Idioms and Phrases



Back out – to withdraw from a promise, contract: I felt grieved when he backed out of his promise to help me.
Backup – to support, to sustain : He was backed up by his union to fight for his rights
Bear out  - to support, to confirm: The evidence does not bear out the charges levelled against him
Boil down – to amount to: His entire argument boiled down to the fact that he did not consider the project economically feasible
breakdown of a car, a piece of machinery – to go wrong so that it will not function: the plant broke down on account of extreme voltage fluctuations
breakout – to arise suddenly :when riots broke out in the city, all industrial activity came to a standstill
Break up – to disperse to dissolve : the meeting will break up after the President has addresssed the audience
Bring out – to reveal clearly: these facts clearly bring ot the benefical effects of the liberatlisation of the economic policy of the government
call back ; Mr.Shukla is busy at the moment. can u call back later?
call on : to pay a short visit : our agent regularly calls on the chemists to book orders for our medicines
call upon; to order to require: I was unforutunately called upon to give evidence against my immediate superiors
carryon- to continue; if you carryon working hard, your business will soon flourhsih
carryout – to execute given directions: the manager was not satisfied by the manner in which his instructions had been carreid out
cast aside : to reject, to throw aside as useless: All other considerations were cast aside at the insistence of the manager
come across: to meet by chance: In the lieft I came across an old friend of mine
come off  - to take place: the inauguration of the plant came off on Tuesday last
cry down: to depreciate, to make little of: one must not always cry down the suggestions given by others
cut down – to reduce: we have taken some effective measures to cut down the expenditure
cut out: designed for : you appear to be cut out to be a company secretary
fall back on – to make use of in an emergency: if I do not get this job, I can fall back on my father;s resources
fall in with – to agree ; I found it difficult to presuade the cahriman to fall in with my suggestions
fall through -  to fail to materialise : the project fell through for want of adequate funds
get through – to a person : I hav been trying to get htrough to mr.Yadav the whole morning. He does not appear to be in his office
Gloss over – to explain away  : such serious lapses cannot be glossed over, however
go down- to be accepted : our finance minister will go down in hisotry as the most innovative economist of our country
hold back – to keep back , to conceal; no important facts should be held back from the policy makers
hold on – will you hold on for a moment ? I ‘ ill just put you through to Mrs.Mehra

labour under- to remain udner an impresseion: Let us not labour under the illusion that these measures will generate immediate profits
Let off – to allow to go free to release : In spite of the mistake being serious, he was let off with a warning
Make out – to discover, to find out: I cannot make out eh thrust of this document
pull through – to go to the end of somehting difficult and dangerous with some success: the scheme was ultimately pulled through
run out- to come to an end : The supplies of petrol are sure to run out
see through – to comprehend, to discern : we could easily see through their evasive tactics
tell upon – to affect – hardwork told upon the secretary’s health
other idioms and phrases
Above all – that which is of greatest importance: be cheerful in your looks, polite in your behaviour  but above all be sincere to your work
above board – honest and frank: Unless you are above board in your dealings, you will not be able to earn the good will of your clients
To add fuel to the fire – to offer additional cause for anger or dispute : the laborrers were already indignant over the rigid attitude of the mill owners 
All the same – immaterial : whether my proposal is accepted or turned donw, it is all the same to me.
Apple of discord – somehting that cuases fircition, quarrels or discord: the right to use irrigation water often proves to be an apple of discord among the farmers
Argues – eyed – extremely vigilant, watchful: No activity can escape the Argus – eyed guard posted on durty at the gate
(to be ) at a loss – puzzled, unable to decide : There is a great discrepancy between the orgal instruection and the written instruction. I am at a loss to know what to do.
at a man’s beck and call – to be at someone’s service : go and get it yourself. Don’t think I am at your beck and call
At a stretch – continously : If we work for inordinately  long hours at a stretch, we are bound to make mistakes
At arm’s length – at a distance in a state of unfriendliness: It should be one’s avowed policy to keep the flatterers at arms length
at daggers drawn – bitterly hostile : They hav been at daggers drawn ever since they had a dispute over the sharing of the profits
at home: to feel comfortable – the office environment is so congenial that the employees feel perfectly at home there
at loggerheads – diagreeing or quarrelling with – it is unfortunate that India has mostely bween at logger heads with all its neighbours
At one’s wit’s end – wholly puzzled and not knowing wht to do – I was at my wit’s end the moment I discovered that my credit card had been stolen
At random: in a haphazard manner: we picked some people at random and gave then the questinnare
at sea – confused  I am completely at sea with this new system of filing the income tax accounts of the firm are all at sixes and sevens
at elventh hour – at the lost moments – at the eleventh hour, we discovered that we had run short of funds
Backstairs influence – secret and improper influence: He got this job not be virtue of his merit but by backstairs ifnluence

Bad Blood – ill feeling : MR. Munjal;s out of turn promotion has created bad blood between him and his colleqes
to beat a retreat – to withdraw to retire as a sign of defeat – when the gangstres saw the police arriving, they beat a hasty retreat
(TO) bat about the bush – to say things a in aorund –about manner : having no convincing argument to defend hs point, the speaker began to beat about ths bush.
To have a) bee in one’s bonnet – to have a crazy idea or notion in one’s head: He has no resources whatsover but he is bent upon settng up a rice mill; he must be having a bee in his bonnet
To beg the question – to assume that which requires to be proved : To talk about this company’s future begs the question whether it has a future
To beggar description – to be so extraordinary that no words may be adqeuate to describe it; the atrocities committed by the Nazis beggar description

Behind one’s back – in ones absence: The policy of flattering someone to his face and critising him behind his back does not pay in the long run

Behind the scenes – the grim reality behind attractive appearances – this novel lets us behind the scenes and acquaints us with the hard life of a call centre employees

Between Scylla and Charybdis – between two unpleasant situations – I am between scyllea and charybdis. If I resign, starvation stares me in the face.If I contine working here, there is nothing but humilation for me.

Between the devil and the deep sea; between two fires – both the expressions mean the same as between scylla and charybdis
To bid fair – to seem lilely, to promise well: with an enterpising tempreament and a management degree from a presitiguous institution, she bids fair to a successful manager
to bid ones time – to wait patiently: let us bide our time till the machnine is preaird and we are able to resume work
birds eye view: a genearl view of soemthing : climb to the top of quatub minar if you want to hava birds ey view of delhi
Black sheep:  a person who betrays his associates
In black and white: writtern on paper in ink
A blessing in disguise: a misfoture that later provies to be a blessing
to blow hot and cold in the same breath: to be favourable and unfavourable by turns: I can never rely ona person who is in the habit of blowign hot and cold int eh same breath
to boil down to : to finally amount to : our problem boils down to just one thing paucity of funds
a bold from the blue – an utterly unexpected blow or disaster : The large scale damage to our factory beause of the tsunami proved to be a bolt from the blue
a bone of contention – this exprssion means the same as ‘ an apple of discord’
bread and butter – the means of life, food, clothing etc: our society should be so reorganised that everybody gets atleast bread and butter

To breath one’s last – to die : Those who lead a contented life breathe their last in peace

To bring to book – to call to account , to punish: If this project report is not submitted by Monday, we are sure to be brought to book

to build castles in the air – to think of unattainable targets: In our office we need down to earth people, not those used to building castles in the air

Bull in a china shop; one who is caerless about the way he or she behaves and is therefore destructive: she did not relaise the delicacy of the sitaution and behaved in the meeting like a bull in a china shop

to burn one’s fingers  - to suffer loss or hurt as by investing money in some financial enterprise or taking part in another quarrel; you will burn your fingers if you try to bring about reconscillation between them

to burn the candle at both ends : to spend resources extravagantly: after the first years phenomenal profits he started burnnig the candle at both ends and soon fell into a debt trap

to bury the hatchet – to forget past quarrels : all round developmetn of the nation is possible only if different communities buryt the hatchet and work together

a burning question: an issue that is being hotly discussed everywhere: runaway inflation that the government does not know how to curb is the burning question of the day

by and by – gradually –don’t lose patience things will improve by and by

by dint of  - by virtue of  - success can be achieved only by dint of hard work and a bit of God’s grace

by fair means or foul – by any means good or bad; in the modern materialistic society, the only aim of the people appears to be to acqurie money by fair means or foul

by fits and starts – without steady application, at intervals – success demands incesasnt hard work working by fits and starts does not take one anywhere

by hook or crook – by fair means or foul

by leaps and bounds – at a rapid pace: Information technology has developed by leaps and bounds. Often we find it difficult to keep pace with it

To call a spade a spade – to be straightforward in one’s talk – he who calls a spade a spade fails to win immediate popularity buy wins peoples admiration in the long run

to call to account – to demant an explanation : at whatever level the mistake is committed, it is the departmental head who will be called to account

to carry the day: to win a victory – though the austrailians carried the day in the final match, theirs was not the best team of the tournament

to cast a slur upon – to comment derogatively on someone’s reputation – his comments cast a slur upon the integrity of his employees

a cats paw  - a person used as tool by another: they tried to use tehir accountant as a cats paw to present a false picture of their progress

a childs play – something easy to perform : getting admission to an IIM is not a childs play

a close fisted man – a miser;  people who appear to be close fisted often donated very liberally to genuine causes

to clean the augean stables: to remove the corruption and inefficiency in administration : notwithstandign tall claims and promises the UPA governemtn has not been abel to clean the Augean stables and provide good governance

A close shave: a narrow escape

A cock and bull story: an absurd take an unconvincing pretext invented to cover up a fault

In cold blood – deliberately without any provacation : the terroists killed several correspondents incold blood

cold comfort  - very little satifaction : the words of consolation my boss utterred after I was denied awewl desrved promotion gave me only cold comfort

To come off with flying colours – to be victorious – I hope you will come off with flying colours in your interview

to come to grief – to come to suffer : if you invest all your savings in the stock

to come to light – to be known
to come to terms-  to get reconciled to something
to come to the point – to speak plainly on the real issue
to cope with – to deal succesfully with

crocodile tears – hypocritical show of sympathy

to cross the rubicon – to do something which cannot be changed later and which will strongly influence future events

A cry in the wilderness – a wrning or advice which goes unheeded

to cry over split milk – to regret uselessly

to cut a sorry figure – to create a bad impression

cut and dried – already prepared

to cut one short – to interrupt and stop another who is speaking

to cut the gordian knot – to solve a difficult problem by bold measures

to cut to the quick – to hurt intensely – the office peon ws cut to the quick when he was accused of theft

to dance attendacne on – to be constantly at the service of

a dark horse – an unexpected winner

a dead letter – a somehting no longer in forece

to die in harness- to continue in ones post or at one occupations unitle ones death

to do a good turn – to render a service to someone

a dog in the manger policty – the policy of a selfish man who refuses to allow his neighbour to use what he himself cannot

double dealing- trickery and deceit

to draw a blank – to be unsuccessful in an enterprise

to drive a hard bargain – to be uncormpromsiing in making a deal

to eat the humble pie – to suffer humiliation

to egg on – to instigate to urge

elbow room – the freedom to do what one wants

to end in smoke – to yield no practical result

enough and to spare – having this in sufficient quanitty

an  eye wash – a deception mere profession

to face the music – a face criticism

fair and square – honest, just :  a fair weather friend 

to fall a prey – to be victim of
to fall flat =  to fail to create any interst and effect

to fall short of – t be less than

to fall to someone’s lot – someone being chosen to do a thing
a far cry – very distant
to feather ones nest – to provide for one’s own comfort and interst
to fight shy of – to avoid to keep away from

to find fault with – to blame

to fish in troubled waters – to make profit whenothers are in trouble

a fish out of water – in uncongential and uncomfortable surroudings

to flog a dead horse-  to waste effort on somehting that there is no chancce of succedding at

to follow suit – to do as some other person has done before
a fools paradise – a state of imaginary or unreal happinees

french leav – absence from duty without taking proper leave

from hand to mouth- without maknig any provsion for the morrow

in full swing – at the height of activity –

to get into hot water – to get into awkward sitatuion

to get a hand of the thing – to understand the gneral meanign and implications of anythign

to get the better of – to score a victory over

to gibe a piece of one’s mind- to rebuke

give and take –mutually obligining each other

gift of the gab – the ability to speak

to giv e one the slip – to evade or escape from a person who is seeking you

to give oneself airs – to be self improtant

to give ear to – to pay attention to

to give the cold shulder – to treat coldly and formally

to give vent to – to express vocally

to give way – to yield to surrender

to go astray – to follow a wrong path

to go on a fools errand – to go on an expedition which leads to a foolish end

to got to pieces – to be wrecked completely

good offices – influences

a good samaritan – a kind and charitable person

a good turn – an act of kindness

to go to the dogs – to be runed to be damned

to go to the wall – to be allowed to suffer hardships

to grease the palm of – to bribe
the green-eyed monster  - jealously

to be hands in glove with – to be on intimate terms
to handover – to transfer something anothers  posession

to hang fire – to be delayed or postponed

to harp on the same string – to repeat the same argument

hard and fast – definite, rigid

to be hard up – to be short of money

to have an axe to grind – to have a personal or selfish motive in doing soemthign

to have ones hands full – to be very busy

to have too many irons in the fire – to have too many projects demanding attentions

head and shoulders above – for above thean or superior to

a herculean task- any work requireing very great effort

high time – ripe time

to hit below the belt – to strike another unfairly

hobsons choice – a choice that is really no choice

to hold good- to remain valid

hoping against hope – to entertain hope even when there is no basis for hope

to be in a fix – to be in difficulty

In a nutshell – briefly and concisely
in ones element – int eh right mood

in ones good books – in ones favour

in ones sleeves – secretly

in ones true colours – as apersn really is distrinct from what he preentends to be

in the long run – eventually in the end
in the nick of time- at the exact time
in the teeth of – in direct opposition to

ins and outs – details

in the bargain  - in addition extra

jack of all traders – one who can turn his hand to any kidn of busienss but is expert at none

a jaundiced eye – a prejudiced mind

to jump to a conclsuion – to arrive at a conclusion hastily

to keep abreast of – to keep oneself informed

to keep an eye on – to watch

to keep ones eyes open – to be on the alert

to keeps ones fingers crossed- to wait expactantly

to keep pace with – to move at an equal speed

to keep the ball rolling – to continue the conversation succsffully

to keep up apperances – to remain outwardly unchanged

to kick u p a row – to cause disturbance

kith and kin- blood relations

to kill two birds with one stone – to achieve two results with one effort

to lay heads together- to consult and to discuss

to lay ones hands on – to obtain posession of

to lay stress on – to empahsise

to lay waste – to destroy

to lead by the nose – to control a person completely

a leap in the dark – an action the result of which cannot be foreseen

to leave no stone unturned – to do ones best for soemthing

to lose ground – to lag behind

to lose heart – to lose courage

a maiden speech – the very first speech delivered by someone in his life

to make a clean sweep – to win everythign that is available

to make a fool of oneself – to exhibti ones’ foolishness by awkward behaviour

to make a virtue of necessity – to treat something one is obliged to do as if it wre done from choice

to make amends – to compensate for some injustice or wrong

to make both ends meet – to make ones income meet ones expenditure

to make hay while the sun shines – to make use of afavourable opportunity to win an advantage

to make head or tail of – to understand

to make light of – to treat as if  no importtance

to make much ado about nothing – to make a great fuss about a trifle

to make ones mark – to do something noteworthy

to make up ones mind – do decide to determine

a mare’s nest – soemthign illusory

(not to)  mince matters – t take plainly or bluntly

to mind one sps and qs – to take care of minute details

a nine days wonder – something that causes a great excitement for a short time

null and void-  ineffective

off and on- now an again

off-hand – without having thought over something earler

off the track – away from the proper subject
on tenterhooks – in a state of suspense or uncertainty

on the eve of – at the time preceding some event

on the face of it – judging from what is apparent

on the horns of a dilemma –in a state of uncertainity

on the spur of the moment – acting under the first impulse, wihtout prepartion

(to be  ) on the wane – to be on the decline

on the verge of  - on the brink of
once in a blue moon- very seldom indeed

an open question – a matter of discussion, something not yet decided

an open secret – a secret that is well known

out and out  - thourgouly

Out of quesitons – impossible

to be out of order – not to be ina working condition

over and above – in addition to

over head and ears – completely

part and parcel – an essential part

to pay one in ones own coin – to treat another in as harsh a manner as he had treated you

to pay through the nose – to pay a very heavy price

penelope’s web – a piece of work that goes on and on

penny wise and pound of foolish ; to be very careful while spendign small sums of money and to become extravagant where large sums of money are concerned

to pick a bone with – to pick a quarrel with

to play a doubel game – to do one thing fairly and openly and another thing unfairly and the secretly

to play fast and loose – to behave recklessly or irresponsibily

to play into the hands of – to be controlled by

to play the second fiddle – to work

to play the game – to deal ina fair and honest manner

to pocket an insult – to tolerate the insult

point blank – directly, plainly

to poison the ears of – to make someone prejudiced against another

to poke one’s nose into – to interfere unnecessarily

to pour oil on troubled waters – to take steps to pacify a situation

pros and cons – arguments for and against

to pull along with – to act in harmony with

to pull one’s leg – to play joke with one

to pull oneself together  - to collect one’s faculties

to pull the strings – to manipulate from behind the scenes

to put heads togther – to confer

to put on airs – to look important

to put one’s cards on the table – to be absolutely frank and conceal nothing

to put ones best foot forward – to try ones best

to put ones shoulder to the wheel – to try oneself ad not to look to others for help

to rack ones brains – to exert one’s brains to the utmost

rank and file – ordinary worknig members of an organisation

ready money – cash

to read between the lines – to see the writters’s concealed meaning

a red letter day – a daymemorable for some joyful event

red rag to a bull – something or somebody that specially provkes someone

red tapism- official foramilites that delay action

to rest on one’s laurels – to lead a relaxed

without rhyme or reason – without sense

to rise a phoenix – to rise up to former glory after being totally destroyed

to rise to the occasion – to prove equal to an emergency and handle it boldly

to rule the roost – to be the one who dictates others

a scapegoat – one punished for the misdeed of others

to scatter to the winds – to waste, to squander away

scolt free- safe

to see eye to ey with – to hav the same opinion on a subject

to set store on  - to consider (something )to be

to set the thames on fire – to cause excitement

to steer clear of – to lead succesffully through a difficult phase

to serve one right  - to give one the punishment one deserves

to show off – to make a vain display

to show the white feather= to act like a coward

a snake in the grass – a secret foe

to speak volumes – to supply plenty of evidence

to split hairs – to make fine distinctions

to spread like wild fire – to spread rapidly

to stand in a good stead – to prove useful ina difficulty

to steel a march upon – to gain an advantage over a competitor

to stick to the point – not to disgress

at a stones throw - - quite nearby

storm in a tea cup – disturbance makred by much noise but of no importance

to strain every nerve – to try very hard

to strike when the iron is hot – to act with energy and promptness

sum and substance = the essence, the meaning in nutshell

the sword of damocles – a danger that constantly threatens a person

to take a cue- to take a hint

to talk shop – to talk about business

tall talk – pretentious claims

to take advantage of – to gain an advantage of somenes else weakness or ones own strength

to take exception to – to find fault with

to take heart – to take courage
to take hold of – to seize, to grasp
to take one by surprise – to come upon one suddenly and unexpectedly
to take pains – to make a considerable effort
to take the bull by the horns – to deal decisively with a  difficult or unpleasant situation
to take stock of – to examine or assess
to take to heart – to feel grieved
to take to task  - to rebuke , to punish
to be  taken back – surprised
a thankless task  - a task that is not appreciated
the thin edge of the wedge – the first small begginnings which may lead to what is serious
through and through – entirely and completely
through thick and thin –under all circumstatnces
to throw cold water on – to discourage to dissuade

to throw down the gauntlet – to issue a challenge
to throw dust into the eyes of – to deceive
to throw mud at – to speak ill of
to tide over – to overcome
tooth and nail – violently, fiercely
topsy turvy – upside down
to turn a deaf ear – to pay no heed
to turn over a new leaf – to change ones way of life
to turn the tables on – to reverse the position
a turning point –a point at which decisive changes occur
under the thumb of – under the control of
up to the mark – measuring up to a certain standard
ups and downs – prosperity and adversity, vicissitudes
to wash ones hands of – to refuse to do anything more with
to weather the storm – to face difficulties successfully
a white elephant – anything very costly but now very useful
a wild goose chase – a futile pursuit
to win hands down – to win comfortably convincingly
to win laurels – to gain honour
with a  grain of salt – not at the face value
with an eye to – with a definite purpose
with open arms – with a warm welcome

yeomans service – excellent work