Useful Idioms for IELTS: Best Phrases, Section-Wise Idioms, Best Tips

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Useful Idioms for IELTS: Best Phrases, Section-Wise Idioms, Best Tips

Do you remember your grandma using local idioms while telling you an interesting story? Those idioms in our local languages are poles apart from English idioms that play a key part in cracking the lexical vocabulary section in the IELTS exam. In the IELTS speaking test, idioms have a distinctive role because they can assist you in exhibiting your grasp of English.

If you are thinking of finding the right mantra to nail the use of idioms for IELTS, this blog is ideal for you. Here we will be taking a look at significant idioms for IELTS along with the tips and tricks to utilize them during the test. That being said, read the article to learn more about useful idioms for IELTS exams.

What is an Idiom?

An idiom is a phrase or expression with a non-literal meaning that cannot be grasped by reading each word individually. Idioms are used so naturally by native speakers that they often go unnoticed; we are unaware that we are using them because we have grown up hearing these phrases and idioms.

What is a Phrasal Verb?

A phrasal verb is a compound verb that combines a verb with an adverb or a preposition. When these phrasal verbs are formed, they frequently contain idiomatic meaning, which cannot be understood simply by reading what each word implies. For example, the verb pick plus the preposition up – pick up – signifies hoist.

We can use this phrasal verb to request that someone pick up something we have fallen on the ground, or we can use it to request a ride in a car – “I need a ride, can you please pick me up on the way to school?” As you can see, we use idiomatic language all the time to describe ourselves more vividly, whereas the words we use have idiomatic meanings.

Importance of Idioms for IELTS

Idioms can be defined as phrases that have acquired meaning with common and continuous usage and this meaning is not literal. If someone tells you they have “found their feet”, they don’t mean it literally. Finding one’s feet means they have found themselves comfortable doing something. As a basic explanation, an idiom uses one or more metaphors to describe a situation or an expression. That’s why you should not believe an idiom right away. Try unravelling it by putting it in different sentences.

In every idiom, there will be a metaphor(s) to turn its literal meaning into something absurd or in a different context. For instance, if your friend tells you that “writing a literature essay is a piece of cake for him”, you don’t have to go literally into the phrase. Understand it in terms of its common use through which you will know that “a piece of cake” means that it’s an easy thing to do.

When it comes to the IELTS speaking test, idioms are a chief aspect because having an idiomatic vocabulary will show an advanced speaking proficiency in English. Using idioms in a speaking test provides you with the chance to get a good speaking score and since they are mostly spoken as informal expressions and phrases, adding them to the IELTS writing test is not a good idea.

Further, as listed in band descriptors for the IELTS speaking test, using idioms can lead you to a band 7 candidate in the test and with a skilful grasp, you can move further to a rare 8 and 9 which requires an even stronger grasp of idiomatic English.

What is the Difference Between a Verb Phrase and a Phrasal Verb?

A verb phrase is made up of a primary verb and an assisting verb. These verbs, when combined, can help words accentuate a person’s attitude and tone. In this scenario, an adverb, preposition, or auxiliary can be paired with the verb to change the meaning of the statement.

A phrasal verb, on the other hand, is a combination of a verb and another element. The second component could be an adverb or a preposition. The whole meaning of the verb changes with the inclusion of the constituent.

5+ Phrases to Help You Through Your IELTS Speaking Exam

Although they are incredibly beneficial, overuse may result in an unnatural, rehearsed, and memorised tone. Keep in mind that you want to sound as natural and fluent as native English speakers. Make sure you pay close attention to the question and go the extra mile.

  • If I remember correctly it was
  • If my memory serves me well
  • I can’t remember exactly but I think it was
  • Well to be honest I haven’t thought about it before
  • I guess you could say that
  • Well nowadays I think it’s difficult because

Top 30 Idioms for the IELTS Speaking Exam

Here are the top 30 idioms for the IELTS speaking exam that you can refer to bolster your scores. Have a look.

A drop in the oceanConstituting a smaller portion of something largeDonating only ten rupees might seem like a drop in the ocean, but even a small amount of charity goes a long way.
It’s a small worldUnexpectedly getting to meet someone you know or realizing common connections between peopleWe bumped into each other at the airport, what a small world isn’t it?
Blessing in disguiseWhen you realize that something bad is good but not until later.Getting rejected was a blessing in disguise as it taught me the role of failure in being successful.
A hot potatoA topic with a controversial reputationHer broken marriage has become a hot potato at every family occasion.
Sit on a fenceUnsure about somethingI’m sitting on a fence thinking about whether I should apply for this course or not.
To pick holes in somethingTo find weak points in somethingAs soon as I completed my project, she started to pick holes in it. 
Ducks and drakesTo spend lavishlyThey spent ducks and drakes at their wedding in Los Angeles. 
Read between the linesTo understand the hidden meaningOne should read between the lines to understand the true essence of this poem. 
To be in the same boatTo be in similar situationsRadha and Surbhi are sailing in the same boat as they both have their acceptance letter pending from a university abroad.
To Split hairTo argue unnecessarily My father was splitting hair unnecessarily at the bank. 
To get downBegin to do somethingHe got down to work on his project. 
A wild goose chaseFutile chaseIt turned out to be a wild goose chase
A bad eggWorthless or having no practical value He was dishonest, but he was the only bad egg in the group.
A sleeping partnerA partner who doesn’t do any workMike is a sleeping partner and does not contribute financially at all. 
To give someone a piece of your mindTo tell somebody that you disapprove of their behaviourI’d like to give her a piece of my mind.
Between the devil and deep seaBetween two equally harmful dangersI’m in a predicament between the devil and the deep blue sea.
To fight tooth and nailTo fight in a very determined mannerHe fought tooth and nail with the stringent administration. 
Swan songThe last piece of work produced by an artistThe blue dear was the artist’s swan song. 
To strain every nerveTo try as hard as you canShe’s straining every nerve to get the work finished on time.

To turn up one’s nose
To refuse something especially when you don’t think it is good enoughThey turned their nose up at our offer.
Down in the dumpsFeeling unhappy or depressedAfter the loss, he went down in the dumps. 
Dutch courageCourage inspired by alcoholDon’t be full of Dutch courage to fight with others.
To make one’s mouth waterTo have a strong desire forThe smell of that pork stirred fry is making my mouth water.
At Mare’s nestSomething illusoryThis area of the law is a veritable mare’s nest.
To beat around the bushTo approach directly or away from the subjectCome to the point, don’t beat around the bush. 
Back to the drawing boardTo start thinking about a new way of doing something after a previous plan or Idea has failedIf the predictions are completely wrong, then it is back to the drawing board.
A close-fisted personNot willing to spend or give much moneyHe is a miser, a close-fisted person. 
To put your shoulder to the wheelStart working without expecting help from othersThese hard-working and decent people are prepared to put their shoulders to the wheel, to build a better society.
To bring the house downTo make everyone laugh If someone or something brings the house down during a play or show, they make the people watching it laugh or clap very loudly. 
To bring to bookTo punishHe was brought to book for his crime. 

10+ Idioms for IELTS Writing and Speaking

Here is a list of idioms you can use for the IELTS writing and speaking section. Have a look.

A drop in the oceanA very small part of something much bigger Just learning the math formulas is a drop in the ocean when it comes to preparing for the exam.
Actions speak louder than words It is better to do something than just talk about it You should do something about it rather than just talking. As they say, actions speak louder than words. 
The in thing Something fashionableCargo pants and oversized T-shirts are the thing at the moment. 
Over the moonTo be pleased I was over the moon when I passed the test. 
Once in a blue moonHappens very rarely She shows up to college once in a blue moon. 
A piece of cakeVery easy Passing the exam was a piece of cake for him. 
The real McCoyGenuine or not fake My Nike Air Jordans are the real McCoy. I bought them from the offline store of Nike in Amsterdam. 
Go the extra mileDo much more than is required If you wish to thrive in the market, you will have to go the extra mile and take your business to the next level. 
A hot potatoA controversial topic The story of the princess’s scandal became a hot potato in the country. 
Miss the boat Miss an opportunity I sent my application in late and I think I missed the boat
Off the top of my headSaying something without thinking first Please do not mind my words. I say stuff that comes off the top of my head.
Run-of-the-mill Average, OrdinaryThe clothes that I purchased from the thrift store were very run-of-the-mill items. 
SoulmateSomeone you trust very deeply After so many years, Monika finally found her soulmate. 
Found my feet To become comfortable doing something After hustling for so many months in the organisation, I finally found my feet in doing the work correctly. 
Down in the dumpsSad After suffering a major heartbreak, she went down in the dumps. 
Set in their ways Not wanting to changeMy grandparents are quite traditional and set in their ways.
Costs an arm and a leg Really expensiveThe apartment cost him an arm and a leg. 
Sit on the fenceTo be undecided I am still sitting on the fence on that matter. I’ll have to ponder upon it. 

When to Use Idioms for IELTS?

Now that you are aware of what idioms are, the next thing is to master the use of idioms for IELTS. Discerning the context of an idiom is the foremost thing to keep in mind. Don’t use it unless you know its meaning because the examiner might catch you in this confusion and ask even more complicated questions. Adding an idiom at the right time with the correct context in a sentence is the best way to pass the section on idiomatic vocabulary. Here are a few common idioms with examples and their meanings to aid you further in inferring how idioms work.

How to Use Idioms in IELTS? Best Preparation Tips

Several tips and tricks are useful for simplifying the meanings of various idioms. Let’s have a look at some of the tips and tricks that you can employ during the IELTS test:

  • Don’t memorize idiomatic phrases but try using them in different sentences and situations.
  • Apprehend the context of an idiom rather than cramming up its meaning.
  • Visually create a picture or story around an idiom to remember them easily.
  • Dive deeper into how a particular idiom originated. If you cannot find a story behind it, create your own to understand it better.
  • Continuous revision of idioms and their meanings with different examples will strengthen your proficiency in metaphors and contexts.

So that was all about idioms in IELTS. Hope the blog has answered your queries regarding the topic.


Are idioms allowed in IELTS?

Idioms like “it costs an arm and a leg” are casual, hence they are inappropriate for IELTS writing task 2 academic or general training essays.

What should I avoid in IELTS?

If you write informally, use idioms, or use memorised stock phrases, you may lose marks in vocabulary or grammar.

What are the four types of idioms?

Idioms are classified into four types: pure idioms, binomial idioms, partial idioms, and prepositional idioms.

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