50 Difficult Phrases with Meaning

9 minute read
phrases with meaning

Phrases and idioms constitute the most important aspects of any language, be it Hindi or English. Responsible for accentuating the beauty of written and spoken English, we have brought before you a compilation of 50 difficult phrases with meaning. Memorising these phrases with their prospective meanings will not only help in enhancing your English communication skills but will also help you ace the English language section of competitive exams like IELTS, TOEFL, PTE, etc. So, without further ado, let the phrase begin!

To bank on someone/something

Meaning: To guess that something is probable.

Example: I am banking on them to save the match. 

Bring to the table

Meaning: Providing someone with expertise or benefits.

Example: Owing to her experience in the Finance sector, Sudha can bring a lot to the table for our company.

To be out of your mind

Meaning: To be upset about something or the inability to concentrate on anything.

Example: Rathin has been acting weird lately. I think he is out of his mind!

Drives me up the wall

Meaning: To be extremely annoyed.

Example: It drives me up the wall when I see people littering on the ground. 

Hit the ceiling

Meaning: To explode with anger.

Example: Dad will definitely hit the ceiling when he’ll go through my report card.

Zero in on

Meaning: To focus or aim precisely on something.

Example: With exams nearing, I need to zero in on my studies so as to improve my grades.

Calling the shots

Meaning: To have control over progress or to give directions to others.

Example: Though Jennifer is the head of the Content Marketing team, yet Adam is one who generally calls the shots.

Got my mojo working

Meaning: When someone’s luck is working to a great extent

Example: Even though my science examination went terrible, still I got my mojo working and topped in my class with flying colours.

Speak of the Devil

Meaning: When someone appears just when you have mentioned them.

Example: Did you know that Shashank scored really well in the ACT exam? Oh, speak of the devil, here he comes!

To think outside the box

Meaning: Think in a creative and original way.

Example: We stood second at the inter-college debate competition. Had we thought something out of the box, we would have bagged the first place. 

To get the ball rolling

Meaning: To start something

Example: Now that we have all the team members on board, let’s get the ball rolling on this project!

Hit the sack

Meaning: Go to bed/sleep

Example: I have been working hard all day long. It is now time for me to hit the sack.

A chink in the armour

Meaning: Having a problem/flaw that is responsible for delaying success. 

Example: Injury of one of our star players in the Basketball match became a chink in the armour for losing the match.

To be on cloud 9

Meaning: To be in a great state of happiness due to an accomplishment.

Example: Neha just received her admission letter from Harvard University. She’s on cloud 9!

Drop someone a line

Meaning: To contact someone through an email, letter or a phone call.

Example: Remember to drop me a line as soon as you reach France so that I know you are safe!

Apart from phrases with meaning, idioms also play a distinctive role in various English language tests. Go through our blog on idioms for IELTS and know more!

Off the cuff

Meaning: Something that is impulsive or spontaneous.

Example: During the chemistry lecture, the professor started asking questions off the cuff but I answered all correctly.

Boon companion

Meaning: The closest friend whose company one enjoys.

Example: Lara and Danny named their firstborn child after Danny’s boon companion, Steve Adams. 

Economical with the truth

Meaning: conveying untrue events and facts

Example: The panel of judges punished an eye witness for economizing with the truth.


Meaning: Something that continues throughout the day.

Example: The news channels work twenty-four/seven to provide us with information on the latest happenings around the world. 

On pins and needles

Meaning: Anxious/Nervous/ in a state of suspense.

Example: I was on pins and needles the whole day when the result of the civil service exam had to be announced.

Find the pony

Meaning: To find something good even when the situation is bad.

Example: Even during the financial crisis, Amanda managed to find a pony in this mess. 

Badger to Death

Meaning: To poke, nag and pester relentlessly.

Example: My younger sister asks me a thousand questions a day. However, if I do not answer all her questions, she can badger me to death.

Out of the jaws of death

Meaning: To be saved from a fatal situation.

Example: Anil was lucky enough to be out of the jaws of death after his bike met an accident. 


Meaning: A single establishment where all the products and services are offered.

Example: Do you want to study abroad? Are you in need of admission related guidance? Then contact Leverage Edu, a one-stop-shop solution for pursuing higher education abroad!

Sleep like a top

Meaning: Sound sleep.

Example: After working hard the whole week, I slept like a top on Sunday.

Pardon my French

Meaning: Seek an apology for using rude or offensive language.

Example: He is a bloody fool! Oops, pardon my french.

Kettle of fish

Meaning: A difficult or an awkward situation.

Example: Sitting on the first bench of a classroom is like a kettle of fish for some students.

Kicking one’s heels

Meaning: Wasting one’s time while waiting for something/someone.

Example: Sitting on the bench of a park, Antonio was kicking his heels while waiting for his friends to arrive.

Might and main

Meaning: Doing something by putting in all the efforts. 

Example: Mike was stuck in a building all night long. He shouted might and main from the window but no one came to his rescue.

Elvis has left the building

Meaning: A punchline often used to disband the crowd after the culmination of an event.

Example: The concert is over and Elvis has left the building. You can go home now. 

Also, if you are looking forward to enhancing your English vocabulary, then read our blog on 50 difficult words with meanings! This along with scores of phrases with meaning will help you score well in any English language exam!

Donkey’s years

Meaning: Something which has been happening for quite a long time.

Example: Anny has been a vegan for donkey’s years.

Draw a blank

Meaning: An unsuccessful/failed attempt.

Example: We have been looking for Ivan’s dog the whole day but we have drawn a blank.

Keep/hold someone’s feet to the fire

Meaning: Pressurizing someone to approve and undertake something.

Example: The press has been holding the actress’s feet to the fire to take her pictures for their national daily.

Living hand to mouth

Meaning: Having only enough money to buy food and shelter; extremely poor.

Example: Sneha was forced to live hand to mouth before she got a job at a leading MNC.

Keep a stiff upper lip

Meaning: Show bravery or courage in adversity and pain.

Example: After the death of his best friend, George has been keeping a stiff upper lip.

Phrases with Meaning

What is this?

Halftone Dots. But, what was the need of this here?
To draw your attention [make someone notice something] to the fact that there are only a few more phases with meaning left to go through!

Take the bit between your teeth

Meaning: Facing a hard task resolutely with a determined attitude.

Example: Smith was having a hard time coping up with his engineering studies. However, he took a bit between his teeth once he started understanding the concepts.  

The crack of doom

Meaning: Doomsday; the judgement day (according to the Christian religion).

Example: Harry and Jones have been friends since the age of 2. Their friendship will continue until the crack of doom.

Twelve good men and true

Meaning: A jury.

Example: Ben was convicted by the court. We have to gather strong pieces of evidence to prove his innocence in front of the twelve good men and true. 

Turn up trumps

Meaning: To succeed even when success seemed unlikely.

Example: When we thought our new project was going to fall apart, Richa turned up the trumps by hiring a manager. 

Upset the apple cart

Meaning: To spoil someone’s plan; cause trouble.

Example: I have been making all the arrangements for a nice family vacation, but the weather upset the apple cart.

Here is another blog which collates a list of idioms with examples. You can memorise them apart form the phrases with meanings given here!

Four corners of the earth

Meaning: From all the directions.

Example: People from all the four corners of the earth came to Dubai for attending the famous Dubai Shopping Festival.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread

Meaning: The times where foolish people do not hesitate to tackle a dangerous or difficult situation that even the wisest ones choose to avoid.

Example: Even though he does not belong to the Finance department, Mike rushes like a fool where angels fear to tread when the company was facing a financial crunch.

Fifteen minutes of fame

Meaning: Rising to fame for a brief period of time.

Example: The fifteen minutes of fame Jean did not want. 

It takes two fools to argue

Meaning: A wise man never argues with a fool as he sees no sense in it.

Example: It takes two fools to argue with my two-year-old niece over her favourite toy.

Kicking myself

Meaning: Regretting something you should not have done.

Example: I could just kick myself for not attending the family function.

Play Ducks and Drakes

Meaning: To idly misuse or squander one’s wealth; reckless behaviour.

Example: Noah was fired from his job for playing ducks and drakes with the funds he was allotted for a project by his company.

Down to the wire

Meaning: Waiting for something/ to do something until the very last minute.

Example: The cricket match between India and New Zealand went down the wire. 

Between a rock and a hard place

Meaning: Choosing between two equally untenable alternatives.

Example: I want to quit my job but cannot do so due to my financial condition. I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Haul someone over the coals

Meaning: To reprimand or scold someone for a mistake or an error.

Example: The accountant didn’t file the returns on time so his senior hauled him over the coals for his mistake.

Chalk and Cheese

Meaning: Two people or things that are completely different from each other.

Example: While Jake is an easy-going person, his brother Oliver is short-tempered. Both of them are like chalk and cheese!

Bread and butter

Meaning: Earnings of a person; indicate when a person earns for a living.

Example: You must earn bread and butter for your family.

Draw a longbow

Meaning: To exaggerate, to lie.

Example: Stella is drawing a longbow. Do not believe her.

Easier said than done

Meaning: Not as easy to do as it seems harder than you think.

Example: It’s one of those things that are easier said than done.

Feeling under the weather

Meaning: To feel ill, sick, having a hangover.

Example: I have my final exam tomorrow, but I’m feeling under the weather. I think I have a fever.

Forty winks

Meaning: Sleep a while mainly during the day; take a nap.

Example: My sister always likes to catch forty winks after lunch.

Go cold turkey

Meaning: To suddenly stop or quit some bad or addictive behavior.

Example: He had been trying to quit drinking for a year but couldn’t, so he decided to go cold turkey.

Hold one’s peace

Meaning: Be silent.

Example: Just hold your peace if you don’t have anything smart to say.

Lose your marbles

Meaning: To go crazy, insane.

Example: I’ve been so bad lately that I thought I’m losing my marbles.

These phrases with meaning play a pivotal role when it comes to scoring well in exams like PTE, IELTS, etc. To build a strong foundation in such topics and open the gateway to your dream university, join Leverage Edu‘s IELTS coaching in Delhi/Gurgaon/Bangalore or in other locations, gain advanced knowledge in various topics including that on phrases with meaning and take a step towards your dream career!

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *



20,000+ students realised their study abroad dream with us. Take the first step today.
Talk to an expert