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A phrase which has a meaning that is commonly understood by speakers of the language, but whose meaning is often different from the dictionary definitions of the individual words is called an idiom. For example when you say ‘he has lost his head’, it means ‘that the person is angry and overcome by emotions’ and NOT to be understood literally as ‘having misplaced one’s head’. Idioms are metaphorical rather than literal.
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Why are idioms important? They provide learners with the understanding of English expressions which are in popular, common use. A familiarity with idioms and knowledge of how to use them are essential to those who wish to be fluent in English.
Match the meaning [using letter A, B or C] next to the idiom
1. A Blessing In Disguise: ______
2. A Chip On Your Shoulder: ______
3. A Dime A Dozen: ______
4. A Leopard Can’t Change His Spots: ____
5. All Greek to me: _____
6. An Arm And A Leg: ______
7. An Axe To Grind: _____
8. At The Drop Of A Hat: ______
9 .A Full Monty: ________
10. Knee Jerk Reaction: ________
A] Either, “the whole thing” or “completely nude”
B] Meaningless and incomprehensible
C] Willing to do something immediately.
D] Something good that isn’t recognized at first.
E] Anything that is common and easy to get.
F] To have a dispute with someone
G] Being upset for something that happened in the past.
H] You cannot change who you are.
I] A quick and automatic response
J] Very expensive. A large amount of money
1. Barking Up The Wrong Tree: _____
2. Beat A Dead Horse: _____
3. Beating Around The Bush: ______
4. Bend Over Backwards: ______
5. Break A Leg: ______
6. Can’t Cut The Mustard : ______
7. Close but no Cigar: _______
8. Cut to the Chase: ______
9. Dark Horse: _______
10. Devil’s Advocate: ______
A] To be very near and almost accomplish a goal, but fall short
B] Do whatever it takes to help. Willing to do anything.
C] A mistake made in something you are trying to achieve
D] Someone who isn’t adequate enough to compete or participate.
E] Someone who presents a counter argument for a position they do believe in.
F] To force an issue that has already ended.
G] A superstitious way to say ‘good luck’ without saying ‘good luck’, but rather the opposite.
H] One who was previously unknown and is now prominent.
I] Avoiding the main topic. Not speaking directly about the issue.
J] Leave out all the unnecessary details and just get to the point.
1. Hit The Nail on the Head: _____
2. Like a chicken with its head cut off: _____
3. New York Minute: _____
4. On Pins And Needles: ______
5. Out On A Limb: ______
6. Raincheck: ______
7. Skid Row: ______
8. Van Gogh’s ear for music: _______
9. Water Under The Bridge: ______
10. Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve:
A] When someone puts himself in a risky situation.
B] Anything from the past that isn’t significant or important anymore.
C] An offer or deal that is declined right now but willing to accept later.
D] To openly and freely express your emotions.
E] Do something exactly right or say something exactly right.
F] Tone deaf.
G] To act in a frenzied manner.
H] Anxious or nervous, especially in anticipation of something.
I] The rundown area of a city where the homeless and drug users live.
J] A minute that seems to go by quickly, especially in a fast paced environment.
Fill in the blanks that best explain the meaning of the given idiom/idiomatic phrase
1. His clear, workmanlike prose is marred by the occasional purple prose and such usage of
_________ and _________ language will affect the final score that he’ll be receiving.
2. Their business is a money pit. This means that they are losing _______________ and will not
be making any ____________ in the future.
3. If I keep my nose to the grindstone, I should be finished by the end of the day. In order to do
that I have to stay __________ and not take ___________.
4. Alex: Will Charlie donate any money to the activities fund?
Brian: Absolutely not! He’s a real tightwad and is known to be very _________and does not spend
his money _____________.
5. I stayed up too late tonight to watch late-night TV shows. Tomorrow I’ll have to pay the piper and
will have to __________ the _____________ of my actions.
6. Jake didn’t make very good grades in school, but his sister was a real egghead. This means that
Jake’s sister is an _________________ girl.
7. I know I did ________ on the test. I had all the material down pat and could answer all the
8. John and Alice are living from hand to mouth since John lost his job and they have only
____________ money to pay for __________ needs.
9. Chris can practice the piano until hell freezes over and he’ll never play well no matter
how __________ or how _____________ he keeps at it.
10. Don’t include Desmond as part of the bargaining team. He’s just started working here and is still
too wet behind the ears. He would be quite ___________________ and __________ to the task.
Idioms in Context – Fill in the gaps in the passage with the idioms from the box.
a] go to any lengths b] out of the top drawer c] taking one’s life in one’s hands
d] a leading light e] broad in the beam f] leave of one’s senses
g] die is cast h] on the brain i] put the lid on j] green about the gills
“Do I look very 1______________ in these jodhpurs?” Elsa asked May. “No, not at all,” replied May, “but why are you wearing them?” Elsa didn’t look too happy and said, “It’s Paul. He has horses 2______________ and wants to teach me horse-riding. “May was surprised saying, “I thought horse-riding was only for people 3______________ ” To this Elsa replied, “Apparently not. Paul’s parents haven’t much money, but his mother’s 4______________ in the local riding club.” “But usually you would 5______________ to avoid exercise,” said May to Elsa. “What have you done? Are you one of those who have taken 6______________ ?” “I think I may have done that to myself,” said Elsa and set off to meet Paul.
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When they arrived at the stables, Elsa felt rather 7______________ when she saw the size of the horse. She wanted to leave but thought, “The 8______________ I can’t change my mind now.” When she got on the horse, Elsa felt as though it was like 9______________ and hated every minute of her riding lesson, especially when it began to rain. Tired, wet and aching in every limb, she limped home to get into a hot bath. Later, she said to May, “That’ has 10______________ my relationship with Paul. I was tiring of him anyway and after that, I don’t want to see him again. And I never want to see another horse!”
Idioms in Context – Provide the meaning of the idioms [as underlined] in the following passage.
Kate was in seventh heaven. William had just popped the question and she had said yes. They wanted to get married as soon as possible, but knew that Kate’s parents would want to spare no expense for their only daughter’s wedding. Organising this could take a long time and both Kate and William would have preferred an informal occasion. Still, Kate thought the world of her family and would agree to a large wedding if they wanted one. The young couple were hoping to keep their engagement under wraps until they could tell both sets of parents in person next day. However, they were smiling so happily that their friends guessed that they had some good news and asked what it was. Eventually Kate’s best friend, Mary, made her come clean and everyone congratulated the happy couple. They begged their friends not to tell anyone else but Mary let the cat out of the bag and the news spread rapidly round the town. By the time Kate and William arrived for lunch next day both sets of parents were already in the know. Since Kate and William had been dating for some time, both families had suspected that an engagement was on the cards. Now that it had actually been announced, they all looked forward to the happy day when the couple would tie the knot.
Give the meaning:
in seventh heaven:
Pop the question:
Spare no expense:
Think the world of:
Keep [something] under wraps:
Let the cat out of the bag:
On the cards:
Tie the knot:
Interesting Origins -Answer ‘TRUE’ or ‘FALSE’ to these statements. What is the idiom connected with each statement? Do you know its origin?
Achilles was a man in Greek mythology who injured his arm. ___________.
Knights were soldiers in medieval times who rode on horses and rescued damsels in distress or in dangerous situations. ___________
Card players throw in their arms when they know they can win a game. ___________
A magic wand is a stick used by magicians to perform magic tricks. ___________
A clam is a type of shellfish which is slow to react when it is attacked. ___________
A beaver is a small animal which is hardworking and eager to help. ___________
Other Languages used in English Idioms
Given the meaning of the following phrases. Then choose one of the phrases to fill in the gaps in the sentences. You may have to look up the dictionary for the meaning of these phrases.
A] ad nauseum :
B] raison d’etre :
C] déjà vu :
D] piece de resistance :
E] in loco parentis :
1. It was the first time I had been there but I had a strange feeling of ________________.
2. He talks ___________about football. I find it very boring sometimes.
3. While children are at school, teachers are ____________________.
4. The ______________was when the orchestra and the fireworks began.
5. She’ll never give up the theatre. It’s her ___________________.
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