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Sino-Canadian International College, Guangxi University, Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas
for Reading Lessons...
Objectives: To help students understand the
meaning of idioms when reading anything in English.
What are Idioms?
Idioms are sayings or phrases which do not make much sense when looked at in
normal English language. They are expressions which have no logical
structure. For example the term "Red Herring", is an idiom meaning
"false trail". It is used to mean something which is not red and
not a herring.
to Z of Common Idioms:
ace: make an "A" on a test, homework assignment, project, etc.
"Somebody said you aced the test, that's great!"
right (1): expression of reluctant agreement.
A: "Come to the party with me. Please!"
B: "Oh, all right. I don't want to, but I will."
right (2): fair; not particularly good.
A: "How's your chemistry class?"
B: "It's all right, I guess, but it's not the best class I've ever
right (3): unharmed; in satisfactory condition.
A: "You don't look normal. Are you all right?"
B: "Yes, but I have a headache."
then some: and much more besides.
A: "I'd guess your new computer cost about $2,000. "
B: "It cost that much and then some because I also bought extra RAM and
easy as pie: very easy.
"I thought you said this was a difficult problem. It isn't. In fact,
it's as easy as pie."
the eleventh hour: at the last minute; almost too late.
"Yes, I got the work done in time. I finished it at the eleventh hour,
but I wasn't late.
bad-mouth: say unkind, unflattering, embarrassing (and probably untrue)
things about someone.
A: "I don't believe what Bob said. Why is he bad-mouthing me?"
B: "He's probably jealous of your success."
a piece of cake: be very easy.
A: "Bob said the test was difficult, but I thought it was a piece of
all ears: be eager to hear what someone has to say.
A: "I just got an e-mail message from our old friend Sally."
B: "Tell me what she said. I'm all ears!"
broke: be without money.
"No, I can't lend you ten dollars. I'm completely broke until
on the go: be very busy (going from one thing or project to another).
"I'm really tired. I've been on the go all week long."
on the road: be traveling.
"You won't be able to contact me tomorrow because I'll be on the
up and running: (for a technological process) be operational; be ready to
"...been up and running since December 1995."
used to (+Ving/noun): be accustomed to; not uncomfortable with.
"It won't be hard to get up at 5:00 AM. I'm used to getting up
around the bush: evade an issue; avoid giving a direct answer.
"Quit beating around the bush! If you don't want to go with me, just
me: I have no idea.
A: "What time's the party?"
B: "Beats me!"
A: "I'm really tired of working."
B: "Just be patient. The weekend will be here before long."
off more than one can chew: take responsibility for more than one can
"I'm really behind with my project. Can you help me? I'm afraid I
bit off more than I could chew!"
a very talkative person--especially one who says things that should be kept
"Don't say anything to Bob unless you want the whole office to know.
Bob's quite a blabbermouth."
one's top: become extremely angry.
A: "Was your father upset when you came home at 3 AM?"
B: "He was more than upset. He blew his top!"
bottom line: the most essential information.
"The discussion lasted many hours. The bottom line was that
the XYZ Company isn't for sale."
a leg!: Good luck!
"I understand you have a job interview tomorrow. Break a leg!"
someone's heart: make someone feel very disappointed/discouraged/sad.
"Joe broke his mother's heart when he dropped out of school."
"I'm trying to concentrate! Don't bug me!"
the midnight oil: study/work all night or until very, very late at night.
"I'm not ready for the test tomorrow. I guess I'll have to
burn the the midnight oil."
the skin of one's teeth: barely succeed in doing something.
"I'll have to start earlier the next time. This time I only finished by
the skin of my teeth."
call it a day: stop work for the day.
"It's late and you've accomplished a lot. Why don't you call it a
make heads or tails of something: can't understand something at all; find
something confusing and illogical.
"I can't make heads or tails of your e-mail. Were you having problems
with your computer?"
one's eye: attract one's attention/interest.
"This brochure about Tahiti caught my eye when I was at the travel
some Zs: sleep for a while; take a nap.
"You look tired, Dave. Why don't you catch some Zs?"
your mind: decide to do something different from what had been decided
A: "Why are you working this week? I thought you were going to be on
B: "I changed my mind. I'm taking my vacation next month."
"How's the chow in the university cafeteria?"
"It's almost 6:00. Are you ready to chow down?"
cinch: something that's very easy to do.
A: How was the test?
B: It was a cinch. I finished it quickly and I know that all my answers were
it!: calm down.
"There's no need to be so upset. Just cool it!"
an arm and a leg: cost a lot; be very expensive.
A: "Your new car is really nice."
B: "It should be. It cost (me) an arm and a leg!"
try to learn as much as possible in a very short time.
"Sidney did well on the test because he crammed for it. However, he
won't remember any of the information a couple of days from now."
course: short course designed to give a lot of knowledge/information in a
very short time.
"Tom's company is sending him to a business meeting in Istanbul.
Should he take a crash course in Turkish?"
it out!: stop doing something (that's annoying).
"You kids are making too much noise. Cut it out!"
Don't count your chickens before they hatch: Don't assume that something
will happen until it has happened.
A: I'm sure that I'm going to win a lot of money in Las Vegas."
B: "Don't count your chickens until they hatch!"
uncertain; taking too much of a chance.
A: A friend of mine says I can make a lot of money if I buy stock in the XYZ
company. Should I do it?
B: I wouldn't if I were you. The chances for success are too dicey."
in the dumps: depressed; "blue."
A: "Is something wrong?"
B: "Not really, but I feel kind of down in the dumps."
someone a line: write to someone.
"I haven't written to my parents for a long time. I'd better drop them
today or tomorrow."
one's feet: delay; take longer than necessary to do something.
"Joe should have finished his project a week ago. Why is he dragging
an eager beaver: a person who is always willing to volunteer or do extra
"Jan is certainly an eager beaver. Any time there's work to be done,
she's the first to say she'll help."
does it!: Be very careful! / Don't do anything too fast or too hard!
A: "I'm going to move the table just a little further from the
B: "Easy does it! If you move too fast, you might knock over the
egghead: a very intelligent person.
"Jake didn't make very good grades in school, but his sister was a real
grease: hard work; effort.
"Yes, the car is pretty dirty, but it'll look nice again with a little
far-fetched: difficult to accept; difficult to believe.
"That story's pretty far-fetched. Nobody's going to believe it."
blue: feel sad and depressed.
"I'm feeling blue because I haven't had any mail except bills for a
long, long time."
someone: dismiss someone from a job because of poor performance.
"If you continue to be late for work, the company will fire you."
get going: leave.
"Look at the time! I'd better get going!"
a kick out of something: find something amusing.
"I really get a kick out of listening to children talk. They say some
very funny things."
lost!: go away
"I wish he'd get lost and stop bothering me. I don't want to talk to
on one's nerves: irritate someone; make someone upset.
"I know you like that song, but it's getting on my nerves. Can you play
a move on: hurry
"If you don't want to be late, you'd better get a move on."
one's wires crossed: be confused or mistaken about something.
A: "Bill said there was a meeting this morning. Don't we have
B: "No. The meeting's tomorrow. I guess Bill got his wires
out of hand: become out of control; become badly managed.
"Your absences are getting out of hand, Bob. You'd better do something
quickly to improve the situation if you want to keep your job."
real!: Be realistic! / Don't be naive.
A: "I'm going to Las Vegas. I know I'll win a lot of money!"
B: "Get real! You'll probably lose a lot of money!"
up and go: energy.
"I'm really tired. I don't have any get up and go."
with the flow: take things as they come.
"There's no need to worry. Everything will be OK if you just go with
a bite: get something to eat.
"I'm really hungry. Would you like to grab a bite with me?"
hard feelings: anger; animosity; bitter feelings.
A: "I'm sorry that Jim got the job instead of you."
B: "I have no hard feelings toward him; I know that he had stronger
stubborn; inflexible; unwilling to change.
"I don't think Julie will change her mind. She's pretty
(verb): annoy; bother; interrupt one's normal routine.
"If you'd stop hassling me, I might get this finished on time!"
one's hands full: be extremely busy.
A: "Will you be able to help us this afternoon?"
B: "I'm afraid not. I'll have my hands full trying to finish my
the books: study.
"I wish I could go to the movies, but I've got to hit the books."
the hay: go to bed; go to sleep.
"It's late, so I guess I'll hit the hay."
the sack: go to bed.
"I'm really tired. I think I'll hit the sack."
in over one's head: in a situation that is too much / too difficult for one
"Do you have time to help me? I thought I could do this myself, but I'm
afraid I'm in over my head. I just can't handle things alone."
out: with the inner part on the outside and the outer part on the inside.
"Why are you wearing your tee shirt inside out?"
the black: profitable; not showing a financial loss.
"What did you do to increase profit and eliminate losses? We've been in
the black for two months in a row."
the red: unprofitable; showing a financial loss.
"We have to do something to increase profit and decrease losses. We've
been in the red for two months in a row."
jump the gun: do something before it's time to do it.
A: "How did Marsha know about the party? It was supposed to be a
B: "Chuck jumped the gun. Without thinking, he said, 'I'm bringing the
cake at your party;
I hope you like it!"
to conclusions: decide something too quickly and without thinking about it
considering all the facts.
A: "Angela just doesn't like me. She won't even say hello."
B: "You're jumping to conclusions. Actually, she's very shy."
mail: unsolicited mail (usually advertisements for something you're not
"I didn't have any letters today--only junk mail."
keep an eye on: check something regularly.
"You're busy, so you'll need to keep an eye on the time.
Remember that we have to leave at 4:30."
an eye out for: watch for.
"I'll keep an eye out for John. If I see him, I'll tell him you want to
talk to him."
one's chin up: remain brave and confident in a difficult situation; don't
despair or worry too much.
"I know that things have been difficult for you recently, but keep your
chin up. Everything will be better soon."
one's nose to the grindstone: stay diligent; steadily work hard, without
breaks or an uneven pace.
"If I keep my nose to the grindstone, I should be finished by the end
of the day."
one's fingers crossed: hope for the best.
A: "How did you do on the test?"
B: "I think I passed, but I won't know until tomorrow. I'm keeping my
something inside out: know/understand something thoroughly.
"If you have a question about grammar, ask Dr. Martin. She knows
grammar inside out."
lend someone a hand: help someone.
"I can't do this alone. Can you lend me a hand?"
well enough alone: do nothing (because doing something would make things
"Don't tell Jim how to discipline his children. Leave well enough
let-down: a disappointment; something that's very disappointing.
"It must've been quite a let-down not to be chosen for that job. I know
you really hoped you would get it."
sleeping dogs lie: Don't cause problems by doing something when it isn't
"I know that what Julie said made you angry, but let sleeping dogs lie.
If you say or do anything, you'll only make things worse."
from hand to mouth: survive on very little money; have only enough money to
pay for basic needs.
"Chuck and Alice are living from hand to mouth since Chuck lost his
and let live: don't unnecessarily make things difficult; do as you wish and
let others do as they wish.
"I'm not going to criticize Alice's family just because their habits
are a little strange. My motto is 'Live and let live.'"
make a mountain out of a molehill: make something seem much more important
than it really is.
"Calm down. There's really nothing to worry about. You're making a
mountain out of a molehill."
up one's mind: decide what to do.
A: Where are you going on your vacation?
B: Maybe Canada, maybe Mexico. I can't make up my mind."
No way!: Absolutely not! / Definitely not!
A: "You didn't open this letter addressed to me, did you?"
B: "No way! I'd never read look at else's mail!"
"There's plenty in the refrigerator if you want something to nosh
on your life!: Absolutely not! (a strong "no").
A: "Someone said you cheated on the test. Did you?"
B: "Not on your life!"
and then: occasionally; from time to time.
A: "Do you see Jennifer often?"
B: "No, not really. I see her now and then, but not regularly."
on the dot: exactly at a given time.
"We're leaving at 9:00 on the dot. If you're late, we'll go without
the cutting edge: using the most recent technology.
"The university's computer lab is (on the) cutting edge. It has all the
latest hardware and software."
in a while: occasionally; from time to time.
A: "Would you like coffee or tea?"
B: "Coffee, please. I drink tea once in a while, but I generally drink
one's head: too difficult or complicated for someone to understand.
"This explanation of cgi scripting is over my head. Can you explain it
in a less technical way?"
plastic: credit card(s).
"Oh, no! I forgot to get any cash! I hope this restaurant accepts
someone's leg: tease someone by trying to make her/him believe something
that's exaggerated or untrue.
A: "Wow! Carl has done some really amazing things!"
B: "Don't believe everything he tells you. He was probably pulling your
quite a few: several; numerous.
"I don't think I can meet you after work. I have quite a few errands
that I have to do."
quick study: someone who learns new things quickly and easily.
A: "Annie seems to be doing well at her new job."
B: "I'm not surprised. She's a quick study."
R and R: rest and relaxation (a vacation).
"I think you're working too hard, Dave. You need some R and R."
or shine: no matter what the weather is.
"We're leaving tomorrow, rain or shine."
cats and dogs: rain very hard.
"You can't leave just now! It's raining cats and dogs and you don't
have an umbrella or raincoat!"
someone's mind: know what someone is thinking.
A: "I'll be you're thinking of what you're going to have for
B: "Hey, did you read my mind?"
A: "No. I just know that you're always hungry and lunch was several
sleep on it: take at least a day to think about something before making a
"The job that you're offering me sounds really good, but I'd like
to sleep on it before giving you my final decision."
snap: something that's very easy to do.
A: "Is your job difficult?"
B: "No, actually it's a snap. In fact, it's so easy that it's a little
or later: eventually.
"You've been working too hard for too long. If you don't relax a
sooner or later you're going to get sick."
of the art: using the latest technology.
"The company is very proud of the equipment in its
computer room. It's state of the art."
tight-fisted: very frugal; unwilling to spend money unnecessarily.
A: Do you think Charlie will donate any money to the activities fund?
B: No way! He's too tight-fisted!
deceitful; disloyal; someone who pretends to be a friend but isn't.
"I thought he was my friend, but he's two-faced. He says nice things to
me when we're together, but makes jokes about me when we aren't.
under the weather: ill; sick; unwell.
"Ted was feeling under the weather yesterday, so he decided not to go
you're blue in the face: forever.
"You can talk until you're blue in the face, but I won't change my
wear out one's welcome: make someone uncomfortable by visiting too long.
A: "Can't you stay two or three more days?"
B: "No. I don't want to wear out my welcome."
behind the ears: inexperienced and naive.
"Don't include Fred as part of the bargaining team. He's just started
working here and is still too wet behind the ears."
up?: What's new? What's happening?
"Hi, Dave. What's up?"
uncommitted; without an opinion of one's own.
"Don't be so wishy-washy. Tell us how you really feel."
You've got to be kidding!: What you said can't be true. What you said is
very surprising/hard to believe
A: "Did you know that Bob quit his job?"
B: "You've got to be kidding!"
"Have you tried the cookies that Jonathan baked? They're yummy!"
A: "How much money do you have?"
B: "Zilch. I'm broke until payday."