60 Idiomatic Expressions with Examiner’s Comments


An idiom is a fixed group of words or an expression with a special meaning that cannot be literally interpreted and understood. It is also different from the meanings of the individual words.

 Examiner’s Comments on the Uses of Idiomatic Expressions


Thus, being all eyes is not connected with anything done to all eyes; it means to watch intently or be vigilant. For the reason above, one will find the idiomatic expressions difficult to interpret if one is not familiar with them and their meanings. Let us learn more idiomatic expressions below.

More Idiomatic Expressions

There are idiomatic expressions in the English language but some of them with their meanings will be learnt here.

Idiomatic Expressions Meanings
1. With a pinch of salt some doubt whether it is altogether true.
2. Keep an open door to be ready to welcome guests at any time
3. Be/Keep abreast of something to be always aware of latest news or ideas
4. A chapter of accident a series of unfortunate events
5. (Have) an ace up one’s sleeve keep a useful plan, piece of information, etc
(Have) an ace in the hole secret and ready to be used when necessary
6. Hold all the aces have all the advantages
7. Once in a blue moon rarely/seldom/occasionally
8. Smell a rat be suspicious
9. A chip off the old block a son who is very like his father
10. More haste, less speed approach whatever you are doing carefully to avoid mistake
11. Play to the gallery attempt to win cheap popularity
12. Living a cat-and-dog life always quarreling with each other
13. Let the sleeping dog lie not looking for trouble/give peace a chance
14. Act/Play fool behave in a silly way to amuse others
15. Action speakers louder than words what someone actually does means more than what he says he will do
16. Swing into action act quickly
17. Add fuel to the flames to say something that makes people react more strongly
18. Add insult to injury make something worse
19. A state of affairs a situation or circumstance
20. Keep one at arm’s length avoid being familiar with somebody
21. Be above board open/without deception
22. Stand one’s ground maintain one’s position
23. Develop cold feet feel afraid or reluctant or unwilling to do something that is risky
24. Feather his own nest make himself rich
25. Being led by the nose being controlled completely
26. A bone of contention a cause of dispute
27. Come to a head reach a point where something has to be done or


28. Paid in one’s coin Revenge
29. Pull the wool over one’s eye Deceive
30. Talking with his tongue in his cheek not sincere or saying something and meaning the opposite
31. With malice aforethought with the deliberate intention to commit a crime to marry
32. To the altar to marry
33. Be poles apart be widely separated/have nothing in common
34. The apple of one’s eye a person loved more than others
35. Argue the toss disagree about a decision
36. In apple-pie order very neat arrangement
37. Up in arms protesting strongly
38. Under the auspices of with the help or support of
39. Have an axe to grind have a private reason for something
40. Have the ball at one’s feet have a good chance of succeeding
41. A baptism of fire a difficult introduction to an experience
42. Not to mince words to speak plainly in condemnation of something
43. Beat about the bush approach the subject without coming directly to the point
44. Kick the bucket Die
45. To cross the Rubicon to be irreversibly or irrevocably committed
46. Tarred with the same brush had the same faults
47. To take the bull by the horns to tackle problems boldly
48. Rain cats and dogs rain heavily
49. Let the cat out of the bags reveal the secret
50. Raise eyebrows or see red eyes annoy or angry
51. From the bottom of one’s heart sincerely, seriously
52. Have a thick skull be stupid
53. Bite off more than one can chew attempt to do something too much
54. The tip of the iceberg very little
55. A chip on one’s shoulder feeling quarrelsome and being in a bad temper
56. Throw a new light on the matter provide fresh information that makes the matter clear
57. Kill two birds with one stone get two outcomes with one action or do two things

at a time

58. Nipped in the bud not successful or was aborted
59. Make a clear breast of tell the whole truth about
60. Like a bat out of hell very fast

Examiner’s Uses of Some of the Expressions

 To Identify and know the meanings of idiomatic expressions is not enough, one also has to know how they are used correctly in sentences. Using these expressions correctly will add to your scores under expression in your essays or letters. Remember that some of them can be used as a subject, a verb, an object or a complement, and an adjunct. Let us learn some of them in the following sentences. Then make each of them in a sentence to convey the meaning of the expression.

  1. I tried to make a clear breast of the matter to the boss but he didn’t listen.
  2. The General Manager makes them work like a bat out of hell.
  3. Please, don’t let the cat out of the bag.
  4. From the bottom of my heart, I love you.
  5. The man killed the thief with malice aforethought.
  6. The students are up in arms against bad practices of their management.
  7. Everybody disagreed on that state of affairs.
  8. There are more chapters of accidents this year.
  9. The boss and his employees are often living a cat-and-dog life.
  10. Sade pulls the wool over my eyes often.

 Practice Questions

 Answer the following questions correctly.

Choose the word or a group of words that best completes each of the following sentences.

  1. The police vehicle raced ______ full speed with its siren blaring.

(a) on               (b) with           (c) at                (d) in

  1. Stella wanted to show _______ with her necklace.

(a) off              (b) on               (c) over            (d) back

  1. The national essay competition came _____ on the 23rd of July, 1986.

(a) out              (b) in                (b) by               (d) up

  1. There was a lot of tension in the area and it was felt that a dispute might flare ______ any time.

(a) up               (b) down         (c) in                (d) to

  1. Please, look _______ my answers for me.

(a) over            (b) across         (c) after           (d) on

  1. Lekan has tried hard to live ______ to his parent’s expectations.

(a) over            (b) on               (c) through      (d) up

  1. There are ______ new employees at the headquarters of the factory.

(a) taking up    (b) taking after                  (c) taking on          (d) taking over

  1. The celebrations were rounded ______ with a novelty match.

(a) off              (b) up               (c) down          (d) out

  1. Mary is a friendly sort of person. I _____ her the first time I met her.

(a) took on       (b) took for      (c) took after   (d) took to

  1. The boy was seen hitting the girl, but the teacher merely cautioned him and let him _____

(a) down          (b) on               (c) through      (d) off

  1. Many affidavits have been ______ as evidence in this case.

(a) sworn in     (b)  sworn with            (c) sworn for         (d) sworn to

  1. The new bakery will _______ one thousand loaves of bread daily.

(a) turn over           (b) turn out           (c) turn up       (d) turn in

  1. Ahmadu would have arrived earlier but he was ______ in heavy traffic.

(a) held up       (b) held down      (c) held off        (d) held about

  1. Bola is a good friend of mine, but I am sometimes ______ by her careless attitude.

(a) blown off        (b) forced out      (c) turned out        (d) put off

  1. Luck ______ the robbers on that fateful day.

(a) came down      (b) ran out on     (c) ended up with     (d) made away with

  1. I tendered for that contrast, but my application _______.

(a) fell in          (b) fell off       (c) fell through            (d) fell down

  1. Janet could not attend the party because she _____ with flu over the weekend.

(a) came up      (b) came down                 (c) came away     (d) came in

  1. The worker’s strike was ______ as a result of the Director’s intervention.

(a) called back     (b) called in     (c) called off      (d) called out

  1. Since we were not given everything we requested, we should ______ with what we have.

(a) makeup (b) make out    (c) made do     (d) makeover

  1. The manager is leaving the company to ______ a new appointment elsewhere.

(a) take over    (b) take on       (c) take up       (d) take off

  WAEC June 1998 – 2003

READ ALSO:  Proverbial Expressions with Examiner's Comments
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