Idioms for ielts tests


Idiom - A group of words (or a single word) which have a meaning that is not

understood by combining the standard definitions of the individual words (though that

meaning may sometimes be inferred).

Idioms are a style or form of (often artistic) expression, characteristic of a particular

language, group, subculture, school of thought, generation, or medium (for example,

movies and television).

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ion, not forget about it. Declarative. Keep an 
eye on the noodles, there almost done. 
keep (stay) in touch - W – maintain regular contact – Declarative, often friendly. Nice 
to see you again, let’s keep in touch! 
keep your nose to the grindstone – continue to put forward a good effort – Declarative. 
If you keep your nose to the grindstone, you will finish this job tonight. 
kind of – to some extent, a type or degree of – Declarative, very commonly used in the 
U.S. (often spoken as: kinda) – I am kind of [kinda] tired. This class is kind of [kinda] 
know something [it, this] backwards and forward – to be totally familiar with – 
Declarative, often boastful. He knows that subject backwards and forwards. 
know something [it, this] inside out – same as backwards and forwards. to be totally 
familiar with – Declarative, often boastful. I know my motorbike inside out. 
let down - W - to disappoint (often me is the object, often you understood is subject) 
Declarative, often admonishing. Don’t let me down. He really let us down with those 
small bonuses at Tet. 
leave well enough alone - W – to not try to change something that is good enough – 
Declarative, instructive. This repair is not perfect, but let’s leave well enough alone. 
lend a hand - W – to give help – Declarative, often encouraging. Can you guys lend a 
hand over here? 
lose (lost) track of - W – to not be in touch with, or to have forgotten 
something/someone. Declarative – After I left that school, I eventually lost track of my 
former students there. 
[a] low blow - W– an unfair attack, not always physical – Declarative, often 
admonishing. Usually but now always preceded with the word a. Her rude comments 
about my lecture in front of the group was a low blow. 
lousy – very low quality – Negative – I got a lousy grade on my test. That is a lousy 
make up your/my/his mind - W – Make a decision, usually implies a previous delay. – 
Declarative, often perplexed. I still cannot make up my mind what to study in college. 
No way! – not possible – Demonstrative, often exclamatory. When used, it is often 
placed at the beginning of the sentence – No way am I going to buy that motorbike. 
now and then - W – on an occasional basis, often every is used as the first word of this 
idiomatic phrase. Declarative. Every now and then I have a good idea. 
nuts (2) – Def 1 [NOT RECOMMENDED FOR IELTS]- exclamation (often one word 
sentence) stating contempt or exasperation. Often used in place of a profanity. Nuts! I am 
tired of this place! 
MOMENT] – Crazy – Declarative, often exasperated. These people are nuts if they think 
I am going to put up with their behavior. 
OK (okay) - (very common, we do not even consider it idiomatic) can be used in many 
situations as a replacement for yes, I agree, things are functioning normally, or other 
positive statements. Declarative, sometimes emphatic, can be used in various ways, 
questioning, in a scolding manner or humorous. It is okay if you want to stop reading 
on the dot - W - happens at a particular time, precise time, exactly time. Declarative, 
often emphatic. The class will start at 8:00 a.m. on the dot, so don’t be late! 
(to be) on the go - W – refers to being in movement a lot, usually including the idea of 
travel. Declarative, perhaps with a touch of humor or boastfulness. My brother Clark 
has so much work he is always on the go. 
(to be) on the road - W - refers to traveling, usually including some type of automobile. 
Can also be extended to any points on the trip itself. Declarative, perhaps with a touch 
of humor or boastfulness. Yes, we are already on the road, and have just stopped for 
on time – W - [very common, not necessarily recognized as idiomatic by native 
speakers] – refers to doing something on a timely basis, at the agreed upon time. 
Demonstrative. You should always be on time for this class. 
once in a while - W – a time reference, means occasionally, but not often. Declarative. 
Once in a while I find someone who speaks English at IELTS level 7. 
over his/your/my head – this refers to an idea being too difficult for someone to 
understand, usually the speaker, but not always. Declarative, sometimes mildly insulting. 
This conversation seems to be going over your head. 
quite a few – numerical reference, uncertain amount, probably more than can be quickly 
counted – Informative – We have quite a few students who do not like this book we are 
(come) rain or shine - W – means something will happen regardless of weather or other 
difficulties. I will be on time for the class, rain or shine. Come rain or shine, she is 
always smiling. 
read my/your/his mind - W – refers to the idea that thoughts are known by another. 
Declarative, sometimes perplexed, sometimes boastful. I was surprised he knew what I 
was planning, like he could read my mind. 
run down – W - poorly maintained. Disrespectful. That business is really run down, 
they should close it. 
rundown - W – status report. Often inquisitive, businesslike. Can you give us a 
rundown on how the new project is going? 
sleep on it - W – to spend some time thinking about a decision before making the 
decision. Declarative, often positive. They offered me that new job, but I better sleep on 
it before I agree to take it. 
sooner or later - W – means something will happen, the only real uncertainty is when. 
Often used at the beginning of the sentence. Demonstrative. Sooner or later I am going 
to get rich. Less formal: Sooner or later I’m gonna get rich. 
sort of (sorta) – informal. very similar use as kind of. Means a sort of, a type of, a degree 
of, but probably not a complete amount of. Declarative, perhaps judgmental. Is she 
beautiful? Sort of. Meaning she has some features that might be considered beautiful, but 
perhaps not a complete beauty. I’m sorta hungry. Not famished, but could eat. 
state of the art - W – very similar to cutting edge. Often used with the word 
“technology”. Means that whatever is the subject being discussed is so modern that it 
represents the latest state of the art (or science or technology) that creates it, the most 
modern process known for it. Not just modern, but the most modern possible at this time. 
Declarative, often boastful. Young people always hope to own cellphones that represent 
state of the art technology. His motorbike is state of the art. 
take it easy – to exhibit less concern or motivation, implies currently too much concern. 
Declarative, sometimes slightly admonishing. We need to take it easy, this is going to be 
a long day, no need to push ourselves too hard. 
tight fisted - W – describes person who tries to avoid spending much money – 
Declarative, mildly insulting. John is really tight fisted, he never buys the drinks. 
tightwad - W – is a person who tries to avoid spending much money – Declarative, 
mildly insulting. John is a real tightwad. 
tough – W – describes a situation or a thing as difficult, or difficult to deal with. 
Declarative, sometimes remonstrative. Our new teacher is tough, he never gives a good 
score to anyone. 
two-faced - W – references the idea of acting nice in person and displaying a different 
attitude when not dealing directly with the person. Negative. That two faced salesman 
lied to me about the total cost of the car. 
under the weather - W – feeling sick, but not implying a major health problem. 
Declarative. She is not joining us for lunch, she says she is feeling under the weather. 
(to be) up and running - W – usually refers to a process or machine. Declarative, 
perhaps with a touch of humor or boastfulness. My new process for killing mosquitoes is 
up and running. 
up to date - W - modern, has been updated Declarative. My motorbike is old, but the 
brake system and the engine are modified and up to date. Facebook is the up to date way 
to connect with friends. 
upside down - W - owes more money on a car, truck, house, etc., than its resale value. 
Declarative. I am upside down on my house, so I may just declare bankruptcy. 
used to (pronounced with st ending, yoost) - W - native speakers might not consider it 
an idiom as it is so common. Have a familiarity so that something can be accepted/done 
without problem. Declarative. I may never get used to the traffic here, but I am used to 
the food, which can be quite good. 
What for? - W – native speakers might not consider it an idiom as it is so common. 
Asks what is the reason for doing something, almost always used as a question following 
someone else stating an action or plan of action. Not always asking about something 
specific, can also refer to questioning the reason. Inquisitive, sometimes questioning the 
quality of the decision of the other speaker. John - Let’s leave early. Bill - What for? 
would just as soon - W – used in comparing more than one course of action, the action 
that is pointed out as “just as soon” is the preference. Declarative. I would just as soon 
go home early as go to your mother’s house. (He would rather go home early if he has a 
choice between that and your mother’s house). 
white elephant - W - an unprofitable investment, something that is large and unwieldy 
and is a nuisance and/or expensive to maintain. Declarative, perhaps humorous. That 
new motorbike I bought is really a white elephant, it is expensive and too big for these 
You don't say! – exclamation noting the appropriateness of the previous speakers 
comment, sometimes pointing out the obvious nature of what was stated. Exclamatory. 
John – Wow, it is really raining hard. Bill – You don’t say! 

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