Phrases and Idioms


Phrases and Idioms

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Phrases and Idioms

Phrases and Idioms

Phrases and Idioms

Phrases and Idioms are peculiar expressions of a language. They are made up of two or more words giving rise to a special meaning. Their rightness and wrongness is based on their usage and not on logic. The English language is very rich in phrases and idioms. The usage of some common phrases and idioms is illustrated below:

Phrases and Idioms


A. B. C. (Primary Knowledge on anything) I have learnt only the A. B. C of Spanish.

Above all (mainly, more than anything else): Above all William Shakespeare was an epic poet.

Above board (open) Shilpa’s wisdom is above board.

According to (After someone’s view): According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Good hand-writing is a part and  parcel of Education.”

After all (in spite of all that has been known): After all  Rajen is not guilty.

All at once (suddenly) Ram appeared here all at once.

All in all (all powerful): I am all in all in my family.

All the same (as usual): You may read or you may not read it is all the same.

All of a sudden (suddenly):  All of a sudden a tiger appeared here yesterday.

All along (from beginning to end / from first to last]) Ramanda is all along here.

All greek (not comprehensible) Your writings are all greek to me.

Apple of discord (subject of quarrel)  His misbehaviour was the apple of discord for Ram and Rahim.

Apple of one’ s eye (very affectionate) I am the apple of my mother’s eye. 

As a matter of fact (in fact): As a matter of fact, I am not your enemy.

An axe to grind (ill will/ conspiracy):  I have no axe to grind, but to advise you that you should follow your leader.

As it were (as if): You are, as it were, my best friend.

As ill luck would have it (unfortunately): I am a poor scholar, as ill luck would have it, I could do nothing for want of money.

At a loss (confused): We are at a loss to decide how to go there. 

At a stretch (continuously) It was raining for a week at a stretch.

At best (to the highest degree) At best he is a poet.

At heart: (in secret): Kamal is my friend at heart.

At daggers drawn (at enmity): Ram and Rahim are not at dagger’s drawn to each other.

At home: (in a comfortable position): Raymen is quite at home here.

At home in (skilled/ well versed): I am at home in Bengali and Hindi.

At one’s disposal (ready to use): My pen and books are at my disposal.

At one’s finger’s end (in memory) The poems of Shelley and Wordsworth are at my finger’s end.

At six and sevens: (in a disorderly state) The books are laying at six and sevens on the floor.

At stake  (in the dangerous state): His life was at stake when his father died.

At that  (in addition to): Kamalakanta is a good dancer and at that a good poet.

At the eleventh hour (in the nick of time): At the eleventh hour, Ranaki arrived at the station.

At the outset (in the beginning): At the outset, I sang and then danced.

At times (off and on): Rekha writes good essays at times.

At variance with (irrelevant): Our president’s words are at variance with his ideals.

At one’s beck and call (ready to find): Ram and Karim are at my beck and call.

At any rate ( somehow or other): He is determined to do this for you at any rate.

At one’s wit (perplexed): At that time I was at my wit’s end.

As a rule (usually): He does his household work alone as a rule.

As to (regarding): As to John, I don’t know anything.

At bay (in perilous condition): After his father’s death, Nabin is at bay.

At length (in detail): He explained the causes of unemployment at length.

At random (without any aim or purpose): He wrote the essay at random.

At least (at all events): At least he should show hospitality to the guest.

At all costs (whatever may be the cost): He is ready to help you at all costs.

At large (freely): The thieves are living here at large.

At the eleventh hour (almost too late) He could catch the train at the eleventh hour. (Phrases and Idioms)


Bag and baggage (with all belongings) He had left his rent house bag and baggage. (not with bag and baggage)

Bad-blood (enmity): There should have no bad blood between Ram and Rahim.

Be all and end all (sole aim): To preach Humanism is my be all and end all.

Bear a hand (help someone): Radha bore a hand to the poor boy.

Bed of roses (comfortable position in life): Life is not a bed of roses.

Bed of thorns (full of obstacle): Life of most people is a bed of thorns.

Beggar’s description (beyond description) Your arguments are beggar’s description.

Beside oneself (lose within oneself): When Rakesh heard the news of his success he was beside himself with joy.

Beside the mark (irrelevant): Your opinion is beside the mark.

Bid fair (show hope): Ram bid fair to win the match.

Big guns (powerful person): Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was one of the big guns of India.

Black sheep  (an evil person): Harshad Mehta is the black sheep of modern India.

Blue blood (aristocracy): Karim was proud of his blue blood.

Blow one’s own trumpet (to praise oneself / be arrogant): Nobody should blow his own trumpet.

Bolt from the blue (unexpected evil event) The news of the bomb burst was a bolt from the blue for us.

Breathe one’s last (to die): William Shakespeare breathed his last in 1616.

Bring home to (to appreciate / to understand): I shall bring this lesson home to you.

Bring to book (to insult, to punish): For your misdeed, you must be brought to book.

Bring to light (to publish, to reveal) The hidden news must be brought to light.

Bring into play (to make active/ to bring into force): Adversity brings our quality into play.

Burning question (big problem): Unemployment is the burning question of the world.

By turn (one after another): Read the poem by turns.

By and by (soon/ in haste): Come here by and by.

By the by  (incidentally): By the by Ram asked me where I lived.

By dint of (by virtue of): Karan succeeded by dint of hard labour.

By fair means or foul : (by any means either good or bad): He is determined to perform his duties by fair means or foul to earn money.

By fits and starts (irregularly): I cannot write by fits and starts.): 

By hook or crook (by any means): Ram should do this work by hook or by crook.

By leaps and bounds (very rapidly): He is progressing in his business by leaps and bounds.

By virtue of (by one’s good quality): He has earned money by virtue of hard labour.

Bosom friend (a very intimate friend): Hari is my bosom friend.

Bell the cat (take the risk): Who is there to bell the cat?

Bird of passage (nomad): Dr. Bhupen Hazarika was a notable bird of passage.

Bird’s eye view (a cursory glance): The minister had a bird’s eye view of the flood-affected districts of Assam.

Behind the screen (secretly, inside a thing): I could hardly know what had happened behind the screen.

Between two fires (in a critical situation; in a dilemma): After your departure, we were put between two fires.

Beyond measure (limitless): The mercy of God is beyond measure.

By way of (in the form of): He told us a story by way of explanation.

By degrees (gradually): The tree is growing by degrees.

By all means (without fail): He hopes to get the job by all means.

Bone of contention (a subject of dispute): The golden sedan was the bone of contention between the two sons of the old man.

Break open (open by force): The thief broke open the door of the house and took away everything.

Beat about the bush (fruitless work, to walk in an irrelevant way):  The boy is beating about the bush all day long.

Birds of a feather (person of the same nature): Birds of a feather flock together.

Between the lines (to read minutely): Read the story between the lines. (Phrases and Idioms) 


Call in question (to doubt): I have nothing to call in question.

Call names (to abuse/ to say the evil name of): You should not call names of others without rhyme and reason.

Catch red-handed (to catch in the spot): The police failed to catch the thief red-handed.

Carry the day (to win): They carried the day in the inter-school cricket tournament.

Call to mind (to remember): I can hardly call your name to mind.

Cry in the wilderness (meaningless demand): To seek help from police is to cry in the wilderness.

Crying need (necessary things): Food is our crying need.

Crocodile tears (pretended tears): Nobody can lure me with crocodile tears.

Cut a sorry figure (to show inability): India cut a sorry figure in the Atlanta Olympics’ 96.

Cut and dry ( fast): I do not agree to your cut and dry policy.

Cut jokes (to taunt): We should not cut jokes with anybody.

Cut short (to summarise): Please cut short your extempore lecture.

Cut to the quick (be very sorry): Your misbehaviour cut me to the quick.

Come into force (to enforce, become active): Our Independence came into force in 1947.

Chip of the old block (like one’s father): Rajib Gandhi was a chip of the old block. (Phrases and Idioms)

( D )

Dead against ( fiercely against): The Americans are dead against the Russians.

Dead Language (a language no longer in use): Sanskrit is a dead language.

Do away with (give up): We should do away with our reasonless faith.

Dark horse (ignorant, unknown person): Mr. Devjit is a dark horse in the field of literature.

Dead letter (a void law): The Pitt’s Act is now a dead letter.

Die in harness (to die in work): Harsha died in harness.

Do yeoman’s service (to do a great service): Raja Rammohan Roy did yeoman’s service to the nation.

(Phrases and Idioms)

( E ) 

Eat the humble pie (to humiliate) The pride of the Taliban must eat the humble pie one day.

End in smoke (to become useless) Ranidas’ efforts to overcome his opponents ended in smoke.

Ever and anon (often): He used to come here ever and anon.

Every inch (completely): Shakespeare was every inch an epic poet.

Every now and then ( almost always): Why do you come here every now and then?

Every other day (every alternate day): The doctor advised to take the pill every other day.

Eye to eye (be agree in all respect): I don’t see eye to eye with you on this matter.

Enough and to spare (plenty): The peasant has enough and to spare.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Face to face (directly): Let us speak face to face.

Fag end (at the last moment): He overcame his opponent at the fag end of the match.

Fair and square (honest): Ramchandra was a fair and square king.

Fair-weather-friend (friend who avails one’s good days; false friend): There is no dearth of fair-weather-friends.

Fall flat (to be ineffective): His policy falls flat at last.

Fall short (below one’s expectation): The collection of puza subscriptions falls short of our expenditure.

Far cry (a great distance): It is not a far cry from Guwahati to Calcutta.

Far and wide (to a great distance): His fame had spread far and wide.

Fight shy of (to show negligence): We should not fight shy of our duties.

First and foremost (sole, one and only): My first and foremost duty is to practise Humanism.

Flesh and blood (corporal): Flesh and blood should not bear the stigma of bribery.

For good (forever): I am with you for good.

For the sake of (for somebody else): I can do everything for the sake of your comforts.

From head to foot (completely): I have come to know about you from head to foot.

From hand to mouth (to live somehow): We live from hand to mouth.

Fish out of water (to be unknown): I am not a fish out water in Calcutta.

Face the music (to suffer the consequence of): You must face the music for what you have done.

Free and easy (frank): Himani is free and easy to all.

From time immemorial (from a long past): The custom of Satidah is running on in Hindu society from time immemorial.

Fresh blood (new person): Ramesh is a fresh blood in this town.

Floodlight (new information): The magazine is full of the floodlight.

Follow suit (do exactly like another): I hesitate to follow suit.

For the time being (for the present): He took up the job of masonry for the time being.

Few and far between (at a long interval of time): The visit of the Prime Minister to Assam is few and far between.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Get rid of (to avoid): Ram gets rid of his rivals.

Give ear to (be attentive to): Please give ear to what I say.

Go mad (to be mad): If you continue to speak in such a manner you will go mad.

Go to the dogs (to ruin): If you fail to come in time all my plans must go to the dogs.

Give rise to (to create): Your speech gives rise to a quarrel.

Get the upper hand (to be influential): Lalati got the upper hand within a very short time.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Hand in hand (together, very closely): We will do this hand in hand.

Hand and glove (very intimate): Ram and Rahim are hand and glove friends.

Hang fire (to loiter, to delay): Why do you hang fire to go there?

Hang in the balance (be in uncertainty): Why does your policy hang in the balance?

Hard and fast (fixed): There is no hard and fast path that can lead a man to heaven.

Hard nut to crack (hard to face): The problem of unemployment is a hard nut to crack.

Head and heart (eagerly): I will try to receive your greetings head and heart.

Heart and soul (with all effort): I will try heart and soul to solve the problems of the world.

High and law: There is no high and law in Humanism.

High time (best time): It is the high time to go there.

Hit below the belt (to harm internally): Beware of your friends, because one of them can hit below the belt.

Hold good (to become valid): Your policy can not hold good for all.

Honest penny (honest income): Ram is a man who lives on an honest penny. 

Household word (very well-known): Rabindra Nath Tagore is a household word in India.

Hue and cry (uproar): Why do you make hue and cry in this nick of time?

(Phrases and Idioms)


In a body (in a mass): The members of the parliament had welcomed the Queen of England in a body.

In a dilemma (in a confused state): I am alone here in a dilemma.

In a fix (in a dilemma): I am in a fix; I cannot do this.

In a nutshell (in brief): Let me repeat the story in a nutshell.

In as much as (for that reason): I am unable to help you in as much as I have fallen in a dilemma.

In black and white (in written form): Please send your comment in black and white.

In case (if it is so): In case you fail, try again.

In course of time (in proper time): In course of time, he will be able to show his skill.

In favour of (for one’s sake): Do this work in favour of me.

In fine ( finally): In fine, you should come here.

In full swing (in full force): The ceremony is going on in full swing.

In lieu of (instead of): I will help you in lieu of your good wishes.

In quest of(in search of): The nomads wander from here to there in quest of food.

In season and out of season ( always): I cannot trouble you in season and out of season.

Ins and outs (everything of something): Tell me the ins and outs of the matter.

Instead of (in place of ): Go to the market instead of going to the play-ground.

In the dark (ignorant): I am not in the dark about this.

In the guise of  (in disguise): Fahad robbed Ram in the guise of police.

In the long run (finally): Honesty pays in the long run.

In view of (considering): In view of your good service, you will be given a reward.

In vogue (in fashion):  Dowry is still in vogue.

In the air (in circulation): The new coin is in the air.

In cold blood (deliberately): Macbeth killed Duncan in cold blood.

In the van (in the forefront): The captain runs in the van.

In defence of (in support of): He argued all day long in defence of himself.

In camera (secretly): He does not like to do it in camera.

In regard to (regarding): I have nothing to say in regard to this scheme.

In the daze (confused): While the thief saw the police he fell in the daze.

In default of (in case of failure): The boy was punished in default of paying the bill.

In order to (with a view to): He went to Calcutta in order to get better treatment of his disease.

In the soup (in difficulty): Ram fell in the soup while he lost his father.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Jack of all trades (an all-knowing person): Amin-Al-Amanullah was the jack of all trades, but master of none.

Jump bail (to abscond while on bail): Rajanish had jumped bail but could not escape punishment. 

(Phrases and Idioms)


Kith and kin (relatives): We have kith and kin in West Asia.

Know no bounds (to be limitless): His business knew no bounds.

Kill time (waste time): We should not kill time.

Keep body and soul together (to live somehow): I have been keeping body and soul together since my father’s death.

Kick up a row (to give rise to a controversy): Renin often kicks up a row.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Laughing stock (an object of laughter): Don’t be a laughing stock anywhere.

Lay waste (to ruin): The Afghans laid waste on our ancient heritage.

Leave in the lurch (to leave in peril): A friend who is honest never leaves one in the lurch.

Leave no stone unturned (leave no effort to pursue): To get at my aim I will leave no stone unturned.

Lion’s share (a major part): I can not take the lion’s share of our income.

Life and soul (mainstay): Mr Harsha is the life and soul of the institute.

Length and breadth (everywhere): His name as a dramatist spread length and breadth.

Loaves and fishes (selfishness): I cannot care only for loaves and fishes.

Long and short (summary): He wrote the long and short of the story.

Lose short (to be disappointed): Don’t lose heart in such a critical time.

Look down upon (to hate): Nobody should look down upon the poor.

Look blank (to be confused): Rajen looked blank when I met him.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Maiden speech (first public speech): He became popular in his maiden speech.

Make a clean breast of (to confess frankly): Mahatma Gandhi made a clean breast of every sin that he committed. 

Make good (to make up a deficiency): Try to make good of your loss.

Make up one’s mind (to decide): Kiran made up his mind to visit the Zoo.

Man of letters (a learned man): Banikanta Kakati was a man of letters.

Move heaven and earth (to try as far as possible): Everybody should move heaven and earth to meet his aim.

Muster strong (to gather in large numbers): The people from all walks of life mustered strong to see the Prime Minister.

Make both ends meet (to earn a living somehow): I have been making both ends meet nowadays.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Nip in the bud (to ruin in the beginning): His genius was nipped in the bud for want of a patron.

Now and then (occasionally): Come here, now and then.

Null and void (nullified): The law was declared null and void.

Neck and crop (completely): The Indian army defeated Pakistan’s army neck and crop.

Nook and corner (everywhere): His fame as a young poet spread nook and corner.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Of course (in spite of that): He is poor, of course, he is not dishonest.

Of late (in the present time): Of late, manpower is going to fall into the water.

Of no avail (ineffective, of no use): All his efforts proved of no avail.

Of the first order (elite, excellent): His painting is of the first order.

Off and on (often; now and then): Off and on I had gone there.

On account of (because of): You are invited to our home on account of my sister’s marriage ceremony.

On behalf of (in favour of): Please take this notice on behalf of Ramen.

On the spur of the moment (on the heat of the moment): He broke the pencil on the spur of the moment.

Once again (again): Send your greetings to your angry friend once again.

Once and again (again and again): Why do you trouble me once and again?

Once for all (for the ultimate time): I will go there once for all.

Open question (undecided question): Many open questions are set aside by the parliament.

Open secret (a secret known to all): It is an open secret that Ramen is dishonest.

Out and out  (completely): Srimanta Sankardev was out and out a prophet.

Over again ( once again): Please come here over again.

Over head and ears (deeply): He is over head and ears in debt.

On the eve of (just before):  We talked to him about the case on the eve of his departure.

On the alert (watchful): We are always on the alert lest the terrorist may harm us.

On the brink of / On the verge of (very near to): We made an abode on the brink of (on the verge of) the Red Hill.

On the contrary (quite otherwise): They invited us to the match, on the contrary, we joined the opposite team.

Out of date (old fashioned): This pair of shoes is out of date.

Out of place (irrelevant): Your argument is out of place.

Out of doors (out of home, in open place): For the whole evening, we were out of doors.

Out of order (stopped working): The engine of the train is out of order.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Part and Parcel (essential part): Good handwriting is a part and parcel of education.

Pros and cons (every side): You should consider the pros and cons of your livelihood.

Play truant (to flee from school): Mahatmaji used to play truant in his childhood.

Put an end to (to make an end to): Please put an end to your lecture.

Put to the sword (to kill): Lachit put his uncle to the sword for his negligence of duty.

Pocket an insult (to submit to an insult): Rana could not but pocketed an insult for being late in work.

Play false (to be treacherous to) Rani is hated by all because she often plays false.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Rainy days (hard days): We should preserve something for the rainy days.

Red-letter day (a remarkable day): The 26 th of January is a Red-letter day for the Indians.

Rhyme and reason (reason): Why do you beat the servant where there is no rhyme and reason?

Root and branch (to the root, completely): The battle of Waterloo crushed the Napoleonic army root and branch.

Right and left (at random): Rabin Sharma wrote the book right and left.

Rank and file (ordinary persons): The rank and file adored Indira Gandhi as the leader of all.

Run the risk (to shoulder a responsibility): The Headmaster ran the risk of a quarrel.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Safe and sound (secure): God bless you with a safe and sound life.

Scot-free (to get rid of punishment): The man who was a culprit had scot-free.

Set aside (to cancel): The officer set aside the application of Ramananda.

Slowcoach (an idle person): Slowcoach like Sargam can not prosper in life.

Spare no pains ( to try as much as possible): Ramen spared no pains to help me.

Steer clear ( to give up): We should steer clear of our bad companies.

Stand in good stead (to be effective): Mussolini’s plan did not stand in good stead.

Sum and substance (summary): Give a sum and substance of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. 

Salt of the earth (a noble and ideal person): Mother Teresa is the salt of the earth for us all.

Set at naught (to disregard): Ranjan’s authority over the matter was set at naught.

Square meal (sufficient food): While we were in Ranchi we had a square meal.

So so (on the whole good): We are so so here.

Stand on the way (to be an obstacle to): Farhad stood on the way of our welfare scheme.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Take heart (to gather courage): Though he has fallen in peril yet he takes heart and runs away.

Tall talk (arrogant talk): I can never believe your tall talk.

A tempest in tea-pot (much ado about nothing): Your nonsense became a tempest in a tea-pot.

The three Rs (reading, writing and counting): Rabindranath learnt the three Rs at home.

Throw dust in one’s eye (to cheat): Nobody can throw dust in Bablu’s eyes.

Time and again (again and again): I will not request you time and again.

To and fro (to move here and there, hither and thither): He is walking to and fro.

To the contrary (to the opposite): Pradip stood to the contrary of his brother.

To the letter (exactly): Please try to follow the constitution to the letter.

Turn over a new leaf (to begin life anew): After passing M.A. my friend turned over a new leaf.

Throw light on (to bring to light): Geeta threw light on the old case of robbery.

Throw cold water on (to discourage): I don’t like Farhad because he often throws cold water on our mission.

Turn a deaf ear to (pay no heed to): Hima was sent out of the seminar as she turned a deaf ear to what the resource persons said.

To bury the hatchet (to cease to be enemies): Let us bury the hatchet and live us friendly.

Through thick and thin (through all difficulties): We walked ahead through thick and thin.

To one’s heart’s content (to one’s fill): We enjoyed the music night to our heart’s content.

To a man (every one of a group): The soldiers were killed to a man.

Through and through (completely): Jenifa is honest through and through.

To the point (according to question): Answer the questions to the point. 

To a degree (to a great extent): Ranjan is shrewd to a degree.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Up and doing (active): Be up and doing in your learning.

Ups and downs (rise and fall): There are many ups and downs in our worldly life.

Up to the mark (up to one’s hope): He has received my recognition up to the mark.

Under cover (hidden): Good qualities don’t remain under cover for a long time.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Weal and woe ( joy and sorrow): Life is a tree of weal and woe.

Well off (rich): Well off families are corrupted nowadays.

Well up in (skilled): Indira Gandhi was well up in politics.

Why and wherefore (cause, reason): What is the why and wherefore of Ram’s failure?

With a flying colour (with victory): Raman and his companions came back with a flying colour from the battlefield.

With a view to (in order to): I will go there with a view to meet him.

With reference to (with an allusion to the context): Quote this paragraph with reference to the matter.

Wear and tear (loss by using): The Red Fort has stood wear and tear for several centuries.

Ways and means (plans):  We should devise ways and means to decide the controversy.

With might and main (to the best of one’s ability): We won the match with might and main.

Wild goose chase (foolish pursuit): All his attempts to become a minister have proved to be a wild goose chase.

Well off (prosperous): Anil Ambani is a well off industrialist of our time.

With regard to (in the matter of, concerning to): We don’t know anything with regard to the case.

Worthwhile (worthy of): Ramesh is a worthwhile proof reader to revise the manuscript.

(Phrases and Idioms)


Yeoman’s service (great work) Mahatma Gandhi rendered yeoman’s service to the nation.

Phrases and Idioms

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Phrases and Idioms

N.B.  The article ‘Phrases and Idioms’ originally belongs to the book ‘School English Grammar Part- I‘ by Menonim Menonimus. Phrases and Idioms

Books of Composition by M. Menonimus:

  1. Advertisement Writing
  2. Amplification Writing
  3. Note Making
  4. Paragraph Writing
  5. Notice Writing
  6. Passage Comprehension
  7. The Art of Poster Writing
  8. The Art of Letter Writing
  9. Report Writing
  10. Story Writing
  11. Substance Writing
  12. School Essays Part-I
  13. School Essays Part-II
  14. School English Grammar Part-I
  15. School English Grammar Part-II..

Books on Linguistics by M. Menonimus:

  1. A Brief History of the English Language
  2. Essays on Linguistics
  3. My Imageries
  4. Felicitous Expression: Some Examples
  5. Learners’ English Dictionary

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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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