still living in a rough council estate.
the pros and cons (of) — the good and bad parts of a situation, or the reasons why you should or should not do something
E.g. We’ve been discussing the pros and cons of opening a beer shop hereabouts.
pull sb’s leg informal — to tell someone something that is not true as a way of joking with them
E.g. The students decided to pull the teacher’s leg by telling him that they wanted to have a test.
as quick as a flash/lightning — to do something very quickly
E.g. Quick as a lightning, he got on the bike and disappeared in the smoke.
be as quiet as a mouse — to be very quiet
E.g. It took her breath away and she could didn’t move in the wardrobe — she was as quiet as a mouse!
read between the lines — to try to understand someone’s real feelings or intentions from what they say or write
E.g. Reading between the lines, I’d say it was a marriage of convenience.
be as right as rain informal — to feel well; be not ill or injured in any way
E.g. The doctor said that you’ll be as right as rain as soon as you take this pill.
rob Peter to pay Paul — to take or borrow from one in order to give or pay something owed to another
E.g. Then I’d borrow a certain amount of money to pay my bills, robbing Peter to pay Paul.
be in the same boat — to be in the same unpleasant situation as other people
E.g. My sister generally tends to complain of the lack of money, but we are all in the same boat.
safe and sound — if you are safe and sound, you are not harmed in any way, although you were in a dangerous situation
E.g. Despite the accident the passengers all were safe and sound.
save (something) for a rainy day — to keep something, especially an amount of money, for a time in the future when you it might be needed
E.g. They’re thinking of raising the ceiling in the kitchen. They might spend the money they have saved for a rainy day.
before you can say Jack Robinson old-fashioned — very suddenly
E.g. I offered him an orange but before you can say Jack Robinson he’d eaten half of it.
come to one’s senses — to start to understand that you have been behaving in a stupid way.
E.g. Bob, you should come to your senses and stop gambling.
be in seventh heaven humorous — to be extremely happy
E.g. I’ve been in seventh heaven ever since Mike and I started going out together.
be in sb’s shoes informal — to be in the same situation as someone else, especially an unpleasant one
E.g. Poor Phillip. If I were in his shoes, I would apologize for the delay.
be sick and tired of sth/doing sth informal — to be angry and bored because something unpleasant has been happening for too long
E.g. I am sick and tired of his unreasonable endless delays.
sink or swim — to fail or succeed
E.g. It’s too late to help Ann now. She is simply left to sink or swim.
skeleton in the cupboard/closet British & Australian, American — an embarrassing secret, a scandal that is kept secret
E.g. There definitely must be a skeleton in every family’s cupboard.
use a sledgehammer to crack a nut — to do something with more force than is necessary to achieve the result you want
E.g. Sending twenty guards to watch one prisoner was a clear case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
sleep like a log — to sleep very soundly, very well
E.g. The first night that I took these capsules, I slept like a log.
smell a rat — to start to believe that something is wrong about a situation, especially when someone is being dishonest
E.g. I smelled a rat when I learnt that he was selling it for less than half the usual price.
at a snail’s pace — very slowly
E.g. What an excellent place — the Bahamas! Holiday heaven! One day you can be snorkeling, the next feeding sharks! You can even swim with dolphins. Still I got tired and was looking forward to the end of the week, but it seemed to be going at a snail’s pace, really.
be as sober as a judge — to not be at all drunk
E.g. The worst thing is when everyone else around you has been drinking and you’re as sober as a judge.
sooner or later — eventually
E.g. I have always found that if you really want something and put your mind to it, you get it sooner or later.
spill the beans — to tell people secret information
E.g. Try not to spill the beans about the party surprise.
on the spur of the moment — spontaneously, suddenly, without planning
E.g. It was something I bought on the spur of the moment, and I’ve regretted it ever since.
a stone’s throw (from) — a very short distance
E.g. The great thing about the house is that it’s a stone’s throw from my office.
clutch/grasp at straws — to try any method, even those that are not likely to succeed, because you are in such a bad situation
E.g. He’s hoping that after having been operated on he’ll feel much better, but I think he’s clutching at straws.
be as stubborn as a mule — to be very determined not to change your decision or opinion about something, even when it is wrong
E.g. It is all in vein! You will never get him change his mind — he is as stubborn as a mule.
a sweet tooth — if you have a sweet tooth, you like eating food with sugar in it
E.g. A study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior finds that kids with a sweet tooth may be craving sugar because it’s powering ongoing growth and development.
in no time (at all) informal — extremely quickly
E.g. The homework was very easy. I managed to do it in no time at all.
every Tom, Dick and Harry — anyone, especially people that you do not know or do not think are important
E.g. The company’s newest model should appeal to every Tom, Dick and Harry.
be like two peas in a pod — to be very similar
E.g. My new classmates are very much alike. They are like two peas in a pod.
fall between two stools mainly British — if someone falls between two stools, they fail because they try to combine two different types of things that cannot be combined; if something falls between two stools, it fails because it is neither one type of thing nor another
E.g. Unluckily, the wedding party was not the one everybody had expected: it fell between two stools because both young and old were invited.
an ugly duckling — someone or something that is ugly and not successful when they are young and new, but which finally turns into something beautiful and successful.
E.g. The winner of the Beauty Contest is said to have been an ugly duckling in her childhood.
upset the applecart — to cause trouble, especially by spoiling someone’s plans
E.g. I don’t want to upset the applecart now by asking my boss for promotion.
wear and tear — the damage that happens to an object or a person when they are used or when they do something
E.g. Ann made all the guests bring the slippers to avoid wear and tear on the floor.
be/feel under the weather — to feel ill
E.g. I’m feeling a little under the weather — I have a touch of flu.
a white elephant — something that is completely useless, it may have cost a lot of money
E.g. Your hairdresser’s saloon seems likely to prove a white elephant.
be as white as a sheet — to be very pale, usually because you are frightened or ill
E.g. She was as white as a sheet when she met with an accident.
be/feel on top of the world — to feel extremely happy
E.g. I’ve been on top of the world ever since Bill and I started going out together.
What’s the world coming to? — something that you say which means that life is not as pleasant or safe as it was in the past
E.g. We yearn for the slower pace of life we remember in the dim and distant past. What’s the world coming to when we are recklessly taking on an increasingly heavy workload and never stop for a moment to ask ourselves why?
not be worth a hill of beans American informal — to have very little or no value, to be unimportant or worthless
E.g. Don’t worry because the gossip is not worth a hill of beans.