An idiom (also called idiomatic expression) is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning conventionally understood by native speakers. This meaning is different from the literal meaning of the idiom’s individual elements. In other words, idioms don’t mean exactly what the words say. They have, however, hidden meaning. 

For your IELTS Speaking test, idiomatic language can be important because it is one of the elements in this component of the test the examiner looks for. You can see the marking criteria for your Speaking test here.

Easy as ABC

Meaning 

Extremely easy or straightforward. 

Origin 

A child’s first spelling or reading book was commonly called an ABC, hence its metaphorical use to mean the basic elements of something. 

In a sentence 

The questions Mr. Gillis prepared for the quiz is as easy as ABC.

An Aladdin’s cave

Meaning 

A place full of valuable objects. 

Origin 

From the Arabian Nights tale of Aladdin, who found the magic lamp in a cave. 

In a sentence 

Not many are aware of this but he has an Aladdin’s cave of special edition Nike shoes.

Alarms and excursions

Meaning 

Confused activity and uproar. 

Origin 

Originally a call summoning soldiers to arms, the whole phrase is used to stage directions in Shakespeare to indicate a battle scene. 

In a sentence 

The alarms and excursions over the dismissal of the Marketing Manager, have hidden the real problem the company is facing. 

Run amok

Meaning 

Behave uncontrollably and disruptively. 

Origin 

The work comes from the Malay amuk, meaning “in a homicidal frenzy” ran amok. 

In a sentence 

He ran amok and threatened the security guard outside the bank with a knife.

Back to square one

Meaning 

Back to the starting-point, with no progress made. 

Origin 

Square one may be a reference to a board-game such as Snakes and Ladders or derived from the division of the football pitch into eight numbered sections for early radio commentaries. 

In a sentence 

After three consecutive defeats, our basketball team is back to square one.

Bite the bullet

Meaning 

Face up to doing something difficult or unpleasant; avoid showing any emotion, fear or distress. 

Origin 

From the days before anaesthetics, when wounded soldiers were given a bullet or similar solid object to clench between their teeth when undergoing surgery. 

In a sentence 

Linda was willing to bite the bullet for the sake of her children’s future.

Have a bone to pick with someone

Meaning 

Have reason to disagree or to be annoyed with someone. Informal. 

Origin 

A bone to pick (or gnaw) has been a metaphor for a problem or difficulty to be thought over since the 16th century. 

In a sentence 

She was being mean as she had a bone to pick with me.

Draw a blank

Meaning 

Does not bring about any response. Be unsuccessful. 

Origin 

A blank was originally a lottery ticket that did not win a prize; the figurative use of the phrase can be traced back to the 19th century. 

In a sentence 

There were so many signs linking him to the murder but the investigators drew a blank.

Turn a blind eye

Meaning 

Ignore or pretend not to notice. 

Origin 

Said to be in reference to Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), who lifted a telescope to his blind eye at the naval Battle of Copenhagen (1801), thus making certain that he failed to see his superior’s signal to “discontinue action”. 

In a sentence 

He doesn’t like his daughter’s fiancé but he is willing to turn a blind eye and accept him as his son-in-law because Joe makes his.

A blind spot

Meaning 

An area into which one cannot see. Also: an aspect of something that someone knows or cares little about. 

Origin 

These general senses appear to have developed from a cricketing term for the spot of ground in front of a batsman where a ball pitched by the bowler leaves the batsman undecided whether to play forward to it or back. 

In a sentence 

I like science but math is a blind spot for me. 

Source: Oxford Dictionary of Idiomsexternal iconThe Free Dictionaryexternal icon

Learn idiomatic expressions for IELTS

The Speaking test in IELTS is just like a conversation that you would have in everyday life. You may notice many native English speakers use idioms in everyday speech. If you want a higher score for your IELTS Speaking test, you should include some idioms (and use them correctly). In our next Idioms A-Z post, you can learn some more most common idioms in English.