All materials on this site are Copyright 2004-2017 www.Speak-Read-Write.com and free, downloadable, and printable for classroom use, or personal use.
Each copy must show "Copyright www.Speak-Read-Write.com"
These materials must not be sold.
Please respect our copyright; do not republish our materials or mp3s on the Internet.
Websites which link to this site must give credit in the link title
as "Speak, Read, Write".
Links must be to the home page at https://www.speak-read-write.com, not to an internal page of this site.
Do not link to us with php links, trap our page in your frame, hotlink, or link directly to mp3s.
Users or sites which violate this use agreement will be blocked. Questions? Contact
Idioms, Slang, Phrasal Verbs, Colloquialisms, Cliches, and Proverbs,
with Context Examples (about 100)
Expressions are alphabetized according to the first word in the
expression. Spelling is Canadian. If you wish to change the
document to U.S. spelling, you can download it as a word processing
document and then run it through your U.S. spell checker to catch
words like "honourable," "chequing
account," and so on before you print it.
Pronouns have been used instead of names in almost all cases to
avoid obvious ethnicity in the examples. The English language has no
room to maneuver around using either "he" or "she;"
because of this, please consider that any use of "he" could
just as well be "she," and vice versa.
The language in the context examples is not intentionally aimed at
any job class or occupation. Many situations described had to be
stated negatively since the particular idiom is used that way. Some
idioms are used almost exclusively to refer to one occupation.
Warning to students: many of these expressions are far too
informal for formal writing. If you are not familiar with an
expression you see here, and need to know if you may use it in formal
written work, ask your teacher. Decisions about the use of idioms in
formal writing are often decided on a case-by-case basis, one at a
time. I have not had time to make these decisions and mark
acceptability partly because there would be hundreds of decisions to be made!
Besides, how can I judge what you or your teacher will find
acceptable in your situation?
However, there was one type of marking I could not resist doing.
Parenthesized idioms (shown like this), are worn-out expressions. You
might hear them or read them somewhere, but if you avoid using them,
you just might make the world a better place.
Square brackets [ ] enclose an expression similar in meaning to
the expression before the brackets.
- Suggestions for student use:
- Replace some of the non-idiom
words with blanks, use the structure and the idiom as it stands, and
form different sentences. This is a type of pattern practice.
How much can you guess about who might be speaking the idiom from the
clues in the context? Can tell a story about these people?
- Can you define the idioms from the context? Do you know an
equivalent expression in another language?
Some of the context is in "direct speech" form, but without quotation
marks, or speaker identification. Some of the context is in
"reported speech" form. Can you identify which is which, and change the
"reported speech" forms into "direct speech" and add quotation marks
wherever they are necessary?
Do some research into the background of some of the more interesting
idioms (using the Internet or a good dictionary).
Can you spice up the idioms by using names of people, trade names,
brand names, and company names where possible?
Can you group some of these idioms into patterns within a metaphor
structure (for example "finances" and "war," we "fight inflation.")
Compose a short story using several idioms together, perhaps part of a
group using one word. For an examples of this, see my stories "The Night Out"
(with optional mp3 audio) and
"Up to Something"
(with optional mp3 audio)
on other pages of this website.
The firefighters suspect that the fire wasn't started by lightning, but by
a firebug. They think a young person who was seen running away just as
the blaze started set the place on fire.
a free trial
We received an offer in the mail today for a six-month free trial subscription
for my husband's favorite magazine.
a lame excuse
She really didn't want to go to the party, but when she told her boyfriend
why, he didn't believe the reason she gave. He said she was just giving
him a lame excuse.
a life line
The life line for the aid supplies to the disaster area cut right across
their land. The aid vehicles passed by every day on the road out front.
That loan from the bank has proven to be a real lifesaver for our young
business. It was there when we needed it the most.
a lightning rod
They put up a high metal pole with a ground wire on the house roof to
attract the lightning so it wouldn't hit the other buildings on the
a line of sight
The men approaching over the fields were directly in the observer's line of
site as he watched them through his binoculars.
As the girl dropped the candy wrapper on the ground, her brother reached
down and picked it up. "Don't be such a litterbug," he said.
They aren't legally married, just living together, so she is his live-in
a live wire
She is awake early and very active all day --- a real live wire.
She made her livelihood working in the office of the local oil company. The
job paid well, and had fairly good benefits.
a living death
He remembered how gaunt she looked after the accident. She had complained
that without her health, she was experiencing a living death.
a living room
Take that cake into the front room and set it on the coffee table for the
guests. That's right, into the living room where we do our entertaining.
a living wage
The boy knew he couldn't make the same pay his father did, but the job
offer promised enough money to live on, a living wage.
a loan shark
The man came at midnight to bully his father and demand that he pay the
debt immediately. The boy hadn't realized his father went to a loan
shark for money.
The guiding principle behind our way of life could be called a lodestar.
Like the star over the pole, it shows us where we are and which way to
a log boom
First the trees were cut down, limbed, and sawn
into logs. Then some logs were chained into a circle, enclosing other logs.
This log boom was then taken down river to the mill.
That youngest one in the family frequently comes
to school in torn clothes. He looks like a real ragamuffin.
a rule of thumb
The rule of thumb for writing parallel sentences is to use the same
grammatical structure in each clause.
a skiff of snow
Since she had grown up in snow country, she didn't mind when then got a few
centimeters of snow the other day. To her, that was just a skiff of
snow, nothing major.
a slow poke
The oldest girl in the group dragged behind the rest, reading as she was
walking. "Come on, slow poke," one of her sisters yelled.
a treasure trove
The young boy looked at the huge library with joy in his eyes. He thought
he had found a real treasure trove of stories, enough to last him for
a trial size
When she got the mail out of the box, she found a small bottle of shampoo.
The manufacturer had sent her a trial size and a coupon for more
a welcoming committee
You would wonder why they sent out their ferocious dog to greet the
strangers in the dark. What an awful welcoming committee that must have
a white lie
He didn't want to hurt her by refusing to come to the party, so he told
her a little white lie. He said he had a previous commitment for the
same time as the dance.
Those two groups argued their way through the town meeting. They are always
at loggerheads about something or other.
There was a lot of foot traffic by her door on the weekends when the beach
was full. She didn't mind. She just sat on her front porch and watched
people as they passed.
You would think she didn't have a care in the world. She seemed to be such
a happy-go-lucky girl, always singing and smiling.
in lieu of
You will have to accept another color because the supplier is out of stock.
Will you take a gold one in lieu of the blue one you ordered?
in light of
In light of the fact that you did so much homework last night, you can
take the next night off. But remember, you can't take two nights off,
in recent memory
Most townspeople could not remember how long it had been since the family
had lived at the old homestead. As far as anyone knew, no one had been
there in many decades, and certainly not in recent memory.
like a bolt out of the blue
His offer of marriage came on the third date, before they knew each other
well, just like a bolt out of the blue.
"Fraidy cat, fraidy cat, you're just chicken," the small boy hooted. "And who
are you to call me a lily-livered coward, when you won't do it yourself?" his
older sister demanded.
They said he was funny, off-the-wall, a little off his rocker, out of his
head, crazy, and just plain loco.
not on your life
Do you think I would go out there in the freezing cold when it is thirty
degrees below zero without wearing a warm coat and mittens? Not
on your life I wouldn't.
part and parcel of
She works full time. He doesn't like it, but that is just part and parcel of who she
is as a professional.
Shoddy work, poor quality, done too quickly,
the whole project was just slapdash, throw it together.
The graduation party ended at the restaurant, and the group left noisily. The
other diners watched them carefully as they drove away, remarking to each other
about how silly and slaphappy they were.
the boob tube
In the early days of television, the nickname for the TV was the boob
tube, because people watched stupidly like boobs, without thinking.
the livelong day
"Sakes alive," said the grandmother, "I have never seen so much mess in all my
born days. It'll probably take you young ones the rest of the livelong
day to clean it up."
to be a skinflint
He is so tight with money. He won't even buy his daughter a new pair of
good shoes. He is a real skinflint.
to be at liberty
She has been sworn to secrecy. She is not at liberty to discuss the
settlement before it is made public.
to be letter perfect
The five-year-old was frustrated when she tried to write her full name.
"It's okay, dear," her mother said, "it doesn't have to be letter
to be level-headed
When he saw the kids push the dog into the creek,
he did what any level-headed person would; he waded into the frigid water and pulled
the tiny dog out.
to be liable
I don't trust him. He is liable to lie to me if I ask him directly what
he did with my money. Remember, he lied the last time I asked.
to be light-fingered
The toddler grabbed the candy bar and ran out of the store. When her mother
caught her and returned the candy to the store, she said "Please
forgive her. She isn't light-fingered. She is too young to steal. She
doesn't know that we have to pay money for what we take home."
to be lightheaded
The young woman had an allergy to chocolate, and felt light-headed,
quite dizzy and faint, after she ate the cake. She asked the cook, and found
out the cake was iced with white chocolate.
to be off limits
The construction zone is off limits to anyone who is not wearing a hard hat.
to be on the level
He says he didn't swipe his brother's allowance,
but I don't think his story is on the level. I think he took it.
to be smack dab in the middle of
He secretly hoped there would be a false fire alarm when they were smack
dab in the middle of the exam, but he was disappointed.
to be not someone's business
It's not my business how much you make, what your religion is, or who you
vote for. That's your own business, it is private.
to bone up on
Tomorrow is the final exam, so he is at home boning up on the major and minor
parts of the course.
to dawn on
Someday it will dawn on the family how fortunate they are to have that little
girl, and they will really understand their good fortune.
to do one's level best
The small girl was doing her level best to draw a perfect circle, but she
fretted and tore up the paper after each try.
to feel it in one's bones
She just knew something had happened to her cat when it didn't come home
that night. She said she felt it in her bones.
to get a
"Can you believe she turned him down when he asked her for a date?" "Whoa,
get a load of that kind of snobby attitude," the two women whispered to
to get in a passle of trouble
If he doesn't find another backer for his scheme
soon, he'll get in a passle of trouble with his bank.
to get skunked
They went fishing early this morning and caught
zip. There is nothing like getting skunked, but hey, there's always next time.
to hang on for dear life
Once the horse started really running, the wagon came around the corner too
fast, and he grabbed the side and hung on for dear life.
to have a bone to pick
He came in the room and looked at her like he had a bone to pick. Sure
enough, with the first words out of his mouth, he started a fight.
to keep a stiff upper lip
That family is quite reserved. Their grandmother died recently, but nearly
all of them kept a stiff upper lip at the funeral, and didn't break
down and cry.
to lift someone's spirits
The cake she made for him really lifted his spirits, and he no longer felt
to lie in wait for
The cat was lying in wait for the mouse as it came out of its mouse hole.
to lie low
He thinks he flunked the exam, so he is lying low until his Dad leaves for
work tonight, hoping he won't ask about it.
to lie through one's teeth
The young boy said he had not seen his brother's new toy airplane, but
everyone in the family knew he was lying through his teeth.
to light into
The mother found her daughter's closet full of new clothes, and really lit
into her about spending so much money.
to light out
Those crooks didn't stick around when their fraud was discovered, but lit out
for another town far away.
to lighten up
Do you think he can stop being so serious around her, and just lighten up
to limber up
The exercise class was doing well after several weeks. Many members
reported they had been limbering up nicely, gaining flexibility each
to lip read
She can't hear you over the motor, so she will have to lip read.
to lip sync
The vocal group says they don't sing to taped backup and just lip sync, but
few people believe them.
They will probably quit business and liquidate their stock soon. If they do,
some big sales are on the way.
to live and let live
Those two couples won't quit their disagreements at family gatherings, even
though the rest of the family tells them to back off and live and let
to live down
Now that he has become a juvenile delinquent, it will be hard for him to
live down what he has done. Everyone in his hometown knows about it.
to live it up
Now that the course is over, we can really live it up a little, and
to live out
If you expect good things, and you live out your life the way you expect,
you will be a happy person.
to live through
That family has lived through so many things, one more thing gone wrong
probably won't affect them too much.
to live together
They aren't living together anymore. They went their separate ways last
spring. Their baby is two years old now.
to live up to
He wants to live up to their expectations, but they expect so much that is
nearly impossible for him to do. One thing I can say, is that he is
living up to his reputation as a flirt.
The two boys were sitting on the back porch, playing cards, sipping cold
drinks, and just loafing.
If you hang around the train station, they will tell you to leave. They
don't like people loitering.
to make light of
She tried to make light of her troubles, but her mother asked some hard
questions. Finally, she broke down and told her the truth.
to make no bones about
He doesn't like his mother-in-law, and she knows. He doesn't hide it all.
He makes no bones about it.
to make off with
The two thieves made off with many art works from the museum's collection.
to mean business
The boy's father sat down on the boy's bed and told him he wanted him to
stop fighting with his sister. The boy could tell his father was very serious,
and really meant business.
to pay lip service to
She isn't really being sincere, she is just paying lip service to get a
promotion at the company.
to pull a boner
He really made a mistake that time, pulled a real boner.
to raise a ruckus
"You don't have to raise a ruckus to get fed, now settle down," the mother
told her screaming toddler.
to see the light
He will eventually come around to our point of view and see the light
about the whole affair.
to sit bolt upright
The girl had a nightmare, and crying, suddenly sat bolt upright in bed,
to skim off profits
One of the clerks has been dishonest with the financial records of the
company, skimming off the profits without the owners knowing.
to skip town
The man who impersonated a physician closed up shop suddenly and skipped
town, disappearing during the night.
to skip trace
The credit department of the company will find the people who owe them
money, skip tracing them to where they are now.
to smack of
That idea is so self-serving, it smacks of self-interest.
to suck the life out of
The foreign company sucked the life out of the failing mill. They sold the
stockpiled lumber, bled the profits, and then closed the mill.
to take liberties
Be very careful with the essay on that exam. Don't take any liberties with
the essay structure, grammar, or word choice.
to the letter
They want you to follow their instructions exactly, right to the letter.
to tide someone over
There is enough money in the bank to tide the family over until the strike at
the plant is over.
to try out for
He wants to try out for the team. If he is good enough, they will let him join.
to use one's leverage
He promised to use his leverage at the store to get a special deal for his
brother-in-law. He knows the owner personally, and his brother does not.
Copyright 2004-2015 Sally Jennings www.speak-read-write.com
Speak Read Write Educational Resources
Speak Read Write Home