IDIOMS’ literal meaning may seem absurd, but they have a metaphorical meaning and may even be written in an unusual grammatical structure. In this post, list of 100 idioms with meaning is given.
In the SSC CGL Tier I exam, 2-3 questions are asked from this category, every year. Take a look.
1. A hot potato : Something that is difficult or dangerous to deal with.
E.g.: Terrorism is a political hot potato in Afghanistan.
2. A penny for your thoughts : Way of asking what someone is thinking.
E.g.: After several minutes of silence he finally looked at her and said, “A penny for your thoughts, Lily.”
3. Actions speak louder than words : What you do is more significant than what you say.
E.g.: He: I’m sorry. I’ll try to be a better person henceforth. She: Actions speak louder than words.
4. Add insult to injury : To make a bad situation worse.
E.g.: Their basement was flooded, and then, to add insult to injury, a pipe burst in the kitchen.
5. An arm and a leg : A lot of money.
E.g.: It’s the best cruise in the world, but it will cost you an arm and a leg.
6. At the drop of a hat : Immediately; without any hesitation
E.g.: Ellie was always ready to go shopping at the drop of a hat.
7. Back to the drawing board : Start something all over again.
E.g.: I failed this semester, but now I am back to the drawing board.
8. Ball is in your court. : It is up to you to take the next step
E.g.: I’ve made my decision, now the ball is in your court.
9. Barking up the wrong tree : Looking in the wrong place; accusing the wrong person.
E.g.: He did not commit the crime, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
10. Be glad to see the back of : Be glad to see someone leave.
E.g.: I never liked her. I’ll be glad to see the back of her.
11. Beat around the bush : Avoid answering a question; not speaking directly about the issue.
E.g.: Tell me what the problem is, stop beating around the bush.
12. Best of both the worlds : Situation wherein one can enjoy two different opportunities.
E.g.: She had the privilege of a professor and freedom of a student. She had the best of both worlds.
13. Best thing since sliced bread : A good idea or plan; an excellent new invention.
E.g.: I love your idea. It’s the best thing since sliced bread.
14. Bite off more than you can chew : To take on a task that is way too big.
E.g.: Our boss bit off more than she could chew when she promised the client we’d have the project ready by next week.
15. Blessing in disguise : Something good that isn’t recognized at first.
E.g.: Ashok’s losing his job was a blessing in disguise; it gave him an opportunity to pursue higher studies.
16. Burn the midnight oil : To stay up working, especially studying, late at night.
E.g.: She’s been burning the midnight oil for the last few months; her hard work will definitely pay off in the coming exams.
17. Don’t judge a book by its cover : Don’t judge something primarily by its appearance.
E.g.: She: He doesn’t look intelligent. He: You can’t judge a book by its cover.
18. Caught between two stools. : When someone finds it difficult to choose between two alternatives.
E.g.: He had committed to both and now he’s caught between two stools.
19. Cross that bridge when you come to it. : Deal with a problem if and when it becomes necessary.
E.g.: He: I think I need to hire a lawyer. She: Cross that bridge when you come to it.
20. Cry over spilled milk : To be unhappy about something that cannot be undone. E.g.: It can’t he helped, don’t cry over spilled milk.
21. Curiosity killed the cat : Being too curious can get you into trouble.
E.g.: Don’t ask about his divorce-curiosity killed the cat!
22. Cut corners : To take shortcuts; when something is done badly to save money.
E.g.: They always put quality first; they won’t cut corners just to save money.
23. Cut the mustard : Perform satisfactorily; to succeed.
E.g.: We need a better catcher; this one just doesn’t cut the mustard.
24. Devil’s advocate : To present a counter argument
E.g.: The teacher always played devil’s advocate to provoke discussion in the classroom.
25. Don’t count your chickens before the eggs have hatched. : Don’t make plans for something that might not happen.
E.g.: You might not win the prize and you’ve already spent the money? Don’t count your chickens before the eggs have hatched.
26. Don’t give up the day job : You’re not very good at something. You could definitely not do it professionally.
E.g.: Why did you invest in business even after failing in it in the past? Don’t give up the day job!
27. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket : Don’t focus all of your attention on one thing or one area.
E.g.: I know you love Harvard, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Apply to other colleges too.
28. Drastic times call for drastic measures : When you’re extremely desperate you need to take drastic actions.
E.g.: Yes we had to let go of five of our workers! Drastic times call for drastic measures.
29. Elvis has left the building : The show has come to an end. It’s all over.
E.g.: We waited for another performance by the band but it looked like Elvis had left the building.
30. Every cloud has a silver lining : Be optimistic, even difficult times will lead to better days.
E.g.: I’m sorry your business is going badly, but remember every cloud has a silver lining.
31. Far cry from : A thing that is very different from something else.
E.g.: What you did was a far cry from what you said you were going to do.
32. Feel a bit under the weather : Feeling sick or unhealthy.
E.g.: I’m not coming to office today, I’m feeling a bit under the weather.
33. Give the benefit of doubt : Believe someone’s statement without proof.
E.g.: I knew him since the past 5 years, so I gave him the benefit of doubt.
34. Hear through the grapevine : To hear news from someone who heard that news from someone else
E.g.: I heard through the grapevine that she’s pregnant.
35. Hit the nail on the head : To do or say exactly the right thing.
E.g.: You’ve spotted the flaw, Robert. You’ve hit the nail on the head.
36. Hit the sack/sheets/hay : To go to bed.
E.g.: I’m exhausted. I think I’ll just hit the sack.
37. In the heat of the moment : Overwhelmed by what’s happening at the moment.
E.g.: He doesn’t hate you. He just said that in the heat of the moment.
38. It takes two to tango : Both people involved in a bad situation are responsible for it.
E.g.: He blamed her for his lack of attention; well it takes two to tango.
39. Jump on the bandwagon : Join a popular trend or activity.
E.g.: So many people are playing that game that I might as well jump on the bandwagon and check it out.
40. Keep something at bay : Keep something away
E.g.: A good way to keep your anxiety at bay is through meditation.
41. Kill two birds with one stone : To solve two problems at a time with just one action
E.g.: John practiced his words while peeling the potatoes. He was killing two birds with one stone.
42. Last straw : The final problem in a series of problems
E.g.: This is the last straw. I’m calling the police.
43. Let sleeping dogs lie : Leave something alone if it might cause trouble.
E.g.: I thought I would ask him if he wanted me to pay him back right away, but then I decided to let the sleeping dogs lie.
44. Let the cat out of the bag : To share information that was previously concealed.
E.g.: It’s our secret. Don’t let the cat out of the bag.
45. Make a long story short : Come to the point – leave out the details.
E.g.: And – to make the long story short – I never got back the money I lent him.
46. Method in the madness : A purpose in what one is doing, even though it seems to be crazy.
E.g.: What I’m doing might seem strange, but there is method in my madness.
47. Miss the boat : To miss out on something.
E.g.: Pay attention, John, or you’ll miss the boat and never learn algebra.
48. Not a spark of decency : A person who has no manners E.g.: Her brother has not a spark of decency. I don’t like the way he acts in public.
49. Not playing with the full deck : Someone who is mentally, psychologically or intellectually deficient.
E.g.: He’s an intelligent guy, but with all that crazy things he does, I wonder if he’s not playing with the full deck.
50. On the ball : When someone understands a situation well; attentive.
E.g.: If you were on the ball, this wouldn’t have happened.
51. Off the record : Not made as an official or attributable statement; unofficial; confidential
E.g.: He accepted his fault off the record and hence it could not be used by the prosecutor in the court.
52. Oldest trick in the book : A well known and much used trick/method
E.g.: Oldest trick in the book to treat cold and cough is drinking turmeric milk.
53. Off the cuff : Without preparation; spontaneous
E.g.: She has a reputation of handling off the cuff interviews very well.
54. Old habits die hard : People find it difficult to change their accustomed behaviour.
E.g.: She retired last month, but still gets up at the same time in the morning. Old habits die hard.
55. Once in a blue moon : Very rarely
E.g.: Nia has a very rocky relationship with her father. She speaks to him once in a blue moon.
56. Open the flood gates : Release something that was previously under control
E.g.: Economists fear that relaxing price control will open the floodgates to inflation.
57. Out of the blue : Happen unexpectedly
E.g.: She had given up all hope when out of the blue she got a call from Harvard.
58. Out on a limb : Do something risky or something that others do not support (leaving the doer in a difficult situation)
E.g.: She was out on a limb with her project – nobody supported her idea.
59. Over the top : Totally excessive and not suitable for the occasion.
E.g.: Her sari was way over the top for a sombre occasion like this.
60. Pen is mightier than the sword : Words and communication have a greater effect than war
E.g.: A simple handwritten note put an end to their week long cold war – pen is mightier than the sword.
61. Push one’s luck : Trying to obtain more than what one has (risk spoiling the current situation)
E.g.: You have my permission to go to your friends’ place but don’t push your luck by planning a night out.
62. Raining cats and dogs : Raining heavily
E.g.: We’ll have to cancel the trip, it’s raining cats and dogs here.
63. Reap the harvest : Benefit or suffer as a direct result of past actions.
E.g.: When he cleared IIT-JEE, he reaped the harvest of all his hard work.
64. Roll up one’s sleeves : Get ready for hard work
E.g.: My brother said he would roll up his sleeves and do whatever it takes to support the family.
65. See eye to eye : To be in agreement with
E.g.: She was glad her roommate saw eye to eye on the choice of the flat.
66. Shot in the dark : A complete guess (may or may not be close to the truth)
E.g.: He didn’t know too much about programming, so answering the interviewer’s question was merely a shot in the dark.
67. Sink your teeth into : Do something with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
E.g.: Robin immediately sank his teeth into his new job.
68. Skating on thin ice : Do or say something risky or something that could cause trouble.
E.g.: Don’t say anything that hurts her self esteem or you could be skating on thin ice.
69. Stand in a good stead : To be useful or be of good service to someone.
E.g.: Being fluent in German will stand you in a good stead when applying for an MS in Germany.
70. Strike while the iron is hot : To act at the right time
E.g.: The price of gold is at a 10 year low, strike while the iron is hot and invest in it right away.
71. Take a back seat : Choose to be less important in a role
E.g.: He finally decided to take a back seat and let his son run the family business.
72. Take with a grain/pinch of salt : To doubt the accuracy of information
E.g.: A lot is said about the celebrities in media, but that information should be taken with a grain of salt.
73. Take a nosedive : Rapid drop or decrease in value
E.g.: The share prices took a nosedive when there were rumors of the company’s CEO resigning.
74. Take the plunge : Venture into something of one’s interest despite the risks involved
E.g.: Jack finally took the plunge and opened a restaurant.
75. Taste of one’s own medicine : Treat people the same (unpleasant) way they treated you
E.g.: People who often disregard others should be given a taste of their own medicine.
76. Think the world of : Admire someone very much
E.g.: Emily is a wonderful teacher – children think the world of her.
77. Tight spot : A difficult situation
E.g.: The recent lawsuit has put the firm in a tight spot.
78. Tongue in cheek : (of a remark) Supposed to be taken in funny or ironic sense
E.g.: Her comment was taken more seriously than intended. It was supposed to be tongue in cheek.
79. Turn a blind eye : Pretend not to notice
E.g.: People tend to turn a blind eye to crime against women.
80. Walk on eggshells : Be extremely cautious about one’s words or actions
E.g.: Celebrities are scrutinized by the media for all their actions so they’re required to walk on eggshells.
81. Want someone’s head on a platter : Want someone to be punished severely
E.g.: “I want that murderer’s head on a platter!”, said the Chief of police.
82. Watch (someone) like a hawk : Keep eyes on or watch carefully
E.g.: The examiner watched the test takers like a hawk.
83. Water under the bridge : Something bad that happened in the past but is no longer important
E.g.: The couple had a serious fight in the past but that water is under the bridge now.
84. Wave a dead chicken : Do some useless, unhelpful thing in the hope that it will solve a problem
E.g.: Restarting the laptop once the motherboard has crashed is like waving a dead chicken.
85. Weak in the knees : Barely able to stand because of emotion, fear or illness
E.g.: The shock of being summoned by the Supreme Court made me go weak in the knees.
86. Wear many hats : Do many different types tasks
E.g.: We have such a small number of employees that one is often supposed to wear many hats.
87. Weather the storm : Succeed in surviving a difficult period of time
E.g.: Given the current global market conditions, the Indian economy is weathering the storm pretty well.
88. Wet behind the ears : Inexperienced and immature
E.g.: Instead of a full time job, she should be offered an internship as she is still wet behind the ears.
89. Whale of a time : Enjoy a lot
E.g.: She had a whale of a time in Goa with her girl gang.
90. Whistle in the dark : Pretend to be brave in a scary situation
E.g.: Upon being attacked, she blew a whistle in the dark which surprised her attackers.
91. Why keep a dog and bark for yourself : If someone or something can do a job for you, why do it yourself?
E.g.: My sister has a printer but she continues to write notes manually. Why keep a dog and bark for yourself?
92. Wide off the mark : Incorrect; Inadequate; Not what is expected
E.g.: Her answer was wide off the mark, it was impossible for me to give a better rating to it.
93. Wild goose chase : Waste time looking for something that has little chance of being found
E.g.: She tried to find out who the anonymous caller was, but it turned out to be a wild goose chase.
94. Wipe the slate clean : Make a fresh start
E.g.: When Mike was leaving home, he decided to wipe the slate clean with his dad.
95. Wolf in sheep’s clothing : Dangerous person pretending to be harmless
E.g.: I thought she was a good person, but I realized that she was a wolf in a sheep’s clothing when she backstabbed me during the selection process.
96. Work your fingers to the bone : Extreme hard work
E.g.: She totally deserves the success; she worked her fingers to the bone when she started out as a model.
97. Worm’s eye view : A perspective seen from below or from a low or inferior position
E.g.: The trainees get only a worm’s eye view of the corporate structure.
98. Worth one’s salt : Good or competent at the job or profession specified.
E.g.: She deserves respect as she is totally worth her salt.
99. Wrap one’s brain around : Concentrate on something in an effort to understand.
E.g.: I really need to wrap my brain around this concept before the exam.
100. Zero in on something : Focus all attention onto one thing.
E.g.: The teacher immediately zeroed in on the weaker students of the class.