accidentally on purpose

If you do something intentionally, but pretend it was an accident, you do it accidentally on purpose.
“I accidentally-on-purpose erased his email address, so I couldn’t contact him again.”

add fuel to the flames

If you add fuel to the flames, you do or say something that makes a difficult situation even worse.
“He forgot their wedding anniversary, and his apologies only added fuel to the flames.

all ears

To say that you are all ears means that you are listening very attentively.
“Of course I want to know – I’m all ears!

answer the call of nature
answer nature’s call

When a person answers the call of nature, they go to the toilet.
“I had to get up in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature.”

backseat driver

A passenger in a car who gives unwanted advice to the driver is called a backseat driver.
“I can’t stand backseat drivers like my mother-in-law!”

badger someone

If you badger someone into doing something, you persistently nag or pester them until you obtain what you want.
“Sophie badgered her parents into buying her a new computer.”

balancing act

When you try to satisfy two or more people or groups who have different needs, and keep everyone happy, you perform a balancing act.
“Many people, especially women, have to perform a balancing act between work and family.”

bare your heart / soul

If you bare you soul (or heart) to someone, you reveal your innermost thoughts and feelings to them.
“Mike couldn’t keep things to himself any longer. He decided to bare his soul to his best friend.”

bark up wrong tree

A person who is barking up the wrong tree is doing the wrong thing, because their beliefs or ideas are incorrect or mistaken.
“The police are barking up the wrong tree if they think Joey stole the car – he can’t drive!”

beat a (hasty) retreat

Someone who beats a (hasty) retreat runs away or goes back hurriedly to avoid a dangerous or difficult situation.
“The thief beat a hasty retreat as soon as he saw the security officer.”

be one’s best bet

The action most likely to succeed is called one’s best bet.
“Your best bet would be to try calling him at home.

bide your time

If you bide your time, you wait for a good opportunity to do something.
“He’s not hesitating, he’s just biding his time, waiting for the price to drop.”

binge drinking

This term refers to heavy drinking where large quantities of alcohol are consumed in a short space of time, often among young people in rowdy groups.
Binge drinking is becoming a major problem in some European countries.”

bite hand that feeds you

If you bite the hand that feeds you, you are unfriendly or do harm to someone who is kind to you.
“If you say bad things about the person who gives you a job, you bite the hand that feeds you.”

blot one’s copy book

Someone who blots their copy-book does something to spoil their good record or reputation.
“He blotted his copy-book when he was arrested for speeding.”

on the bottle

A person who drinks alcohol often and regularly is on the bottle.
“John went on the bottle when he lost his job.”

break every rule in the book

If you behave in a completely unacceptable way, you break every rule in the book.
“Our competitors obtained the contract by breaking every rule in the book.”

breathe down somebody’s neck

If someone is breathing down your neck, they are watching you too closely and making you feel uncomfortable.
“The atmosphere at work is not great; the boss keeps breathing down our necks all the time.”

build bridges

If a person builds bridges between opposing groups, they help them to cooperate and understand each other better.
“A mediator is trying to build bridges between the local community and the owners of the new plant.”

burn your bridges

If you burn your bridges, you do something that will be impossible to rectify in the future.
“If you refuse the offer, be careful not to burn your bridges by insulting them. They may make a better proposal later.”

burn the candle at both ends

If you burn the candle at both ends, you exhaust yourself by doing too much, especially going to bed late and getting up early.
“Scott looks exhausted – I’ll bet he’s been burning the candle at both ends lately.”

burn your fingers

If you burn your fingers (or get your fingers burnt), you suffer financially as a result of foolish behaviour.
“Jack got his fingers burnt playing on the stock market.”

bury one’s head in the sand

If you bury your head in the sand, you refuse to face the unpleasant reality by pretending that the situation doesn’t exist.
“It’s no good burying your head in the sand. We’ve got a problem on our hands.”

bury the hatchet

When people who have had a disagreement decide to forget their quarrel and become friends again, they bury the hatchet.
“I didn’t agree with my colleague’s decision, but for the sake of peace I decided to bury the hatchet.”

butter somebody up

When you butter someone up, you flatter them or you are very nice to them, especially if you want to obtain something.
“He was so keen to get the job that he spent his time buttering up the boss.”

call someone’s bluff

If you call someone’s bluff, you challenge them to do what they threaten to do (while believing that they will not dare to do it).
“After the neighbour’s threats to demolish the fence, when Jack decided to call his bluff, there were no more complaints.”

call it quits

When people temporarily stop doing something or put an end to an activity, they call it quits.
“OK, we’re all exhausted, so let’s call it quits for today.”

call a spade a spade

A person who calls a spade a spade speaks openly and truthfully about something, especially difficult matters.
“What I like about the new manager is that he calls a spade a spade – it makes things so much easier for everyone.”

cap in hand

If you do something cap in hand, you ask for something in a very respectful manner.
“They went to the teacher, cap in hand, and asked for more time to complete their project.”

carrot and stick approach

If you use a carrot-and-stick approach, you use the promise of reward and the threat of punishment to make someone work harder.
“Some parents use a carrot-and-stick approach to obtain good results from their children.”

chance something
take a chance on something

If you take a chance on something, you take action in the hope of success even though you know that the result may be negative.
“I may not be able to get through the traffic, but I’ll take a chance on it.”

chance your arm

If you chance your  arm, you decide to do something even though there is little hope of success.
“Tony knew there was little hope of getting into Harvard but he decided to chance his arm anyway.”

cheap shot

A cruel, unfair or unwarranted comment or verbal attack is called a cheap shot.
“Referring to Tom as an ‘unqualified speaker’ was really a cheap shot.”

chime in

If you chime in, you interrupt or join a conversation, especially to repeat or agree with something.
“As I explained to the bus driver what had happened, the other passengers chimed in and gave their version.”

clean up your act

The expression ‘clean up your act’ means to improve your behaviour and act in a more acceptable manner.
“You’ll have to clean up your act and comply with company rules if you want to keep your job!”

clip someone’s wings

If you clip someone’s wings, you do something to restrict their freedom.
“Taking away his credit card is a sure way to clip his wings.”

come apart at the seams

To say that someone is coming apart at the seams means that they are extremely upset or under severe mental stress.
“Bob has had so many problems lately, he’s coming apart at the seams.”

come out of the woodwork

When things, or people, come out of the woodwork, they appear or emerge unexpectedly, as if from nowhere, and usually in large numbers.
“As soon as we added the swimming pool, our children had ‘friends’ coming out of the woodwork!”

cramp someone’s style

If you cramp someone’s style you do something to prevent them from behaving freely, or performing to the best of their ability.
“I can’t paint with people watching me – it cramps my style!

cross the Rubicon

If you cross the Rubicon, you make an irreversible decision or commit to a course of action that cannot be changed.
(The Rubicon is a river in Italy crossed by Caesar and his army.)
“After careful consideration, he decided to stop teaching and open an art gallery, knowing that he was crossing the Rubicon and that there would be no turning back.”

cut the cackle

If you tell a group of people to cut the cackle, you are asking them to stop talking aimlessly and start dealing with more important or serious matters.
“OK. It’s time to cut the cackle and get down to business.”

dance attendance on someone

If you dance attendance on somebody, you are constantly available for that person and attend to all their requests.
“She’s rich and famous and expects everyone to dance attendance on her.”

dig your own grave

A person who digs their own grave does something which causes their own downfall.
“If you drop out of college now, with such high unemployment, you’ll be digging your own grave.”

disappear/vanish into thin air

If someone or something disappears or vanishes into thin air, they vanish totally and completely in a mysterious way, without leaving a trace.
“I don’t know how to contact my former colleague. After he was fired he vanished into thin air!”

dive in headfirst

If you begin something enthusiastically, without thinking about the possible consequences, you dive in headfirst.
“Tony accepted the project without realizing how much time it would take; he always dives in headfirst!”

do a disappearing act

If someone does a disappearing act, they simply vanish, especially if they have done something wrong or dishonest
“Just before the police arrived, the suspect did a disappearing act.”

do a moonlight flit

Someone who does a moonlight flit leaves a place quickly and in secret, usually to avoid paying debts.
“Just before the rent was due he did a moonlight flit.”

do more harm than good

If the effect of an action is more damaging than helpful, it does more harm than good.
“Giving him money did more harm than good – he spent it on alcohol.”

do a good turn

If you do someone a good turn, you act in a helpful way.
“Mike is a great guy – always ready to do a good turn.”

the done thing

The correct way to behave in a particular social situation is called the done thing.
“Wearing jeans to play golf is not the done thing.”

drag your feet

If you drag your feet, you delay a decision or participate without any real enthusiasm.
“The government is dragging its feet on measures to reduce pollution.”

drop names

When you drop names, you mention the names of famous people you know or have met in order to impress others.
“There goes Jack dropping names again. People will get tired of listening to him!”

eat crow

If you eat crow, you admit that you were wrong about something and apologize.
“He had no option but to eat crow and admit that his analysis was wrong.”

eat dirt

If you eat dirt, you are forced to accept bad treatment or insulting remarks without complaining.
“Found guilty of fraud and corruption, the director had to eat dirt.”

eat out of house and home

This is a humorous way of saying that someone is eating large quantities of your food.
“I stock up with food when my teenage sons invite their friends over. They’d eat you out of house and home!”

eat out of someone’s hand

If you eat out of somebody’s hand, you are eager to please and will accept to do anything that person asks.
“She is so persuasive that she has people eating out of her hand in no time.”

ego trip

If you do something primarily to draw attention to yourself and feel important or superior to others, you are on an ego trip.
“His speech about creating an association to help the underprivileged was one long ego trip.”

err on the side of caution

When uncertain about what to do, if you err on the side of caution you do more than what is adequate rather than take any risks.
“When I’m not sure how much food to prepare, I tend to err on the side of caution and prepare far too much.”

excuse/pardon my French

This expression is used as an apology for using crude or offensive language.
“He’s a bloody nuisance, if you’ll excuse my French.”

fall over backwards

If you fall over backwards to accomplish something, you do everything you possibly can to please and impress.
“Sally’s mother fell over backwards to make her wedding reception a memorable event.”

false move

In a dangerous or risky situation, if you make a false move, you do something which may have unpleasant consequences.
“He is under close surveillance. If he makes one false move he’ll be arrested”

feed the kitty

If you feed the kitty, you contribute to a collection of money called a ‘kitty’ in order to help a good cause.
“Come on! Every little helps. You should feed the kitty for a good cause!”

fiddling while Rome burns

To say that someone is fiddling while Rome burns means that they are doing unimportant things while there are serious problems to be dealt with. me
“His visit to the trade fair during the strike was ‘fiddling while Rome burns‘ according to the workers.”

fight a losing battle

If someone is fighting a losing battle, they are trying to do something even when there is little chance of succeeding.
“The headmaster is fighting a losing battle trying to ban mobile phones at school.”

fight shy

If you fight shy of something, such as a task, a problem or a duty, you want to avoid doing it or you are unwilling to confront it.
“He had money problems for years but he fought shy of asking his children for help.”

have a finger in every pie

If someone has a finger in every pie, they are involved in a large and varied number of activities and enterprises.
“For information about the activities in this town, you should talk to John Brown.  He’s got a finger in every pie.”

fish for compliments

When someone is obviously waiting for you to say something nice, they are fishing for compliments.
“I know why she invited us to her new house – she’s just fishing for compliments.”

fling yourself into something

If you fling yourself into an activity, you do it with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
“Ever since she flung herself in the anti-pollution campaign, she rarely has a free moment!”

follow your nose

If you follow your nose, you go straight ahead.
(This can also mean to follow your instinct in life.)
“The station is at the end of the road – just follow your nose.”

follow in someone’s footsteps

If you follow in someone’s footsteps, for example a parent, you lead a similar life or do the same job.
“Lily followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a teacher.”

foul your own nest

If you act in a way that harms your own interests, your position or your reputation, you foul your own nest.
“He fouled his own nest by wrongly accusing his boss.”

freeze somebody out

If you deliberately isolate someone or prevent them from participating in a social or business activity by treating them unfairly or harshly, you freeze them out.
“Pablo was treated unfairly. The rest of the team just decided to freeze him out of the project.”

(take) French leave

If you leave an official or social event without notifying the person who invited you, you take French leave.
“Is Bill coming back for the closing speech or has he taken French leave?”

a Freudian slip

A Freudian slip is a mistake made by a speaker which is considered to reveal their true thoughts or feelings.
“So you got the job – I’m so sad … Sorry, I mean ‘glad’!”


If someone gatecrashes, they attend a private social event without being invited.
“We need volunteers to keep an eye out for gatecrashers tonight.”

get on your high horse

If you get on your high horse, you start behaving in a haughty manner, as though you should be treated with more respect.
“He got on his high horse when he was asked to show his membership card.”

give as good as you get

This expression means that you are prepared to treat people as badly as they treat you, and defend yourself, especially in an argument or fight.
“Don’t worry about the bullies at school. Charlie can look after himself and give as good as he gets.”

give someone the cold shoulder

To give someone the cold shoulder means to deliberately ignore them, treat them in a cold manner or stop being friendly with them.
“I don’t understand. Since we had lunch with Tom and Jane they’ve been giving us the cold shoulder.”

give someone a hard time

If you give someone a hard time, you annoy them or make things difficult for them.
“Susan says the pupils in her new school are giving her a hard time.”

give someone a run for their money

If you give someone a run for their money, you present strong competition in circumstances where the other person expects to win easily.
“We didn’t win the match but we gave the other team a run for their money

give someone the run-around

If someone gives you the run-around, they deliberately give you confusing information or evasive answers.
“I’m trying to contact the manager, but every time I call the firm I’m given the run-around.”

give the shirt off your back

This expression is used to describe a kind-hearted or generous person who would give you anything he/she owns to help you.
“Mike would give the shirt off his back to help a friend in difficulty.”

give the slip

If you give the slip to somebody who is following you, you manage to hide or get away from them.
“The police were on his trail, but the suspect managed to give them the slip.”

give a taste of their own medicine

If you give someone a taste of their own medicine, you treat them in the same unpleasant way that they have treated you.
“People who always arrive late should be given a taste of their own medicine.”

go through the motions

If someone goes through the motions, they do something because they have to do it, but without enthusiasm.
“After his wife died, he tried to continue life as before, but he just went through the motions.”

go too far

If you go too far, you do something that is considered extreme or unacceptable.
“Stealing is bad, but stealing from a poor person is really going too far!”

go into overdrive

If someone or something goes into overdrive, they begin to work very hard or start to perform intensely.
“At the start of every new collection my imagination goes into overdrive.”

go off on a tangent

If someone goes off on a tangent, they change the subject completely in the middle of a speech or conversation.
“Sometimes when he’s teaching, he goes off on a tangent and starts talking about his dog!”

go off the rails

If someone goes off the rails, they go out of control and begin to behave in a manner that is unacceptable to society.
“Given the unstable environment, it’s a miracle that none of their children ever went off the rails.”

go out of your way

If you go out of your way, you take particular care or make a special effort when doing something.
“Aunt Betty went out of her way to make us feel comfortable”

go to extremes

People who go to extremes behave in a way that lacks moderation.
“My parents tend to go to extremes. They live on a tight budget and then they go on expensive holidays!”

go to pieces

If you go to pieces, for example after a terrible shock, you are so upset or distressed that you cannot lead a normal life.
“Jack nearly went to pieces when his son died in a car crash.”

go with the flow

If you go with the flow, you follow the general tendency and go along with whatever happens.
“When my colleagues organise an office party, I just go with the flow.”

grease the skids

When you grease the skids, you facilitate something or smooth the way for its success.
“Lunch was organised for the delegates before the meeting in order to grease the skids for the negotiations.”

grin and bear it

When faced with a difficult or unpleasant situation, if you say that someone will have to grin and bear it, you mean that they will have to accept it without complaining.
“The only seat available is on a low-cost flight. You’ll just have to grin and bear it!”

groan inwardly

If you groan inwardly, you would like to express despair, disapproval or distress, but you remain silent
“On his return, when Pete saw the pile of files on his desk, he groaned inwardly.”

handle with kid gloves

If you handle someone with kid gloves, you treat them very carefully or tactfully, either because they are very important or because they are easily upset or offended.
“He’s so determined to obtain her agreement that he is handling her with kid gloves.”

haul someone over the coals

If you haul someone over the coals,you reprimand them harshly because they have done something wrong or incorrectly.
“Tony was hauled over the coals for the poor quality of his presentation.”

have one too many

Someone who has one too many, has drunk too much alcohol.
“I think Steve has had one too many – he’s talking rubbish!”

have the nerve

If you do something rude, impudent or inappropriate, without any embarrassment or shyness, it is said that you have the nerve to do it.
“Jenny had the nerve to attend the ceremony wearing jeans!”

have a stab at something

If you have a stab at something, you try something that you have never had a chance to do before.
“I had a stab at surfing once but I decided not to renew the experience!”

help a lame dog over a stile

If you help a lame dog over a stile, you help someone who is in difficulty or trouble, or come to the aid of a person in need.
“You can trust him – he’s always ready to help a lame dog over a stile.”

herd mentality

People with the herd mentality tend to do what everyone else does, no matter how ridiculous or stupid.
“One example of herd mentality is when people rush to get on the first bus when there are several empty ones waiting.”

hit below the belt

If you do something considered to be unfair, or make a cruel remark, you hit below the belt.
“Politicians sometimes use personal information to hit their rivals below the belt.”

hit the panic button

When you hit or press the panic button, you raise the alarm too quickly or react too hastily in a difficult or stressful situation.
“Calm down! There’s no need to hit the panic button yet!”

hold the fort

When you hold the fort, you look after a place or a business in the absence of the person who is normally in charge.
“Rosie, could you hold the fort please while I go to the post office?”

hold your own

If you can hold your own, you are well able to defend yourself when under attack.
“We should ask Jane to represent us; she can hold her own in any argument.”

(a) hue and cry

If there is a hue and cry about something, there is loud opposition to it.
“There will no doubt be a great hue and cry when the reorganisation is announced.”

jump in (at) the deep end

When you jump in (or are thrown in) at the deep end, you do something without any help or preparation, in an area where you have little or no experience.
“He got a job as a salesman, for which he had no training, so he just had to jump in at the deep end.”

keep your feet on the ground

A person who keeps their feet on the ground continues to act in a sensible and practical way, even if they become successful.
“His invention was an instant success but he kept his feet on the ground and invested his money very wisely.”

keep your fingers crossed

If you keep your fingers crossed, you hope that something will be successful.
“I’m doing my driving test tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed for me!”

keep a level head

If you keep a level head,  you remain calm and sensible no matter how difficult or distressful the situation may be.
“All through the hijacking the pilot kept a level head.”

keep your nose clean

A person who keeps their nose clean behaves well and avoids trouble.
“He spent a term in prison a few years ago but he’s kept his nose clean ever since.”

keep your nose to the grindstone

A person who keeps their nose to the grindstone is someone who concentrates on working or studying hard.
“She was so determined to get into the college of her choice that she kept her nose to the grindstone all year.”

keep someone posted

If someone asks you to keep them posted, they want you to keep them informed about a situation.
“Our agent promised to keep us posted on developments in the negotiations.”

keep things in proportion

If you react to a situation in a sensible way, without exaggerating the importance or seriousness of the facts, you keep things in proportion.
“Yes, we’ve got a problem, but let’s try to keep things in proportion.”

kick up a fuss

A person who kicks up a fuss creates a disturbance, especially by complaining or protesting about something.
“The service was so slow in the restaurant that several customers began to kick up a fuss.”

kill two birds with the one stone

If you kill two birds with the one stone, you succeed in doing two things at the same time.
“By studying on the train on the way home, Claire kills two birds with one stone.”

kill with kindness

When you are excessive in your efforts to be helpful or generous, you can harm someone, or kill them with kindness.
“The children are overweight, but their grandmother continues to give them chocolates and cookies – she’ll kill them with kindness!”

lash out

If you lash out at somebody, you attack them, usually verbally.
“On the ninth hole, Pete suddenly lashed out at Scott and accused him of cheating”

laugh something off

When you laugh about something that has upset or hurt you, to make it seem less important or to try to show that you do not care, you laugh it off.
“She overheard her colleague’s critical remark, but she laughed it off.”

laugh up your sleeve

If you laugh up your sleeve, you are secretly amused at another person’s problems or difficulties.
“Tom felt that his demonstration was confusing and that his colleague was laughing up his sleeve.”

leave well alone

If you leave well alone, you decide not to interfere with or change something that is acceptable or adequate.
“It would be hard to get a better deal. Let’s just leave well alone.”

lend yourself to something

If you lend yourself to something, you approve of it or become associated with it.
“No decent father would lend himself to violent behaviour.”

let off steam

A person who lets off steam releases surplus energy or strong feelings either through intense physical activity or by talking in an unrestrained manner.
“Let’s bring the kids to the playground so they can let off steam.”

let sleeping dogs lie

If you tell someone to let sleeping dogs lie, you are asking them not to interfere with a situation or talk about a past disagreement to avoid causing more problems.
“Look, they’ve settled their differences so don’t start stirring things up. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.”

let something ride

When you decide to do nothing about a particular situation and allow it to remain as it is, you let it ride.
“Bill didn’t like the way his wife spoke to the operator, but he let it ride because he didn’t want another quarrel.”

lick into shape

If you make an effort to put someone or something into satisfactory condition or appearance, you lick them into shape.
“I’ve got to lick this place into shape before my in-laws arrive.”

look down your nose

If someone looks down their nose at a person or thing, they consider that person or thing as inferior.
“Intellectuals often look down their noses at amusement parks and such.”

make an ass of yourself

If you behave so stupidly that you appear ridiculous, you make an ass of yourself.
“Tom made an ass of himself by singing a love song outside Laura’s door!”

make the best of things

If you make the best of things, you react in a positive way to an unsatisfactory situation that you cannot change and do the best you can with it.
“The apartment was badly located, but the rent was low, so they decided to make the best of things.”

make light of something

If you make light of something , you behave as though it is less serious than it really is.
“He won several awards for his work but he made light of it when the subject was mentioned.”

make light work of something

If a person makes light work of something, they do it very easily or with little effort.
“The boys made light work of the cleaning up. The house was spotless in no time.”

make mincemeat of

If you make mincemeat of someone or something, you completely and utterly defeat or destroy them.
“A good lawyer would make mincemeat of your rival’s accusations.”

make a mountain out of a molehill

If someone makes a mountain out of a molehill, they make a small, unimportant problem seem much more serious than it is.
“Stop making mountains out of molehills! It’s not a major problem.”

make no bones about something

If you make no bones about something, you don’t hesitate to say what you think in a frank and open way.
“I made no bones about it. I told him his offer was unacceptable.”

make nothing of something

If you make nothing of something, you attach no importance to it.
“It took him an hour to walk to the station but he made nothing of it.”

make short work of something

If you make short work of something, you do it or finish it quickly.
“The players were hungry after the match so they made short work of the food.”

make someone see reason

If you make someone see reason, you persuade them to stop acting foolishly and behave more sensibly.
“He wanted to drop out of medical school in his fourth year but his uncle managed to make him see reason.”

make up for lost time

If you make up for lost time, you increase your efforts or work harder to complete something or meet a deadline.
“Progress has stopped because of bad weather, but we are determined to make up for lost time.”

mind your Ps and Qs

If you tell someone to mind their Ps and Qs, you are advising them to be careful about how they behave and what they say.
“Politeness is very important to my grandparents, so mind your Ps and Qs.”

one good turn deserves another

This expression means that when somebody helps you, you should do something helpful in return.
“You took my kids to school last week, so I’ll take yours this week. One good turn deserves another! “

out of character

If you do something that is out of character, it is unlike your usual behaviour or not what is expected from you.
“The way she panicked was out of character for such a normally calm person.”

same old story

This expression refers to an unpleasant situation that frequently occurs in the same way as before.
“Why am I annoyed with my brother ? It’s the same old story: he borrows money from me and « forgets » to pay me back!”