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50+ Useful Idioms & Phrases For IELTS Speaking Test

Updated on 31 January, 2024

Anupriya Mukherjee

Anupriya Mukherjee

Sr. Content Writer

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is a standardized English Language proficiency test taken by non-native English-speaking candidates to study or work in an English-speaking country. To score band seven or more, applicants need proficiency in vocabulary and expertise in using idioms for the IELTS speaking test. 

Idioms are widely used to communicate in English. The non-native speakers may not speak the language as proficient as when compared to native people. This break in communication usually leads to a lower score on the IELTS test. However, once the usage of idioms is mastered, one can expect effective communication to impress the examiner in the speaking test.


What is an Idiom?

An idiom is an expression or a phrase in a language, the meaning of which is non-literal and not attached to the existing phrase. In simple words, an idiom is a group of words in an order with a particular meaning while the meaning of each word is different.  Idioms are used and asked in most language proficiency examinations. There are many idioms for IELTS that are asked in the exam. The common idioms for the IELTS speaking test are discussed further in the article. 

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What is a Verb Phrase and Phrasal Verb?

A verb phrase consists of the main verb and a helping verb. Together, these verbs can help words highlight the person's mood, and tone. In such a case, an adverb, preposition, and auxiliaries can be combined with the verb to change the phrase's meaning.

On the other hand, a phrasal verb is a mix of verb and another element. The other element could be an adverb or a preposition. With an addition of the element, the complete meaning of the verb changes. 

Phrase and phrasal verbs can be quite useful in IELTS speaking test. Here is a table with the difference between a phrase verb and a phrasal verb to understand the concept better. 

 Phrase VerbPhrasal Verb
DefinitionIt is a verb having more than one word. It is a verb followed by a preposition or an adverb.
Additional ElementsAuxiliary or modal verbs are added to the main verb. Prepositions or adverbs are followed by the main verb. 
VerbsIt has more than one verb. It has only one verb. 
Number of WordsIt can have up to four words. It generally has only two words. 
ExampleIs working, can go, has been, should have been etc. Turn down, look after, think about, talk through etc. 


As idioms and phrasal verbs are an integral part of the IELTS speaking exam, here is a list of common and useful idioms for the IELTS speaking section:

Idioms for IELTS Speaking Test

Applicants should have a good knowledge of the meaning and usage of idioms and phrases for the IELTS speaking test.

Idioms can be pure idioms, binomial idioms, partial idioms, prepositional idioms, proverbs, euphemisms, and cliches. The common ones are phrasal verbs, prepositional verbs, and partial idioms. For non-native English applicants, it is essential to learn the usage of all of these. 

You Can Also Read Sample Questions and Answers For The IELTS Passage: Green Wave Washes Over Mainstream Shopping

Some Useful Idioms for the IELTS Speaking Test with Meaning 

Here are some idioms used in IELTS speaking tests with their usage in a question and answer form:

IdiomMeaningUsage (Question)Usage (Answer)
To have a whale of timeIt means to enjoy a lot.Can you tell us something about your hometown?Start the answer by saying that your native place is Singapore, India, or any place you belong to, and that’s a fantastic destination with a cross-cultural environment. One cannot get bored in Singapore/India as there are engaging activities for every age group. My entire childhood has been a memorable journey. Anyone visiting the city can have a whale of a time. 
To be on cloud nineBeing extremely happy about something that has happened.

Tell us what you felt after being accepted to your dream college? 


I was on cloud nine when I got the news from my parents. It was a lot of hard work and dedication that got me here. 
It makes my blood boilIt means to be disgusted and infuriated. How well do you get on with your friends? My friends are my family. I am a happy and outgoing person; therefore, I have made many friends. I have a lot of good friends, except one. I mainly do not like her because she is too selfish and disappointing. She yells and mistreats me. Even the thought of her makes my blood boil.
I hit the ceiling

To become extremely angry. 


Tell us about one terrible memory from your childhood days? Though I do not remember everything clearly,  there is something that my parents always talk about. Cycling was always my favorite hobby. My mother got me a new bicycle when I was 13. However, my brother borrowed it, and he crashed it. I hit the ceiling when I got to know about it. Luckily, I got a new one the next day. 
On the dotExactly at the right time. Tell us about one habit of yours that everyone should have.

I am quite a disciplined person with many good habits. To be precise, I would speak about my punctuality. I feel everyone should be punctual. Whenever I am supposed to reach any place, I am always on the dot. I do not make delays unnecessarily, which has helped me in life. 


Find my feet

To be comfortable with something. 


Why did you take up this particular subject? Mathematics was never my strength. Even then, I took up Mathematics for my graduation, and there is a long story behind it. I was weak at it in my school days, but I always tried to understand it better. Slowly with the help of my father, I found my feet and got better at the subject.  He helped by giving me extra time. Soon, it became my favorite subject, and now I am pursuing it further. 
Set in their waysIt means not wanting to change.

How would you describe your parents?


My parents are very cooperative in my choices and decisions. They have always helped me become independent. However, they are not very welcoming to a few modern thoughts. They are set in their ways, in that respect. It creates some clashes among us as they always have their own experience. 


Burn the midnight oilTo stay up till late for a meaningful reason.

What was the reason behind having such good academic scores? 


I always wished to study abroad after high school? It was not easy for me to reach here as I had to burn the midnight oil every day. I am not an early person, and I usually get my work done at night. 


Down in the dumpsIt means you are disappointed and sad.

How many colleges did you apply to? 


Based on subject requirements and ranks, I had submitted my application to eight colleges, and I was a bit down in the dumps with the results as I got six rejections. Luckily, I soon received admission confirmation from this prestigious college, and I am very happy about it. 
To be over the moonIt means to feel fulfilled and happy. What did you do on your last birthday?

My last birthday was the best. I was over the moon because my sister visited us after six years in the USA. It was an emotional yet amazing day. My parents arranged a surprise birthday party in the evening, and I was showered with several gifts. 

Now that you know some common and valuable idioms for the IELTS speaking test, practice them regularly for a good band score. 

IdiomMeaningUsage (Question)Usage (Answer)
Hit the booksTo study hardHow do you prepare for an important exam?When I need to prepare, I really hit the books.
Piece of cakeSomething very easyHow do you find cooking?For me, cooking is a piece of cake.
Break the iceTo initiate conversation in an awkward situationHow do you start a conversation at a networking event?I usually tell a funny story to break the ice.
Burning the midnight oilStaying up late working or studyingHow did you manage to complete your project on time?I was burning the midnight oil for several nights.
Catch someone’s eyeTo attract someone’s attentionHow do you make your presentations stand out?I use vivid visuals to catch the audience’s eye.
Hit the nail on the headTo describe exactly what is causing a situationWhat do you think is key to learning a new language?Practicing speaking daily hits the nail on the head.
Under the weatherFeeling illHave you ever had to take a sick day?Yes, last month I was feeling under the weather.
Through thick and thinIn good times and bad timesHow do you maintain a good friendship?By supporting each other through thick and thin.
Spill the beansTo reveal a secretHow did everyone find out about the surprise party?Someone spilled the beans at work.
On the ballTo be alert and understanding things quicklyHow do you stay productive at work?I make sure I’m always on the ball with tasks.

Phrases for IELTS Speaking Test

PhraseMeaningUsage (Question)Usage (Answer)
Out of the blueSomething happening unexpectedlyHave you ever received surprising news?Yes, I got a job offer out of the blue.
In the nick of timeJust in timeHave you ever been late for an important event?Yes, but I arrived in the nick of time.
Cut cornersTo do something in the easiest or cheapest wayHow do companies reduce costs?They sometimes cut corners on production.
Back to square oneTo start overHave you ever had to start a project over?Yes, it was back to square one for us.
The best of both worldsTo enjoy two different opportunities at the same timeHow do you balance work and leisure?I telecommute, enjoying the best of both worlds.
Sit on the fenceTo be undecidedWhat’s your opinion on the new policy?I’m sitting on the fence until I see the results.
Take with a grain of saltTo not take something too seriouslyHow do you handle criticism?I take it with a grain of salt and try to learn from it.
Jump on the bandwagonTo join others in doing something that is becoming fashionableHave you tried the keto diet?Yes, I jumped on the bandwagon last year.
Go the extra mileTo do more than what is expectedHow do you ensure customer satisfaction?I always go the extra mile to meet their needs.
Speak of the devilWhen the person you have just been talking about arrivesWhat do you think about John’s project?Speak of the devil, here he comes!

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Common Idioms for IELTS Speaking

Here are some more examples of idioms used in IELTS speaking tests (in alphabetical order from a - i).

A blessing in disguiseA positive thing that isn’t recognized until laterI failed in the English test during my pre-boards. It proved as a blessing in disguise to push myself hard to achieve a distinction in my final board exams. 
A drop in the oceanA small portion of something big.

The budget sanctioned for marketing the product is just a drop in the ocean.

We need more than this to increase the sales. 

Actions speak louder than wordsIt is better to do something rather than just talk about it.We must take steps to control increasing pollution levels. Actions speak louder than words. 
An arm and a legVery expensiveMy vacation to Hawaii cost me an arm and a leg
Back to the drawing boardWhen an attempt to do something fails and it is time to begin all over again but in a new wayI only scored 5.5 in my IELTS test. I have to be back to the drawing board now.
Bite my tongueWant to say something but stopping oneselfI have to bite my tongue in front of the manager about the deadline of the task given. 
Bite the hand that feeds youHurt or upset someone helping you.I was teaching him English, and he did not inform me about his good scores. One should not bite the hand that feeds you.
Cut to the chaseLeaving all the unnecessary details and getting to the point directly.

Long discussions during the meeting will only lead to a waste of time.

Let us cut to the chase. 

Every cloud has a silver liningBelieving that every bad situation has a positive side that will eventually result in something goodDon’t be upset over your broken engagement. Every cloud has a silver lining.
Fixed in their waysNot wanting to change from the normal ways of doing thingsMy parents are very fixed in their ways. They never like using online banking rather prefer vising the bank.
Found my feetTo become comfortable in what you are doingI wanted to be a doctor but ended up being an engineer. However, I have found my feet. 
Go the extra mileDoing much more than was required when doing somethingMy husband go to the extra mile to take care of me during my pregnancy.
Got up on the wrong side of the bed this morningTo refer to someone who is having a bad daySeems the teacher got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Her mood is terrible today.
Hit the nail on the headSay exactly the right thingI think you have hit the nail on the head. That is why you got this project.
If it is not one thing. It's the otherWhen everything seems to be going wrongI got late for the exam and now missed my admit card. Seems if it is not one thing. It’s the other. 

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Get to know about the latest updates on the IELTS Exam, Eligibility, Preparation Tips, Test procedure,  Exam Pattern, Syllabus, Registration Process, Important Exam Dates, and much more!! This guide is a one-stop solution for every IELTS Aspirant who aims to crack the exam with an impressive band score.

Idioms Used in IELTS Speaking

Here is a list of some more useful idioms for IELTS speaking  tests (in alphabetical order from j - z).

Keep an eye on himWatch someone or something carefullyThe student at the last bench seems to cheat in the exam. Keep an eye on him. 
Kicked the bucketDiedDid you hear this? James kicked the bucket in a road accident.
Let sleeping dogs lieAvoid a conflictThere is no point arguing with her. I would better let the sleeping dogs lie.
Let the cat out of the bagTell someone something that you were not supposed toI told your mother about our last weekend party. I be sorry I did not mean to let the cat out of the bag.
Practice makes perfectContinuously doing something to improveWe should keep studying for IELTS. Practice makes perfect.
Rule of thumbPrincipal that is strictly adhered/kept toAs a rule of thumb, I don’t work on weekends. I spend the time with my family.
Smell a ratTo sense that something is not rightThe candidate said he has done certification in Digital Marketing but does not remember the year. I can smell a rat. 
The ball’s in your courtTelling someone it’s now their turn to make a decisionYou have been selected for admission to two international universities. The ball is in your court now. 
Tongue-in-cheekSomething said in humor rather than seriouslyIt was all tongue-in-cheek. He did not mean to hurt you.
Under the weatherUnwellShe could not attempt the exam as she was under the weather.
Until the cows come homeFor a very long timeHe has been trying to get admission in an international university until the cows come home.
Water under the bridgeThings from the past that is not important anymoreThe two brothers have disagreements in the past for business decisions. But it’s all water under the bridge now. 
Working against the clockNot having enough time to do somethingWe are working against the clock to meet the deadline of the project. Let us hurry up. 
You are what you eatIf you eat bad food, you will be unhealthy. If you eat well, you will be healthy. Always eat healthy. You are what you eat.
You can’t judge a book by its coverThe belief that outside appearances do not reveal what someone or something is really like.He is a simple man but is the CEO of a company. Don’t judge a book by its cover. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How to use idioms in the IELTS Speaking test?

Every person has a different way to describe things. Sometimes some languages and cultures have a certain set of phrases that have special meanings. In English too, idioms and phrasal verbs are commonly used. In the IELTS speaking test too, the candidate is assessed on the use of idiomatic language as a part of the assessment. It is suggested that the candidate should use less common idioms and vocabulary and highlight awareness of style and collocation.

What are the commonly used idioms for IELTS speaking?

The English language has thousands of idioms that are commonly used. However, there are some common idioms used in IELTS speaking and regular conversations. Some of the examples of the idioms are as follows:

A white lieTo tell a lie that is not very seriousI hope you don’t get in trouble for telling a white lie about your health.
Better late than neverIt is better to do something late than never do itI learnt swimming when I was 30. Better late than never. 
Child’s playVery easy to doHe is proficient in using Microsoft office. The PPT was child's play for him.
Day and nightContinually working without break or stoppingHe studied day and night to score well in the IELTS exam
In the redTo owe money, do not have money.I can’t afford a luxury vacation at the moment. I am in the red.


Many more idioms with examples are given under the ‘Some Useful Idioms for the IELTS Speaking Test with Meaning’ section.

Where can you use idioms in the IELTS test?

Idioms are used in the common day-to-day language as well. Some idioms are common in various cultures and languages. In the IELTS speaking test, idioms are commonly asked and used. For a language learner, it is important to use the correct phrase in the right order. This is also known as collocation. For example, keep quiet. You will never say quiet keep. In the IELTS exam, a candidate is assessed on the common idioms for IELTS speaking. A candidate must know how to use and pronounce these idioms right.

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What are the simplest IELTS speaking idioms that I can use?

There are thousands of idioms in the English language. The idioms for IELTS are a common section and part of the test that the candidate is assessed on. Examples of some of the simplest and most commonly used idioms are as follows:

  1. Idiom - Brought up

Meaning - raised/developed

Example - I was brought up in India.

2. Idiom - To run in the family

Meaning - similar qualities among family members

Example - My parents love to travel and I like to explore the world. It actually runs in the family.

3. Idiom - Give someone the green light

Meaning - to give permission

Example - I am given the green light by my parents to go on a vacation with my friends. 

4. Idiom - Out of the blue

Meaning - something that happened unexpectedly

Example - I got a promotion which was out of the blue. 

5. Idiom - Bookworm

Meaning - someone who reads a lot

Example - I gifted my friend a book on her birthday. She is a bookworm. 

If I use a lot of idioms, will it boost my IELTS writing and speaking score?

Idioms can add colors and weightage to the candidate's conversation with the examiner. By using more relevant idioms during the IELTS speaking and writing test, the candidate can improve their lexical resource, increasing their chances of improving the band score and performing well on the test day.

Which words, phrases, and idioms must I use in the IELTS speaking test to score a band 7?

To score higher in the IELTS speaking test, it is suggested not to use common idioms and conversational vocabulary. To score band seven and above in IELTS, the candidate should focus on showing some awareness of style and collocation. Collocation is a combination of words that are commonly used together. For example, fast food, keep calm, get started, and more.

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Is the usage of idioms allowed in IELTS academic writing?

A candidate can use idioms in IELTS academic writing; however, it is suggested not to use common idioms like IELTS speaking. It is better to use informal idioms and the appropriate ones. Using the idioms unnecessarily can only result in a bad IELTS score.

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Incorporating idioms and phrases into IELTS Speaking responses can significantly enhance the naturalness and fluency of your English, demonstrating a higher level of language proficiency. By understanding and practicing these expressions, candidates can add color and depth to their answers, making them more engaging for the examiner. Remember, the key is to use them appropriately and in context, ensuring that your speech remains clear and your meaning is accurately conveyed.

Anupriya Mukherjee

Sr. Content Writer

Anupriya Mukherjee is a passion-driven professional working as a Content Marketer and earlier worked as a Digital Marketeer. With around 6 years of work experience, she has experience creating high-quality, engaging content for websites, blogs, news articles, video scripts, brochures, and ebooks.

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