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List of Useful Idioms and Phrases | C1 Advanced (CAE)

Level: C1
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A-D Idioms & Phrases
E-H Idioms & Phrases
I-L Idioms & Phrases
M-P Idioms & Phrases
R-T Idioms & Phrases

Fixed expressions and idioms are a huge part of the Cambridge Advanced exam, coming into play far more frequently than in lower levels. The difficulty with CAE fixed expressions is that learners will often recognise them and understand them when seen in context. However, making them part of their active vocabulary is a much greater challenge. For the CAE it is essential that your students know various fixed expressions and idioms.

A-D Idioms & Phrases

A

A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The BushHaving something that is certain is much better than taking a risk for more, because chances are you might lose everything.
A Blessing In DisguiseSomething good that isn’t recognized at first.
A Chip On Your ShoulderBeing upset for something that happened in the past.
A Dime A DozenAnything that is common and easy to get.
A Doubting ThomasA skeptic who needs physical or personal evidence in order to believe something.
A Drop in the BucketA very small part of something big or whole.
A Fool And His Money Are Easily PartedIt’s easy for a foolish person to lose his/her money.
A House Divided Against Itself Cannot StandEveryone involved must unify and function together or it will not work out.
A Leopard Can’t Change His SpotsYou cannot change who you are.
A Penny Saved Is A Penny EarnedBy not spending money, you are saving money (little by little).
A Picture Paints a Thousand WordsA visual presentation is far more descriptive than words.
A Piece of CakeA task that can be accomplished very easily.
A Slap on the WristA very mild punishment.
A Taste Of Your Own MedicineWhen you are mistreated the same way you mistreat others.
A Toss-UpA result that is still unclear and can go either way.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words:Add Fuel To The Fire:
Against The Clock:Rushed and short on time.
All Bark And No Bite:When someone is threatening and/or aggressive but not willing to engage in a fight.
All Greek to me:Meaningless and incomprehensible like someone who cannot read, speak, or understand any of the Greek language would be.
All In The Same Boat:When everyone is facing the same challenges.
An Arm And A Leg:Very expensive. A large amount of money.
An Axe To Grind:To have a dispute with someone.
Apple of My Eye:Someone who is cherished above all others.
As High As A Kite:Anything that is high up in the sky.
At The Drop Of A Hat:Willing to do something immediately.

B

Back Seat Driver:People who criticize from the sidelines, much like someone giving unwanted advice from the back seat of a vehicle to the driver.
Back To Square One:Having to start all over again.
Back To The Drawing Board:When an attempt fails and it’s time to start all over.
Baker’s Dozen:Thirteen.
Barking Up The Wrong Tree:A mistake made in something you are trying to achieve.
Beat A Dead Horse:To force an issue that has already ended.
Beating Around The Bush:Avoiding the main topic. Not speaking directly about the issue.
Bend Over Backwards:Do whatever it takes to help. Willing to do anything.
Between A Rock And A Hard Place:Stuck between two very bad options.
Bite Off More Than You Can Chew:To take on a task that is way to big.
Bite Your Tongue:To avoid talking.
Blood Is Thicker Than Water:The family bond is closer than anything else.
Blue Moon:A rare event or occurance.
Break A Leg:A superstitious way to say ‘good luck’ without saying ‘good luck’, but rather the opposite
Buy A LemonTo purchase a vehicle that constantly gives problems or stops running after you drive it away.

C

Can’t Cut The MustardSomeone who isn’t adequate enough to compete or participate.
Cast Iron StomachSomeone who has no problems, complications or ill effects with eating anything or drinking anything.
Charley HorseStiffness in the leg / A leg cramp.
Chew someone outVerbally scold someone.
Chip on his ShoulderAngry today about something that occured in the past.
Chow DownTo eat.
Close but no CigarTo be very near and almost accomplish a goal, but fall short.
Cock and Bull StoryAn unbelievable tale.
Come Hell Or High WaterAny difficult situation or obstacle.
Crack Someone UpTo make someone laugh.

D

Dark HorseOne who was previously unknown and is now prominent.
Dead Ringer100% identical. A duplicate.
Devil’s AdvocateSomeone who takes a position for the sake of argument without believing in that particular side of the arguement. It can also mean one who presents a counter argument for a position they do believe in, to another debater.
Dog Days of SummerThe hottest days of the summer season.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatchDon’t rely on it until your sure of it.
Don’t Look A Gift Horse In The MouthWhen someone gives you a gift, don’t be ungrateful.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One BasketDo not put all your resources in one possibility.
DoozySomething outstanding.
Down To The WireSomething that ends at the last minute or last few seconds.
Drastic Times Call For Drastic MeasuresWhen you are extremely desperate you need to take extremely desperate actions.
Drink like a fishTo drink very heavily.
Drive someone up the wallTo irritate and/or annoy very much.
Dropping Like FliesA large number of people either falling ill or dying.
Dry RunRehearsal.

E-H Idioms & Phrases

E

Eighty SixA certain item is no longer available. Or this idiom can also mean, to throw away.
Elvis has left the buildingThe show has come to an end. It’s all over.
Ethnic CleansingKilling of a certain ethnic or religious group on a massive scale.
Every Cloud Has A Silver LiningBe optomistic, even difficult times will lead to better days.
Everything But The Kitchen SinkAlmost everything and anything has been included.
Excuse my FrenchPlease forgive me for cussing.
Cock and Bull StoryAn unbelievable tale.

F

Feeding FrenzyAn aggressive attack on someone by a group.
Field DayAn enjoyable day or circumstance.
Finding Your FeetTo become more comfortable in whatever you are doing.
Finger lickin’ goodA very tasty food or meal.
Fixed In Your WaysNot willing or wanting to change from your normal way of doing something.
Flash In The PanSomething that shows potential or looks promising in the beginning but fails to deliver anything in the end.
Flea MarketA swap meet. A place where people gather to buy and sell inexpensive goods.
Flesh and BloodThis idiom can mean living material of which people are made of, or it can refer to anything in the end.
Flip The BirdTo raise your middle finger at someone.
Foam at the MouthTo be enraged and show it.
Fools’ GoldIron pyrites, a worthless rock that resembles real gold.
French KissAn open mouth kiss where tongues touch.
From Rags To RichesTo go from being very poor to being very wealthy.
Fuddy-duddyAn old-fashioned and foolish type of person.
Full MontyThis idiom can mean either, “the whole thing” or “completely nude”.
Funny FarmA mental institutional facility.

G

Get Down to Brass TacksTo become serious about something.
Get Over ItTo move beyond something that is bothering you.
Get Up On The Wrong Side Of The BedSomeone who is having a horrible day.
Get Your Walking PapersGet fired from a job.
Give Him The SlipTo get away from. To escape.
Go Down Like A Lead BalloonTo be received badly by an audience.
Go For BrokeTo gamble everything you have.
Go Out On A LimbPut yourself in a tough position in order to support someone/something.
Go The Extra MileGoing above and beyond whatever is required for the task at hand.
Good SamaritanSomeone who helps others when they are in need, with no discussion for compensation, and no thought of a reward.
Graveyard ShiftWorking hours from about 12:00 am to 8:00 am. The time of the day when most other people are sleeping.
Great Minds Think AlikeIntelligent people think like each other.
Green RoomThe waiting room, especially for those who are about to go on a tv or radio show.
Gut FeelingA personal intuition you get, especially when feel something may not be right.

H

Haste Makes WasteQuickly doing things results in a poor ending.
Hat TrickWhen one player scores three goals in the same hockey game. This idiom can also mean three scores in any other sport, such as 3 homeruns, 3 touchdowns, 3 soccer goals, etc.
Have an Axe to GrindTo have a dispute with someone.
He Lost His HeadAngry and overcome by emotions.
Head Over HeelsVery excited and/or joyful, especially when in love.
Hell in a HandbasketDeteriorating and headed for complete disaster.
High FiveSlapping palms above each others heads as celebration gesture.
High on the HogLiving in Luxury.
Hit The BooksTo study, especially for a test or exam.
Hit The HayGo to bed or go to sleep.
Hit The Nail on the HeadDo something exactly right or say something exactly right.
Hit The SackGo to bed or go to sleep.
Hocus PocusIn general, a term used in magic or trickery.
Hold Your HorsesBe patient.

I-L Idioms & Phrases

I

Icing On The CakeWhen you already have it good and get something on top of what you already have.
Idle Hands Are The Devil’s ToolsYou are more likely to get in trouble if you have nothing to do.
If It’s Not One Thing, It’s AnotherWhen one thing goes wrong, then another, and another…
In Like FlynnTo be easily successful, especially when sexual or romantic.
In The BagTo have something secured.
In The BuffNude.
In The Heat Of The MomentOverwhelmed by what is happening in the moment.
In Your FaceAn aggressive and bold confrontation.
It Takes Two To TangoA two person conflict where both people are at fault.
It’s A Small WorldYou frequently see the same people in different places.
Its Anyone’s CallA competition where the outcome is difficult to judge or predict.

J

JaywalkCrossing the street (from the middle) without using the crosswalk.
Joshing MeTricking me.

K

Keep An Eye On HimYou should carefully watch him.
Keep body and soul togetherTo earn a sufficient amount of money in order to keep yourself alive .
Keep your chin upTo remain joyful in a tough situation.
Kick The BucketDie.
Kitty-cornerDiagonally across. Sometimes called Catty-Corner as well.
Knee Jerk ReactionA quick and automatic response.
Knock On WoodKnuckle tapping on wood in order to avoid some bad luck.
Know the RopesTo understand the details.

L

Last but not leastAn introduction phrase to let the audience know that the last person mentioned is no less important than those introduced before him/her.
Lend Me Your EarTo politely ask for someone’s full attention.
Let Bygones Be BygonesTo forget about a disagreement or arguement.
Let Sleeping Dogs LieTo avoid restarting a conflict.
Let The Cat Out Of The BagTo share a secret that wasn’t suppose to be shared.
Level playing fieldA fair competition where no side has an advantage.
Like a chicken with its head cut offTo act in a frenzied manner.
Liquor someone upTo get someone drunk.
Long in the ToothOld people (or horses).
Loose CannonSomeone who is unpredictable and can cause damage if not kept in check.

M-P Idioms & Phrases

M

Make No Bones AboutTo state a fact so there are no doubts or objections.
Method To My MadnessStrange or crazy actions that appear meaningless but in the end are done for a good reason.
Mumbo JumboNonsense or meaningless speech.
Mum’s the wordTo keep quiet. To say nothing.

N

Nest EggSavings set aside for future use.
Never Bite The Hand That Feeds YouDon’t hurt anyone that helps you.
New kid on the blockSomeone new to the group or area.
New York MinuteA minute that seems to go by quickly, especially in a fast paced environment.
No DiceTo not agree. To not accept a proposition.
No Room to Swing a CatAn unsually small or confined space.
Not Playing With a Full DeckSomeone who lacks intelligence.

O

Off On The Wrong FootGetting a bad start on a relationship or task.
Off The HookNo longer have to deal with a tough situation.
Off the RecordSomething said in confidence that the one speaking doesn’t want attributed to him/her.
On Pins And NeedlesAnxious or nervous, especially in anticipation of something.
On The FenceUndecided.
On The Same PageWhen multiple people all agree on the same thing.
Out Of The BlueSomething that suddenly and unexpectedly occurs.
Out On A LimbWhen someone puts themself in a risky situation.
Out On The TownTo enjoy yourself by going out.
Over My Dead BodyWhen you absolutely will not allow something to happen.
Over the TopVery excessive.

P

Pass The BuckAvoid responsibility by giving it to someone else.
Pedal to the metalTo go full speed, especially while driving a vehicle.
Peeping TomSomeone who observes people in the nude or sexually active people, mainly for his own gratification.
Pick up your earsTo listen very carefully.
Pig In A PokeA deal that is made without first examining it.
Pig OutTo eat alot and eat it quickly.
Pipe DownTo shut-up or be quiet.
Practice Makes PerfectBy constantly practicing, you will become better.
Pull the plugTo stop something. To bring something to an end.
Pulling Your LegTricking someone as a joke.
Put a sock in itTo tell noisy person or a group to be quiet.

R-T Idioms & Phrases

R

RaincheckAn offer or deal that is declined right now but willing to accept later.
Raining Cats and DogsA very loud and noisy rain storm.
Ring FencingSeperated usual judgement to guarantee protection, especially project funds.
Rise and ShineTime to get out of bed and get ready for work/school.
Rome Was Not Built In One DayIf you want something to be completely properly, then its going to take time.
Rule Of ThumbA rough estimate.
Run out of steamTo be completely out of energy.

S

Sixth SenseA paranormal sense that allows you to communicate with the dead.
Skid RowThe rundown area of a city where the homeless and drug users live.
Smell A RatTo detect somone in the group is betraying the others.
Smell Something FishyDetecting that something isn’t right and there might be a reason for it.
Son of a GunA scamp.
SouthpawSomeone who is left-handed.
Spitting ImageThe exact likeness or kind.
Start From ScratchTo do it all over again from the beginning.

 

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