all told

All told means the final number, when everything has been counted.
“The number of visitors to the exhibition, all told, was 2543.”

ballpark figure

If someone gives a ballpark figure, they give an approximate number or a rough estimate of the cost of something.
“I don’t know exactly how much it will cost, but a ballpark figure would be around $100 000.”

in dribs and drabs

If something comes in dribs and drabs, it arrives little by little, in small amounts or numbers.
“Instead of the big crowd we expected, people arrived in dribs and drabs.”

over the eight

If a person has had one over the eight, they are slightly drunk.
“Don’t listen to him. Can’t you see he’s had one over the eight!

at the eleventh hour

If something happens at the eleventh hour, it happens when it is almost too late, or at the last possible moment when there is hardly any hope left.
“Our team won after they scored a goal at the eleventh hour.”

fifth wheel

This expression refers to a person who find themselves in a situation where their presence is unnecessary and as a result they feel useless.
“Everyone seemed to have a specific role except me. I felt like a fifth wheel.”

first and foremost

The expression first and foremost is used to state what you consider to be more important than anything else.
First and foremost I want to thank our hosts for their wonderful reception.”

first base

When you get to (or reach) first base, you make progress or begin to have success with someone or something.
“If you go to the interview dressed like that, you won’t get to first base!”

first come first served

The expression first come first served means that there will be no favouritism or preferential treatment. People will be served strictly in the order they arrive.
“Tickets for the match will be sold on a ‘first come first served’ basis.”

(at) first hand

If you experience something yourself directly, without any intermediary, you experience it (at) first hand.
“Getting to see the performance (at) first hand is much better than watching it on television.”

first out of the gate

If you are first out of the gate, you are the first to make a start at something that others have also accepted to do.
“Sandra was so enthusiastic about the project that she was first out of the gate.”

in the first place

Something that is done in the first place is done at the beginning, before anything else.
“Why didn’t you tell me he was your boyfriend in the first place?”

(of the) first water

Something that is of the first water is of the finest or most exceptional quality (like being compared to a diamond).
“The violinist gave a performance that was of the first water.”

five finger discount

If somebody gets a five-finger discount, they take something without paying.  In other words, they steal.
“How could he afford that watch? Who knows – perhaps with a five-finger discount!”

five o’clock shadow

The expression five o’clock shadow refers to a patch of stubble on the face of a man who hasn’t shaved for at least a day.
“He looked tired and had a five o’clock shadow.”

forty winks

If you have forty winks, you have a short sleep or rest, generally during the day.
“Dad likes to have forty winks after a game of golf.”

on all fours

If you are on all fours, you are down on your hands and knees.
“When his wife arrived he was on all fours playing with his grandchildren.”

give or take (an amount or quantity)

This term is used when expressing an amount or estimate that is not exactly right.  It means ‘plus or minus’, ‘more or less’, or ‘approximately’.
“The nearest town is about 100 miles away, give or take a few miles.”

half the battle

This expression refers to a significant part of the effort or work needed to achieve something.
“We’ve already obtained a loan for the project – that’s half the battle!”

half an eye

If you have or keep half an eye on something, you watch it without giving it your full attention.
“She kept half an eye on the TV screen while she was preparing dinner.”

half a mind

If you have half a mind to do something, you are thinking seriously about it but have not yet reached a decision.
“I’ve half a mind to start up my own business, but first I need some advice.”

chance in a million

A is a very small chance, or no chance at all, that something will happen.
“There’s a chance in a million of finding the key I lost on the golf course.”

look (or feel) like a million dollars

If you look (or feel) like a million dollars, you look/feel extremely good or attractive.
“With a tan and a new hairstyle Jane looked (like) a million dollars!”

never in a million years

This expression means ‘absolutely never’.
“I will never in a million years understand why Anne married Bob.”

nine-day wonder

An event which isa nine-day wonder causes interest, surprise or excitement for a short time, but it doesn’t last.
“His sudden departure was a nine-day wonder but he was soon forgotten.”

nine times out of ten

When something happens nine times out of ten, it is what usually happens.
“The public transport system is very bad. Trains arrive late nine times out of ten.”

on cloud nine

A person who is on cloud nine is very happy because something wonderful has happened.
“When the boss announced my promotion, I was on cloud nine!”

dressed up to the nines

To describe someone as dressed up to the nines means that they are wearing very smart or glamorous clothes.
“Caroline must be going to a party – she’s dressed up to the nines.”

(talk) nineteen to the dozen

Someone who talks nineteen to the dozen speaks very quickly.
“He was talking nineteen to the dozen so I didn’t catch the whole story.”

number cruncher

This is a humorous way of referring to someone who is an accountant or who is very good at working with numbers and calculations.
“She’s a number cruncher who perfectly understands the organisation’s financial situation.”

safety in numbers

Th expression safety in numbers means that being part of a group makes people feel more secure and more confident when taking action.
“None of the group went sightseeing alone, knowing there was safety in numbers.”

one in the eye

If an event or development is an unexpected defeat or disappointment for someone, it is one in the eye for that person.
“My promotion was one in the eye for my ambitious colleague.”

at/in one fell swoop

If something is accomplished at (or in) one fell swoop, it is done in a single action, usually rapidly and ruthlessly.
“The three houses were demolished at one fell swoop.”

one foot in the grave

A person who is either very old or very ill and close to death has one foot in the grave.
“It’s no use talking to the owner. The poor man has one foot in the grave.”

one good turn deserves another

If someone helps you, it is natural and right to help them in return.
“We helped Alex and Sara when they moved into their new house, just as they helped us last year; one good turn deserves another.”

one hand washes the other (and together they wash the face)

This expression means that when people cooperate and work well together, there is a better chance of a achieving results.

(a) one-horse town

A place referred to as a one horse town is a small, boring town where nothing much ever happens.
“I wish my grandparents didn’t live in that one-horse town. It’s such a boring place!”

one over the eight

If a person has had one over the eight, they are slightly drunk.
“Don’t listen to him! Can’t you see he’s had one over the eight!”

one step ahead

When you are one step ahead of someone else, you achieve something faster than they do, or you have a slight advantage over them.
“The company is successful because they’re always one step ahead of their competitors.”

(a) one-track mind

If you have a one-track mind, you have a tendency to think about only one subject.
“The boy has a one-track mind; all he thinks about is football!”

one too many

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

one’s number is up

To say that one’s number is up means that either a person is in serious difficulty and something bad is going to happen, or the time has come when they will die.
“The police have located the escaped prisoner so it looks as if his number is up!”

one’s own undoing

If you do something that is the cause of your own failure, loss or downfall, it is your own undoing.
“If he continues to gamble like that, it will be his own undoing.”


This term refers to the art of gaining and keeping an advantage over other people.
“He’s a successful man, but his one-upmanship has left him with few friends.”

look out for number one

If you take care of yourself first, and look after your own interests rather than those of other people, you look out for number one.
“Andy’s father told him that looking out for number one should be his first priority.”

play second fiddle

If you play second fiddle to someone, you accept to be second in importance to that person, or have a lower position.
“When Charles became chairman of the family business, his brother declared that he would rather leave than play second fiddle to him.”

second a motion

During a meeting, if you second a motion, you formally agree with a proposal.
“She seconded the motion to introduce flexible working hours.”

second nature

If something you do is second nature to you, it is something that you do easily or automatically because you have done it so often or for so long.
“Skiing is second nature to Harry. He grew up in a ski resort.”

second to none

Something that is second to none is excellent or much better than any other.
“The service was perfect and the food was second to none.”

on second thoughts

‘On second thoughts’ means that after giving the matter more thought, you have changed your mind.
“My idea was to move to an apartment, but on second thoughts, I’d rather have a garden.”

in seventh heaven

If you are in seventh heaven, you are extremely happy.
“Every time she wins a match, she’s in seventh heaven!”

six of one and half a dozen of the other

This expression means that there is no real difference between two choices; both are equally good or equally bad.
“I didn’t know who to vote for. It was six of one and half a dozen of the other!”

at sixes and sevens

If someone is at sixes and sevens, they are in a state of confusion or not very well organised.
“The managers were at sixes and sevens when they were informed of the Chairman’s visit.”

a thousand times

This expresses exasperation at having constantly to repeat the same thing.
“I’ve told you a thousand times to wipe your feet before coming in!”

catch twenty-two

Acatch 22 situation refers to a frustrating situation where you cannot do one thing without doing a second, and you cannot do the second before doing the first.
“I can’t get a job without a work permit, and I can’t get a work permit without a job. It’s a catch 22 situation!”


This term refers to something which is available or happens twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
“The tourist office provided a list of 24-7 supermarkets in the area.”

two of a kind

People who are two of a kind are similar in character, attitude or tastes.
“Pete and Ben are two of a kind; they enjoy sports and are very competitive.”

two can play at that game

You say this to tell someone that you can behave towards them in the same unpleasant way that they have behaved towards you.
“He refuses to take my call? Tell him two can play at that game!”


Someone who is two-faced is deceitful or insincere; they will say one thing to your face and something else when you are not there.
“I don’t trust Billy. I find him two-faced.”

two left feet

If you have two left feet, you are clumsy or awkward in your movements.
“I’m afraid I’m a bad dancer. I’ve got two left feet!”

in two minds

If you are in two minds about something, you have difficulty deciding what to do.
“I’m in two minds about whether or not to accept the offer.”

it takes two to tango

You say this when you think that a difficult situation cannot be the fault of one person alone.
“We’ve heard only Fred’s side of the story – but it takes two to tango!”

(like) two peas in a pod

Two people who are like two peas in a pod are very similar in appearance.
“The two brothers are very alike – they’re like two peas in a pod!”

in two shakes of a lamb’s tail

To do something in two shakes of a lamb’s tail means to do it very quickly.
“Wait for me. I’ll be ready in two shakes (of a lamb’s tail).”

two-time someone

If one person two-times another, they cheat on their partner by having a romantic relationship with another person at the same time.
“Sally left Harry when she discovered he was two-timing her.”

two’s company, three’s a crowd

This is said of two people, particulary lovers, who would prefer to be alone together rather than to have someone else with them.
“I’d rather not come to the cinema with you, thanks. Two’s company …!”

the lesser of two evils

If you choose the lesser of two evils, you opt for the less unpleasant of two poor options.
“I didn’t want to go. Choosing the train instead of driving was the lesser of two evils; at least I could relax on the way.”

no two ways about it

To say that there are no two ways about it means that there is only one suitable way of dealing with something.
“There are no two ways about it. You can’t accept the money, so you must give it back.”

that makes two of us

This expression indicates agreement with what has just been said.
“I found his speech rather boring.”  “That makes two of us!”

put two and two together

To put two and two together means to reach the right conclusion based on what you see or the information you receive.
“When she saw Jill and Ben holding hands, it wasn’t hard to put two and two together!”

zero in on something

If you zero in on something, you focus all your attention on that particular thing.
“The boss immediately zeroed in on the sales figures.”

zero tolerance

If an activity or a certain type of behaviour is given zero tolerance, it will not be accepted, not even once.
“The authorities have announced zero tolerance for smoking in public buildings.”