Idioms for Problems and Difficulties | List of Idioms for Problems and Difficulties With Meaning and Examples

Idioms for Problems and Difficulties: Idioms are preconceptions that represent a nation’s culture. Idioms are word groupings that commonly deviate from their literal meaning. Idioms are made up of at least two words that cannot be altered.

A word does not make a statement, thus it must have two words. Learning a language’s idioms helps us a lot while speaking it.

Idioms include language patterns that represent a circumstance or notion, which separates them from proverbs. Proverbs contain components such as guidance and teachings. Because idioms are usually metaphorical, there are discrepancies between the words and the meaning.

To make learning even more complex, there are idioms for solving problem, or idioms about ignoring problems, which are already densely packed with jargon that even native English speakers struggle to comprehend.

While idioms are typically metaphorical in nature, they are rarely employed in real speech.

Below are some of the most frequent English idioms for achieving the impossible and to boost one’s confident, there are other idioms for problems and difficulties, along with a brief explanation, to aid English as a Second Language learner.

Enrich your Vocabulary by practicing the English Idioms that are commonly used in everyday conversations and understand their actual meaning.

Names of Idioms for Problems and Difficulties

List of Idioms for Problems and Difficulties

Meaning and Examples of some commonly used Idioms for Problems and Difficulties

At Your Wits’ End

Meaning: You are at the end of your mental resources, you are desperate.

Example: Rina has been attempting to download the work file all day, and she keeps receiving an error message – Rina is at my wits’ end!

Catch-twenty two

Meaning: you are in a position where it is difficult to achieve because of contradictory norms or circumstances.

Example: Getting your first work is a Catch-22 situation; employers want to hire somebody with experience, but how am I to gain experience until someone offers me a job?

Dodged A Bullet

Meaning: In narrowly dodged a potentially dangerous or terrible scenario.

Example: Rachel ex-boyfriend went on to become a drug dealer! She is fortunate that she ended their relationship – she definitely dodged a bullet.

The Crux Of The Matter

Meaning: The most important or most significant aspect of the situation.

Example: No doubt, the country has to improve in a lot of areas, but the crux of the matter is that the politicians are crooked.

Grasping At Straws

Meaning: You are desperate, and you are seeking even the tiniest hope or chance (even if it seems likely that it would not succeed) when you are in desperation.

Example: Because there is almost little evidence at the crime site, the cops are grasping at straws.

In Dire Straits

Meaning: This is a really critical and extremely awful situation.

Example: Benedict has been jobless for three years and is in serious financial problems – he’s really in dire straits.

You’ve Got Your Work Cut Out For You

Meaning: In the event that you have a huge and tough assignment to do in the near future.

Example: If you want to earn a four-year college degree in two years instead of four? Well, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Last Resort

Meaning: When there are no other alternatives available, you might utilise this option as a “last resort.”

Example: If none of our friends is available to host us in London, we may always hire a hotel as a last resort.

Idioms for Problems and Difficulties 1

The Tip Of The Iceberg

Meaning: Only a small portion of the problem is visible; the majority of the problem remains concealed.

Example: My parents’ quarrels over where to go on vacation were just the tip of the iceberg; they were abusive to each other throughout their marriage.

A Vicious Cycle

Meaning: When one problem results in another problem, which then results in the initial problem occurring once more.

Example: As I have less stamina to exercise, I gain weight, and when I reduce my exercise, I acquire even more weight. It’s a vicious cycle.

(An) Uphill Climb

Meaning: When is a tough procedure.

Example: It will be difficult and is going to be an uphill climb to regain our confidence when you have already stolen from us, but we believe you can accomplish it if you are cautious about acting honestly.

(The) Last Straw

Meaning: An issue or an insult that, at long last, necessitates a reaction.

Example: Rudy bringing food to his office is always a pain, but today he brought a durian. That’s the last straw; I’m going to the manager to complain.

Above Water

Meaning: Not in a state of great peril. This is particularly and exceptionally true in the case of finances.

Example: We aren’t wealthy, but we are able to keep our heads above water.

Come Out in the Wash

Meaning: In order to be addressed without causing any long-term harm.

Example: You appear to be dealing with a lot of issues right now, but don’t worry; it will all come out in the wash.

Note: This is most commonly used in the phrase “it’ll all come out in the wash.”

Cut Corners

Meaning: Reduce the quality of your work to save money; use shortcuts.

Example: Let’s not cut corners on the rooftop materials – we’ll pay for it later, especially with the rainstorms we’ve had recently.

Cut the Gordian Knot

Meaning: To find a solution that is quite simple to a complicated situation.

Example: When the majority of us are wrestling with details, William sees easy answers. He has a knack for cutting the Gordian knots.

Note: This unusual phrase is based on a tale about Alexander the Great, who, when unable to untie a knot with his sword, cut it with his sword.

Get To Grips With

Meaning: To make an attempt to comprehend and deal with something.

Example: I believe it is time for us to get to grips with the issue of rising competitiveness.

Note: In the United States, the phrase “come to terms with” is used.

Idioms for Problems and Difficulties 2

Head (Go) South

Meaning: Decline and deterioration.

Example: Following the terrible economic news, the markets all headed south.

In a Jam

Meaning: In need of assistance, in a tough situation.

Example: My roommate stated she had been in a pickle and required a $20 loan, so I gave it to him.

Note: Unlike “in a pickle” or “in a jam,” this phrase can be used with the word “with” to indicate being in difficulty with someone.

In Hot Water

Meaning: In need of assistance; in distress.

Example: After blowing that sales presentation, Cathy is in hot water with her department supervisor.

Red Tape

Meaning: Bureaucracy; bureaucratic or governmental regulations that are difficult to comply with.

Example: In this city, the amount of red tape required in constructing something is incredible.

Start with a Clean Slate

Meaning: Starting again with a clean slate; working on an issue without reference to previous work.

Example: With this endeavour, we’ve come to a halt. I believe it is preferable to wait till next week and start with a clean slate.

Stumbling Block

Meaning: An impediment, whether physical or metaphorical.

Example: I like this profession, but the social elements of it are difficult for me – the shyness that I possess has always been a stumbling block for me.

Think Outside the Box

Meaning: Try to manifest a novel solution to an issue; be imaginative in your thinking.

Example: Our product line is starting to become stale. All of us must try to think outside the box in order to develop innovative and new consumer items.


Meaning: An issue or a scenario in which the desired goal is difficult to attain as a result of the existence of conflicting or illogical laws, regulations, or circumstances.

Example: The firm had a cost-cutting strategy that was a Catch-22: they needed to reduce the number of staff to stay active, but they also needed to finish the projects.

Dodged a bullet

Meaning: Something or a circumstance that might be unpleasant and have potentially devastating effects must be avoided to the greatest extent possible.

Example: Shikha got lucky and dodged a bullet when her engagement was called off since she subsequently learned that the prospective groom had been arrested for domestic abuse.

At Your Wits’ End

Meaning: When someone’s thoughts and mental resources have been spent, and they are highly angry and annoyed that they don’t become aware of what to do next, they are said to be in this state.

Example: Firoz was at his wits’ about what to do to keep the youngsters entertained.

The Crux of the Matter

Meaning: The fundamental, core, or crucial aspect of a problem.

Example: The few strands of hair recovered near the carpet were the core of the evidence or rather the crux of the matter in the murder case.

Grasping at Straws

Meaning: When you are really desperate, you will chase any hope or option, even if the probability of success is extremely slim or non-existent.

Example: The conservative pundit began grasping at straws for a sense of success after being thoroughly beaten in the debate.

In Dire Straits

Meaning: When faced with a life-threatening or catastrophic circumstance.

Example: Hemant was already in dire straits after being busted with narcotics at school, and he had no idea what awaited him at home.

Last Resort

Meaning: This is an option that you use as a final resort when all other alternatives have been exhausted.

Example: When the hitchhikers were unable to find a motel for their night, they opted to pitch their tent in the forest as a last resort.

You’ve got your work cut out for you

Meaning: When you are faced with a massive and tough assignment, it is important to be calm and focused.

Example: Mohan had intended to do two post-graduate degrees in the same year. He had a lot of work cut out for him.

A Vicious Cycle

Meaning: When one problem produces another problem, which in turn causes another problem, which in turn causes the initial problem, we have a vicious cycle.

Example: In India, the vicious cycle of poverty is a major concern.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Meaning: Only a small portion of the problem is visible; the majority of the problem remains concealed.

Example: The accounting scam was only the tip of the iceberg in the company’s huge financial disaster.

Throw money at something

Meaning: If you throw money at something, you are attempting to address an issue only via the expenditure of money rather than by the use of other techniques.

Example: The refugee crisis will not be solved simply by throwing money on it and not providing them with jobs.

Throw it over the wall

Meaning: A person who tosses things over the wall is someone who deals with part of a problem or project before passing the burden to another person or department without communicating with or coordinating with the others.

Example: You can’t just make a product and then throw it over the sales department’s wall!

Tide over

Meaning: When you tide someone over, you are assisting them in getting through a tough moment for a specified amount of time.

Example: We can’t go to the store because of the weather, but we have sufficient food to tide us over until next week.

Tight spot

Meaning: Someone who finds themselves in a tough circumstance is in a very difficult predicament.

Example: The airline firm is in a tight spot as a result of the current strike.

Tip of the iceberg

Meaning: The tip of the iceberg refers to the portion of an issue or situation that is known but is believed to be far more serious than it actually is.

Example: Journalists claim that the corruption study just looks at the tip of the iceberg.


Meaning: This phrase is used to describe a scenario that is even more difficult to deal with than a dilemma since a decision must be made between three choices that appear to be equally unpalatable to the individual.

Twist in the wind

Meaning: When someone is left to twist in the wind, they are left to deal with a tough issue on their own, without any aid or assistance from others.

Example: He left his agent twisting in the wind as he walked out of the news conference.

Unmitigated disaster

Meaning: A complete failure or a comprehensive catastrophe is referred to as an unmitigated calamity.

Example: The tournament’s organisation was an unmitigated disaster!

An uphill battle

Meaning: A person who is fighting an uphill battle must contend with extremely unfavourable circumstances.

Example: His rehabilitation after the horrible tragedy was an uphill battle all the time.

A vicious circle

Meaning: A vicious loop is a scenario in which the solution to a problem causes another problem that is similar to or worse than the initial problem, resulting in the process being repeated over and over again.

Example: To repay Paul, I took out a loan. Now I have to repay the bank, plus interest. It’s a vicious cycle.

Wave a dead chicken

Meaning: When confronted with a significant situation, if you do something that you know would be fruitless in order to demonstrate that you made an attempt, you wave a dead chicken in the air to demonstrate that you made an effort.

Example: The TV set was irreparably broken, but the technician chose to appease the elderly lady by waving a dead chicken before breaking the terrible news.

The wheels fall off

Meaning: When a situation spirals out of control, and everything begins to go wrong, the wheels come off the bus.

Example: When she began doing drugs and cancelling gigs, the wheels started falling off of her career and came to a halt.

Without a hitch

Meaning: Whenever anything goes off without a hitch, it means that everything happens just as intended and without any complications.

Example: To our great relief, the ceremony went off without a hitch!

Work cut out for you

Meaning: If you are faced with a difficult assignment or a difficult scenario, you will have your work cut out for you.

Example: I have a month to restructure the accounting department. My task is to work cut out for me!

A yoke around your neck

Meaning: A yoke around your neck is a term used to describe a duty, commitment, or constraint that has become an onerous weight.

Example: When John’s job was destroyed, the housing payments became a yoke around his neck.

Go haywire

Meaning: In the case of anything going haywire, it gets disorganised or becomes out of control.

Example: The photocopier has totally malfunctioned and gone completely haywire. Only half of each page is printed!

Go pear-shaped

Meaning: When a plan or effort goes awry, it either goes horribly wrong or yields an unfavourable outcome.

Example: Jane planned a treasure hunt for the kids at the park, but everything went pear-shaped, and everyone was unhappy.

Go through the mill

Meaning: If you are put through the mill, you will either go through a really tough phase or be subjected to harsh punishment.

Example: I was put through the mill and wringer as an intern. There was no detail that went overlooked.

When the going gets tough

Meaning: This statement indicates that when confronted with a tough or hazardous circumstance, strong individuals take action to resolve the situation.

Example: Tom has a cheerful demeanour. ‘When the going gets tough, the strong get moving,’ he often remarks.

Grasp at straws

Meaning: Whenever you’re in a desperate position, and you’re grasping at straws, you’ll try every approach you can think of in an attempt to find a solution, no matter how unlikely it is to be successful.

Example: He resorted to a faith healer in his hunt for a cure, knowing full well that he was grasping at straws.

Hang (someone) out to dry

Meaning: Leaving someone who is experiencing difficulties without providing any aid or support is equivalent to hanging them out to dry.

Example: Jack isn’t going to be of any use to you. If your strategy fails, he’ll hang you out to dry.

Leave high and dry

Meaning: If one is left high and dry, that person will find themself in a tough circumstance where you will have no access to assistance or resources.

Example: Eva was left high and dry with two children after her spouse walked out on her.

In dire straits

Meaning: If a person or organisation finds itself in a precarious financial condition, they are in an extremely tough predicament.

Example: The firm is in dire straits as a result of the loss of significant contracts.

Leave in the lurch

Meaning: In the event that anything leaves you in the lurch, you may find yourself in an uncomfortable or humiliating scenario.

Example: Paul was left in the lurch after missing the last bus.

In over your head

Meaning: Getting yourself into trouble is getting yourself involved in something too tough for you to handle.

Example: I agreed to organise the event, but I immediately realised I was in over my head.

Juggle frogs

Meaning: A person who is juggling frogs is attempting to manage a large number of things at the same time and is finding the situation challenging.

Example: I feel like I’m juggling frogs right now since I have so many things to accomplish!

A last resort

Meaning: As a last resort, it indicates that you would do something only if all other options had been exhausted and all other ways of achieving your goal had been exhausted.

Example: I still haven’t located a motel for the night; as a last resort, I can always sleep in the vehicle!

See light at the end of the tunnel

Meaning: Having a problem or obligation that becomes a cause of stress and anxiety is referred to as having a millstone around your neck or being a burden.

Example: Last year’s sales were down significantly, but we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

A millstone around your neck

Meaning: Having a problem or obligation that becomes a cause of stress and anxiety is referred to as having a millstone around your neck or being a burden.

Example: He wore a millstone around his neck because of the money he borrowed.

Be murder

Meaning: When something is murderous, it is extremely difficult or painful to deal with.

Example: The trip home through the storm was a complete murder!

A necessary evil

Meaning: When you say something is a necessary evil, you are acknowledging that you do not agree with it but realise that it must exist and be tolerated.

Example: For those who wish to travel, vaccinations are an unnecessary evil.

One’s number is up

Meaning: When someone’s number is called, it indicates that they are either in great trouble and that something horrible is about to happen or that the time has arrived for them to die.

Example: The police have apprehended the fugitive prisoner, and it appears that his number is up!

Ostrich strategy/policy

Meaning: Ostrich strategies and policies are used when someone decides to ignore or dodge a clearly defined problem in the expectation that it will resolve itself or disappear.

Example: Avoiding the issue would and adopting an ostrich strategy will only make things worse; we must find a solution as soon as possible.

Out of sync

Meaning: It is not coordinated if two movements or activities occur at the same time or at the same pace if they are not in sync with one another.

Example: The traffic lights present on the opposite side of the road appear to be out of sync, and this is generating a high level of uncertainty for drivers.

Out of whack

Meaning: When something is out of whack, it means that it is not functioning correctly or that it is not in excellent operating condition.

Example: Unusual noises are getting emanate from the dishwasher. Something is definitely out of whack.

Paper over the cracks

Meaning: To suggest that someone is “papering over the cracks” refers to the fact that they are attempting to conceal an issue rather than properly dealing with it.

Example: The efforts adopted to minimise unemployment are only paper over the cracks that have already been opened.

Pass the buck

Meaning: When you claim that someone is “passing the buck,” you are accusing them of failing to accept responsibility for an issue and instead entrusting others with the task of dealing with it.

Example: When a client comes in to complain, she always manages to appear busy, which is a fantastic way to passing the buck.

In a pickle

Meaning: If one finds themself in a pickle, you are in a tough situation and want assistance.

Example: The problem is that my car won’t start, and the trains are not running today, so I’m in a pickle!

No quick fix

Meaning: When someone says that there is no easy answer to an issue, they are referring to the fact that there is no quick cure.

Example: There is really no quick fix for poverty and unemployment; instead, significant adjustments are required.

Put on a brave face

Meaning: Even when presented with challenges, it is important to maintain your composure and pretend that the situation is not as tough as it appears to be.

Example: Even in the most difficult of circumstances, she maintained her composure and put on a brave face.

Ride it out / ride out the storm

Meaning: It is called riding it out if you manage to endure a risky or extremely unpleasant circumstance, such as being on a ship sailing during a storm.

Example: His company was negatively impacted by the recession, yet he was able to manage to ride it out.

Saved by the bell

Meaning: Whenever you are rescued by the bell, something happens at the last minute to save you from a dangerous scenario.

Example: When I discovered I didn’t have any money for the parking metre, a buddy came just in time—saved by the bell!

Scratch the surface

Meaning: When you merely scratch the surface of an issue or subject, you are only dealing with a small fraction of it, according to the definition.

Example: When it comes to their environmental challenges, several countries have just scratched the surface.

Where the shoe pinches

Meaning: When individuals talk about ‘where the shoe pinches,’ they are referring to a region that is frequently a source of difficulties or issues.

Example: She is certain that the public transportation system is faultless, but she will soon discover where the shoe pinches when she begins to use it!

A shoulder to cry on

Meaning: It is necessary to speak with someone who will listen to your concerns and offer compassion and support when you are sad if you are in need of “a shoulder to weep on.”

Example: If you need a shoulder to cry on, you may reach out to me at any moment.

Put a spanner in the works / throw a monkey wrench

Meaning: The phrase “putting a monkey wrench in the works” refers to causing complications and preventing anything from occurring in the manner it was intended.

Example: A new highway was being built, but a group of environmentalists managed to throw a monkey wrench in the works.

Spell trouble

Meaning: If anything indicates difficulties, it indicates that there may be issues in the future.

Example: The extended cold weather will have a negative impact and spells trouble on this year’s harvest.

Spiral out of control

Meaning: It is difficult to handle a situation when issues or costs spiral out of control because they grow worse or continue to rise on an ongoing basis.

Example: Even though some of the goods were pricey, we were careful not to allow the expenses to spiral out of control.

On a sticky wicket

Meaning: Whenever you find yourself in a sticky position, it means that you are in a tough scenario to deal with.

Example: Our situation has become a sticky wicket since they have refused to sign the contract!”

Stir up a hornet’s nest

Meaning: A hornet’s nest is created when someone or something makes a disturbance and inspires criticism and outrage in the community.

Example: His letter to the Board of Directors stirs up a genuine hornet’s nest of controversy.

Stop the rot

Meaning: The rot is stopped when you prevent a situation from worsening, which is very important in business and politics.

Example: As a result of the internal strife, new management was chosen in order to put a stop to the dysfunction and in order to stop the rot.

A stumbling block

Meaning: A difficulty or barrier that hinders you from accomplishing your goals is referred to as a stumbling block.

Example: My father was able to adjust quite well, but my mother’s ability to communicate effectively was always a stumbling block.

Take the bull by the horns

Meaning: A person who decides to grab the bull by the horns is someone who makes a conscious decision to act decisively in order to cope with a tough circumstance or issue.

Example: When the conflict intensified into a physical altercation, the pub owner seized the bull by the horns and phoned the authorities.

Take the easy way out

Meaning: By taking the easy way out, you are choosing the quickest and most convenient method of dealing with a tough issue, even if it is not the most effective..

Example: Because of the inclement weather, Mary decided to take the easy way out and cancel her appointment.

Tar baby

Meaning: Generally speaking, this word refers to a sticky issue or problem for which it is nearly hard to bring up with a solution that is workable.

Example: He was urged not to become embroiled in the dispute, which was viewed as a ‘tar baby issue.

Teething problems

Meaning: Dentists refer to the challenges that arise at the beginning stages of an endeavour or undertaking as teething issues.

Example: Initially, we had some teething problems when we initially started the bookshop, but things are now working out fine for us.

A thorny issue

Meaning: When you are confronted with a tough or unpleasant problem, you are said to be dealing with a thorny issue.

Example: Copyright and content duplication are two of the most thorny issues to deal with these days.

(A) Cloud on the horizon

Meaning: An ominous cloud on the horizon is a problem or issue that is predicted or that appears to be likely to occur in the near future.

Example: They are blissfully married, and for the time being, it appears like there are no clouds on the horizon or over their heads.

Come to a head

Meaning: The point at which a problem or tough situation reaches a boiling point is when it is necessary to take immediate action.

Example: In the middle of the night, violence came to a head yesterday in the streets, escalating the situation.

Come hell or high water

Meaning: In other words, when you state that you will do something no matter what, you are referring to the fact that you will do it regardless of the obstacles involved.

Example: Even if it means going through hell and high water, I have to be on time for the interview.

Come out in the wash

Meaning: This statement is used to urge someone not to be concerned about making a mistake or encountering a difficulty since it will have no significant impact and that everything will turn out OK.

Example: Yes, he was enraged when it occurred, but don’t panic – it’ll all come out in the wash in the long run.

(A) cross to bear

Meaning: Across to bear means that the individual has a major problem or a significant amount of duty that they must accept because they cannot change the situation.

Example: Alzheimer’s disease is a cross to bear that must be shared by the entire family.

Cross that bridge when we come to it

Meaning: This is another way of expressing, “We will deal with that problem when it arises and will not be concerned about it beforehand.”

Example: What will happen if we are unable to pay back the loan? Then, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

(The) crux of the matter

Meaning: The core of the problem refers to the most important or most significant aspect of a problem.

Example: In the end, the crux of the matter is that he’s too elderly to live alone in such a large mansion.

A dead man walking

Meaning: A dead man walking basically means one who is certainly going to be in a lot of trouble very soon, especially if they are likely to lose their job or their position in the company.

Example: The minister presence has become a deadman man walking as a result of his handling of the recent riots in his country.

Disaster written all over it

Meaning: If anything, such as a plan or a concept, appears to have catastrophe written all over it, it is presumed to be doomed to failure or to create significant disruption and disruption.

Example: There is nothing but disaster written all over Mary’s plan for a vacation with her in-laws.

Dodge a bullet

Meaning: If you dodge a bullet, it means that you narrowly avoided a potentially life-threatening crisis or tragedy.

Example: When I missed the plane, I realised I dodged a bullet as it crashed shortly after take-off.

An elephant in the room

Meaning: It is referred to as an “elephant in the room” when an issue that no one wants to confront but that is so evident that it cannot be ignored.

Example: Face it: his work is disappointing, to say the least. It’s a major issue that has to be addressed since it’s the elephant in the room.

The fat hits the fire

Meaning: A phrase that describes when difficulty breaks out or when a situation worsens as a result of anything said or done is “the fat strikes the fire.”

Example: Even though the situation was already tight, but the fat hits the fire when Larry is suspected of cheating.

Get to the bottom (of something)

Meaning: When you get to the bottom of an issue or mystery, you may fix it by discovering the root element of the problem or enigma.

Example: We are experiencing an issue with products vanishing during transportation. Hopefully, the inquiry will be able to find the source in order to get to the bottom of the case.

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