NoteThis post covers common Idioms for preparation of English section of Teaching, IBSP, SSC & Other Competitive Exams.

An idiom is a phrase or expression that has a meaning that in most cases cannot be deduced directly from the individual words in that phrase or expression.

Here is the list of popular idiomatic expressions.


an Achilles heela person’s only vulnerable spot; a serious or fatal weakness
act your agebehave in a manner appropriate to your age and not to someone much
a wet blanketsomeone who has a depressing or discouraging effect on others
a dime a dozenvery common and of no particular value
a white elephanta possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of
at someone’s beck and callalways having to be ready to obey someone’s orders immediately.
a red letter daya pleasantly memorable, fortunate, or happy day
a voice in the wildernessan unheeded advocate of reform
a wild goose chasea foolish and hopeless search for or pursuit of something unattainable.
a chicken-and-egg probleman unresolved question as to which of two things caused the other.
a blast from the pastsomething powerfully nostalgic, especially an old pop song
a piece of cakesomething easily achieved
a blue-eyed boythe favourite of someone in authority.


beat someone black and bluehit someone so severely that they are covered in bruises
by fits and startswith irregular bursts of activity
blow the lid offremove means of restraint and allow something to get out of control
back to basicsabandoning complication and sophistication to concentrate on the most essential aspects of something.
blow someone’s coverdiscover or expose someone’s real identity
been there, done thatused to express past experience of or familiarity with something.
bark up the wrong treepursue a mistaken or misguided line of thought or course of action.
be all earsbe listening eagerly and attentively.


cool as a cucumberperfectly cool or self-possessed.
cut the cordcease to rely on someone or something influential or supportive and begin to act independently.
couch potatosomeone who watches a lot of television, eats junk food, and takes little or no physical exercise
call it quitsagree or acknowledge that terms are now equal, especially on the
settlement of a debt; decide to abandon an activity or venture, especially so as to cut your losses.
call of natureused euphemistically to refer to a need to urinate or defecate
catch someone napping(of an action or event) find someone off guard and unprepared to respond.
call it a daydecide or agree to stop doing something, either temporarily or permanently.


day in, day outcontinuously or repeatedly over a long period of time.
day of reckoningthe time when past mistakes or misdeeds must be punished or paid for; a testing time when the degree of your success or failure will be
dead in the waterunable to function effectively.
a dead lettera law or practice no longer observed.
a dead cat bouncea misleading sign of vitality in something that is really moribund.
dig your own gravedo something foolish which causes you to fail or leads to your downfall.
dig yourself into a holeget yourself into an awkward or
restrictive situation
divide and rulethe policy of maintaining supremacy over your opponents by encouraging dissent between them, thereby preventing them from uniting against you.


early birda person who gets up, arrives, or
acts before the usual or expected time.
Easier said than doneIf something is easier said than done, it is much more difficult than it sounds. It is often used when someone advises you to do something difficult and tries to make it sound easy


from pillar to postfrom one place to another in an unceremonious or fruitless manner
fortune favours the bravea successful person is often one who is willing to take risks
fall prey tobe hunted and killed by; be
vulnerable to or overcome by.
fall (or drop) into someone’s lapcome someone’s way without any effort having been made.


go bananasbecome extremely angry or excited, go mad
get away with murdersucceed in doing whatever you choose without being punished or suffering any disadvantage
get (hold of) the wrong end of the stickmisunderstand someone or something completely


Hobson’s choiceno choice at all
hit the ground runningstart something and proceed at a fast pace with enthusiasm.
hit the jackpothave great or unexpected success, especially in making a lot of money quickly.
hot potato a controversial issue or situation which is awkward to deal with.


in the ballparkin a particular area or range
in black and whitein writing or in print, and regarded as more reliable than by word of mouth, in terms of clearly defined opposing principles or issues.
it takes two to tangoboth parties involved in a situation or argument are equally responsible for it.


jump on the bandwagonjoin others in doing something or supporting a cause that is fashionable or likely to be successful.
Jake of all trades (and master of none) a person who can do many different types of work but (has no special skill in none)
the joker in the packa person or factor likely to have an unpredictable effect on events.


kiss something goodbyeaccept the certain loss of something
a knight in shining armouran idealized or heroic person, especially a man who comes to the rescue of a woman in distress or in a
difficult situation.
knock someone’s block offhit someone very hard in anger
knock it offused to tell someone to stop doing something that you find annoying or
know a thing or twobe experienced or shrewd
keep up appearancesmaintain an impression of wealth or well-being.
keep an ear to the groundbe well informed about events and trends.
keep an eye out (or open) forlook out for something with particular attention.
keep your eyes openbe on the alert; watch carefully or
vigilantly for something
keep a (or the) lid onkeep an emotion or process from going out of control.; keep
something secret
keep someone in the darkensure that someone remains in a state of ignorance about something


lame ducka person or thing that is powerless
or in need of help


make a movetake action. start on a journey; leave somewhere.
muddy the watersmake an issue or a situation more confusing and harder to understand by introducing complications
Murphy’s lawif anything can go wrong it will.


a nail in the coffinan action or event regarded as likely to have a detrimental or destructive effect on a situation
a needle in a haystacksomething that is almost impossible to find because it is concealed by so many other similar things.
neck and necklevel in a race, competition, or
never say dieused to encourage someone not to give up hope in a difficult situation


over the counterby ordinary retail purchase, with no need for a prescription or license
once in a blue moonvery rarely; practically never
out of the bluewithout warning; very unexpectedly.
out of your depthunable to cope due to lack of ability or knowledge


pull stringsmake use of your influence and contacts to gain an advantage unofficially or unfairly.
pull the plugprevent something from happening or continuing; put a stop to something.
put your head (or neck) on the blockput your position or reputation at risk by proceeding with a particular course of action
put the (tin) lid onbe the culmination of a series of acts or events that makes things unbearable.
presence of mindthe ability to remain calm and take quick, sensible action when faced
with difficulty or danger.
put (or place) a premium onregard as or make particularly valuable or important
pull your weightdo your fair share of work.
pull (or bring) a rabbit out of the (or a) hatused to describe an action that is fortuitous, and may involve sleight of hand or deception.
pick nitslook for and criticize small or insignificant faults or errors.


Quick fixA quick fix is an easy solution, especially one that will not last.
Quiet before the StormWhen you know that something is about to go horribly wrong, but hasn’t just yet, then you are in the quiet before the storm.
quick as a flashhappening or made very quickly
quote — unquoteused parenthetically when speaking to indicate the beginning and end (or just the beginning) of a statement or passage that you are repeating, especially to emphasize the speaker’s detachment from or disagreement with the original


read between the lineslook for or discover a meaning that is hidden or implied rather than explicitly stated.
read my lipslisten carefully (used to emphasize the importance of the speaker’s words or the earnestness of their intent).
raise your eyebrowsshow surprise, disbelief, or mild disapproval.
rain cats and dogsrain very hard
rack your brainsmake a great effort to think of or remember something.


slap on the wrista mild reprimand or punishment.
slap someone on the backcongratulate someone heartily.
sell (or go) like hot cakesbe sold quickly and in large quantities.
say your piece give your opinion or a prepared statement
see eye to eyehave similar views or attitudes to something; be in full agreement


the green-eyed monsterjealousy
the ball is in someone’s courtit is that particular person’s turn to act next.
the bare bonesthe basic facts about something, without any detail
the way the cookie crumbleshow things turn out (often used of an undesirable but unalterable situation)
too many cooks spoil the brothif too many people are involved in a task or activity, it will not be done well.
the writing is on the wallthere are clear signs that something unpleasant or unwelcome is going to happen
take it or leave itsaid to convey that the offer you have made is not negotiable and that you are indifferent to another’s
reaction to it.
talk the talkspeak fluently or convincingly
about something or in a way intended to please or impress others,
a tall ordersomething that is difficult to
teeter on the brinkbe very close to a difficult or dangerous situation.


under the banner ofclaiming to support a particular cause or set of ideas. as part of a particular group or organization
an ugly ducklinga young person who turns out to be beautiful or talented against all
up hill and down daleall over the place


vote with your feetindicate an opinion by being present or absent.
vent your spleengive free expression to your
anger or displeasure,


when the chips are downwhen you find yourself in a very serious and difficult situation
water under the bridgeused to refer to events or situations in the past that are no longer to be regarded as important or a source of concern.
wet behind the earslacking experience; immature,
with bated breathin great suspense; very anxiously or excitedly
walk on eggsextremely cautious about your words
or actions.
wake up and smell the coffeebecome aware of the realities of a situation, however unpleasant,
walk all overdefeat easily
walk before you can rungrasp the basic skills before attempting something more difficult.


X marks the spotThis is used to say where something is located or hidden.


you can’t have your cake and eat ityou can’t enjoy both of two desirable but mutually exclusive alternatives.
yesterday’s manman, especially a politician, whose career is finished or past its peak.


zip itto ask someone to shut up to ask to not say anything further
zero tolerance denial to allow rebellious activities
Zigged before you zaggedIf you did things in the wrong order, you zigged before you zagged

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