Most Common Phrases

Some Common Phrases

Study carefully the following phrases which are used in everyday speech and writing:

Above board — open (ly), without trickery, “He is always open and above board in his delaings with everyone.”

All and sundry — everyone without distinction. “He invited all and sundry to partake freely of the rich feast.”

All in all — supreme, all powerful; of the first importance. “The then Vice­Chancellor was all in all at Cambridge.”

As a matter of fact — in reality. “He promised to stand by me in need, but, as a matter of fact, he gave me no help.”

As a rule — usually. “A sensible man, as a rule, cares much for public opinion.”

At all costs — whatever may be the cost or sacrifice. “Speak the truth at all costs. ”

At all events — Whatever may happen; in any case. “At all events, I will go and face the fury of the battle.”

At arm’s length — avoiding too much familiarity. “The new king kept the old ministers at arm’s length. ”

At daggers drawn — at open enmity. “The two brothers are at daggers drawn with each other ever since the division of property.”

At home in — familiar with. “He is at home in German and French.”

At issue — in controversy; disputed. “The point at issue is whether the accused is guilty or not of treason.”

At large — free; at liberty. “You are at large to talk in such an irresponsible manner.” “The escaped prisoner is still at large. ”

A gentleman at large — a person without any serious occupation. “He is now a gentleman at large, living as best as he can.”

At a loss — puzzled. “I am quite at a loss to think who could have stolen my fountain-pen.”

At one’s finger-tips — ready and thorough knowledge of. “He had the names of the voters at his finger-tips. ”

At random — without any aim or purpose. “The whole night she talked at random. ”

At sixes and sevens — in disorder. “I found the whole furniture lying at sixes and sevens. ”

At stake — in danger. “When honour is at stake, it is greatness to find quarrel in a straw.”

Most Common Phrases 2

At the eleventh hour — at the very last moment. “He changed his mind at the eleventh hour. ”

At times — occasionally. “He gets at times veiy drunk.”

At variance with — in disagreement with. “His actions are at variance with his principles.”

Bag and baggage — completely; leaving nothing behind. “The army left the place bag and baggage.”

Beck and call — “She had fifty servants at her beck and call.”                                               ‘

Below the mark — less than the required standard. “His speech was below the mark.”

Between you and me — (or between ourselves) — speaking confidentially.

“Between you and me he is a thief.”

Beyond question — undoubtedly. “She is beyond question the ablest woman India has ever produced.”

By and by — slowly and gradually. “You will become acquainted with the state of affairs by and by.”

By dint of — by force of means of. “He won the first prize in English by dint of hard work.”

By fits and starts — without steady application. “He works by fits and starts, and will not apply himself.”

By fair means or foul — by any means, good or bad. “I shall achieve my object by fair means or foul.” ,

By hook or by crook — by any means, direct and indirect. “I must win the prize in French, by hook or by crook.”

By leaps and bounds — by a series of sudden and rapid advances. “India is making progress by leaps and bounds. ”

By virtue of — On account of. “He occupied the chair at the meeting by virtue of seniority.”

Fair and square — upright; honest. “You should be fair and square in your dealings.”

Fair play — equal conditions for all. “All political parties want fair play in elections.”

Fair field and no favour — equal conditions in the contest. “The competitors j wanted a fair field and no favour.”

Few and far between — rare. “Her visits, like angel’s visits, were few and far between.”

Fire and sword — destruction. “Nadir Shah carried fire and sword wherever he went.”

Flesh and blood — human body; human nature. “He bore all the troubles that flesh and blood is heir to.”

For ever and a day — for ever. “Fortune wheeled away with scornful laughter for ever and a day.”

For good — for ever. “He left his native country for good.”

For good and all — permanently; finally; definitely. “They have left this business for good and all.”

From hand to mouth — without making any provision for the morrow; consuming every day what is earned. “The general mass of mankind in India live from hand to mouth.”

Hand and glove — on very intimate terms. “Kuldip and Bhushan are hand and glove with each other.”

Head and ears — completely. “He is over head and ears in debt.” “You are !       over head and ears in love with her.”

Heart and soul — with all one’s energy. “He threw himself heart and soul into the cause of the poor and the down-trodden.”

Hole and corner — secret. “I do not believe in adopting a hole and corner policy.”             ’

In a fix — in a difficult position. “I was in a fix how to convince her of my innocence.”

In a round-about way — in an indirect way. “She told us in a round-about way that she had fled from her father’s house.”

In or on behalf of — “He petitioned to the government on behalf of the homeless orphans.”

In black and white — in writing. “She gave us her statement in black and white. ”

In cold blood — deliberately. “He murdered the poor widow in cold blood.”

In consequence of — owing to. “In consequence of my resignation, a new man was appointed.”

In defiance orf — without caring for. “He played bridge in defiance of the orders of the Superintendent.”

In favour of — “He spoke in favour of the caste system.”

In favour with — loved by. “He is not in favour with his superior officers … these days.”

In force — valid. “This law is no longer in force. ”

Most Common Phrases 1

In full swing — very busy; working busily. “The share market was in full swing.”

In good faith — in honest belief. “He did this in good faith. ”

In keeping with — consistent with. “His actions are not in keeping with his statements in public life.” •

In the name — nominally; not really. “He is a king only in name.”

In no time — very soon. “He will finish his work in no time.”

In no way — by no means. “He is in no way inferior to you.”

In one’s teens — between 13 and 19 years of age. “Although he is yet in his teens, he has made a name for himself.”
In quest of — in search of. “He wandered from one country to another in quest of peace.”

In round numbers — approximately. “This building can be said to have cost Rs. 1,50,000, in round numbers.”

In season and out of season — at all times; without selection. “His remarks, uttered in season and out of season, made him many enemies.”

Ins and outs — the details of anything. “I am not at all conversant with the ins and outs of the matter.”

In the air — spreading about. “He knew that the scheme he wanted to adopt was already in the air.’”

In the ascendant — supreme; dominating. “His star is in the ascendant these days.”

In the background — in a position of obscurity. “The Prime Minister, though he keeps himself in the background, is the real king.”

In the dark — quite ignorant. “I am in the dark about his move.”

In the face of — against; despite. “He pursued his ambition in the face of innumerable difficulties.”

In the long run — eventually. “Virtue must triumph over vice in the logn run. ” In the nick of time — just at the right moment. “He reached the station in the nick of time to catch the train.”

In the prime of life — in the best period of life. “He was cut off in the prime of life. ”

In the teeth of — in the face of. “He carried out his scheme in the teeth of all opposition.”

In the twinkling of an eye — in the briefest possible time. “The lion was upon me in the twinkling of an eye.”

In time — not late; early enough. “We reached the station in time to catch the train.”

In the wind — being secretly prepared or plotted. “It is in the wind that he is soon going to be sacked.”

In vogue — in fashion. “This type of dress is not much in vogue these days.” Kith and kin — blood relations. “All his kith and kin deserted him in time of need.”

Milk and water — tasteless; feeble or mawkish. “What a milk and water discourse he delivered!”

Nook and corner — “Every nook and corner of the city will be flooded with cheap electric light.”

Null and void — of no effect; not binding. “This strange incident has rendered the will null and void. ”                  ‘

Odds and ends — stray articles; casual pieces of information. “A few more odds and ends.” “The room had nothing in it except a few odds and ends.”

Off and on — occasionally. “She comes to see me off and on. ”

Of one’s own accord — voluntarily. “He resigned the post of his own accord. ”

Of no avail — Useless. “It is of no avail to lament the dead past.”

Of the first water — of the finest quality. “He is a genius of the first water. ”

Off one’s guard — heedless; unprepared. “Put this question to him only when you find him off his guard. ”

On all hands — everywhere. “It is now admitted on all hands that modem young men care little for virtue.”

On one’s guard — watchful; prepared against attack. “One should always be on one’s guard. ”

On one’s last legs — about to perish; ready to fall. “Their business is now on its last legs. ”

On the contrary — “He does not hate you as you think; on the contrary he loves you to a fault.”

On the eve of — instead. “He was given a farewell party on the eve of his retirement.”

On the face of it — Obviously. “This proposal seems absurd on the face of it. ”

On the spur of the moment — On a momentary impulse. “He made a speech on the spur of the moment. ”

On the wane — declining. “His reputation is now on the wane. ”

Out and out — thoroughly. “He is an out and out reactionary.”

Out of one’s wits — confused; puzzled. “He is out of his wits and cannot give you any useful advice.

Out of the question — impracticable; unworthy of discussion. “Friendship between Ashok and me is out of the question.”

Out of the way — remote and obscure. “He found the sage in an out of the way village.”

Pros and cons — arguments for and against. “Have you thought of the pros and cons of the new scheme ?”

Rank and file — ordinary, undistinguished people; common soldiers. “The rank and file could not appreciate his services.” “The rank and file of the army were dispirited by defeat.”

Right and left — omailisn&S>“Ffindinghimself surrounded by his enemies, He struck right and left. ”

Stone’s throw — a short distance. “The school is at a stone s throw from my house.”

Stuff and nonsense — rubbish; meaningless talk. “Enough of your stuff and nonsense”

Sum and substance — summary; purport. “The sum and substance of his speech is that pride has a fall.”

The three R’s — reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic “The peasants must be taught at least the three R s.”

Through thick and thin — through all obstacles and difficulties. “A true friend is one who stands by you through thick and thin.”

To all intents and purposes — “A man having no control over his passions is, to all intents and purposes (practically), a beast.”

To the backbone — thoroughly. “He is a staunch conservative to the backbone.”

To the letter — literally and strictly. “I will carry out your orders to the letter. ”

To one’s heart’s content — fully. “He enjoyed the scenery of the mountains to his heart’s content.”

To the utmost — in the highest degree. “His patience has been tested to the utmost level.”

Under one’s nose — before the very eyes of. “This incident happened under his very nose.”

Ups and downs — prosperity and adversity; successive rises and falls. “He is a man who has seen the ups and downs of life.”

Wear and tear — damage resulting from constant use and from occasional accidents. “The castle walls have stood the wear and tear of centuries.” “This material will stand any amount of wear and tear (is very strong).”

Well off — rich. “These people are very well off”

Well up in — proficient; well-versed in. “I am not well up in physics.”

Weal and woe — good and bad fortune. “They are linked together in weal and woe.”

With a high hand — arrogantly; imperiously. “The King now carried things with a high hand and punished his nobles by depriving them of all their rights and privileges.”

With one voice — together; unanimously. “They all shouted with one voice, ‘We will not yield’.”

Without rhyme or reason — quite unaccountably. “He insulted the poor beggar without rhyme or reason.”

Exercise 1: Match the following idiomatic expressions with their meaning given in the box 

  1. draw a blank
  2. a wet blanket
  3. bite one’s lips
  4. lay down arms
  5. keep the ball rolling
  6. beard the lion in his den
  7. beg the question
  8. bell the cat
  9. hit below the belt
  10. keep the pot boiling

(a) try to conceal one’s anger or annoyance.

(b) stop fighting.

(c) keep the conversation going.

(d) defy somebody in his own stronghold.                  ‘

(e) assume the truth of the matter that is in question.

(/) do something dangerous in order to save others.

(g) give an unfair blow; fight unfairly.

(h) earn or otherwise find enough money for food, etc.

(i) a person who, by being gloomy himself, prevents others from enjoying themselves,…………..

(0) get nothing after hoping to win or find something.

Exercise 2:  Each of the following idiomatic expressions (printed in capital letters) is followed by several meanings of which only one is correct. Underline the correct meaning.


  1. to give a correct decision.
  2. to obtain suitable punishment
  3. to have the same eyesight\
  4. to have the same opinion


  1. an electric shock
  2. a piece of bad luck
  3. a complete surprise
  4. a flash of lightning


  1. a puzzling question
  2. a hotly-debated question
  3. a difficult problem
  4. an annoying question


  1. to pay an excessive price.
  2. to punish a person by cutting off his nose
  3. to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face
  4. to suffer from cold after having eaten something spicy


  1. to lose one’s interest in something C. to be disheartened
  3. to make music
  4. to speak loudly


  1. to give the cat freedom
  2. to feed an animal
  3. to reveal a secret
  4. to do something unexpected


  1. to keep a secret
  2. to obtain money
  3. to make peace
  4. to make friends with.


  1. to have a hot bath
  2. to get into trouble
  3. to keep warm
  4. to get drowned

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