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50 Useful Idioms & Phrases For IELTS Speaking Test

Updated on 18 June, 2024

Pragya Sharma

Pragya Sharma

Sr. Content Editor

Idioms for IELTS

Some time back, when I was preparing for my IELTS (International English Language Testing System), I discovered certain tips and tricks that helped me score well in it. 

Do you, too, want to learn the tips to score an IELTS band of 8.0 or even higher? For this, you must exhibit native-like proficiency in the use of language, vocabulary, and fluency. Using advanced language skills like idioms can help you in this.

I believe using idioms in my IELTS answers, especially in the Speaking Test, helped me make a substantial impact on the examiner, and I was able to clear the exam with flying colors.

Read on if you want to know how idioms and phrases for IELTS Speaking answers can demonstrate your language ability and increase your chances of scoring well. The article further discusses 50+ best and most common idioms for the IELTS 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 original phrase. In simple words, an idiom is a group of words whose meaning differs from the meaning of the individual word it comprises.

Idioms are even asked in most English language proficiency examinations. There are many common idioms for IELTS practice that can help you perform better in the exam.

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, learning how to use all these is essential.

What is Verb Phrase and Phrasal Verb?

Verb phrases and phrasal verbs can be quite useful in the IELTS Speaking test. Let us understand their definition and look at some examples.

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 a 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. 

Here is a table with the difference between a phrase verb and a phrasal verb to understand the concept better.  

AspectsVerb PhrasePhrasal 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, verb phrases, and phrasal verbs are an integral part of the IELTS Speaking exam, we shall explore the list of common and useful idioms & phrases for the IELTS Speaking section. But before we hop on to the list, let us look at why idioms are used in the IELTS Speaking test.

Here are few more Samples Reading Answers for IELTS
The Development Of PlasticThe Development Of Museums Reading AnswersThe History Of Salt IELTS Reading Answers
The Psychology Of InnovationThe Story Of Silk Reading AnswersThe History of Glass
Biological Control Of Pests Reading AnswersCollecting As A Hobby Reading AnswersThe Birth Of Scientific English Reading Answers
Moles Happy As Homes Go UndergroundFlawed Beauty The Problem With Toughened GlassThe Need To Belong Reading Answers
New Agriculture In Oregon US Reading AnswersA Song On The Brain Reading AnswersWhy Some Women Cross The Finish Line Ahead Of Men
How To Spot A Liar Reading AnswersGifted Children and Learning Reading AnswersWhat Do Whales Feel Reading Answers

Why Use Idioms in IELTS Speaking?

Idioms are widely used to communicate in English. Non-native speakers may not speak the language as proficient as native people. This evident gap in communication can lead to a lower score on the IELTS test. However, I feel mastering the usage of idioms can result in effective native-like communication and impress the examiner.

You should have a good knowledge of the meaning and usage of the idioms for the IELTS Speaking test because of the following reasons:-

1. Demonstrates Language Ability

Using idioms for the IELTS Speaking test shows your command over the language. Inserting phraseologies into your answers lets the examiner know your ability to understand the language when you visit an English-speaking nation. 

2. Contextual Understanding

Many idioms have metaphorical connotations that go beyond their literal definitions. These idioms for the IELTS Speaking assist in expressing the arguments comprehensively and convincingly to the examiner. Even if you initially face problems appreciating such subtleties, with constant practice, you will be able to understand tough notions.

3. Enhances Vocabulary

Regular use of idioms gradually enhances your vocabulary and language proficiency. In the process, you’ll find that your lexical resource expands along with general confidence in using English idioms. This diverse vocabulary repertoire proves to be beneficial in the IELTS Speaking section.

List of 50 Idioms for IELTS Speaking

To help you prepare, I have made a comprehensive list of 50 essential idioms categorized based on common IELTS themes:-

20 Useful Idioms for IELTS Speaking Exam with Example Question & Answer

S.No.IdiomMeaningUsage (Question)Usage (Answer)
1To 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. 
2To 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. 
3It 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.
4I 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. 
5On 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. 


 

6a bad eggan unpleasant or disreputable personHave you ever had to deal with a bad egg in your workplace?Yes, one of my former colleagues was a bad egg who constantly caused problems and created conflicts.
7Set 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. 
8fresh as a daisylively, refreshedWhat's your mood after a restful night's sleep?I wake up fresh as a daisy and prepared to face the day after a restful night's slumber.
9Down 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. 
10To 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. 
11Hit the booksTo study hardHow do you prepare for an important exam?When I need to prepare, I really hit the books.
12Piece of cakeSomething very easyHow do you find cooking?For me, cooking is a piece of cake.
13Break 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.
14Burning 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.
15Catch someone’s eyeTo attract someone’s attentionHow do you make your presentations stand out?I use vivid visuals to catch the audience’s eye.
16a little bird told meheard something indirectlyHow did you find out about the new project?A little bird told me that the company is planning to launch a new project soon.
17throw in the toweladmit defeat, give upWhen did you decide to throw in the towel on your business venture?I had to throw in the towel after struggling for two years because the competition was too fierce.
18Through thick and thinIn good times and bad timesHow do you maintain a good friendship?By supporting each other through thick and thin.
19Spill the beansTo reveal a secretHow did everyone find out about the surprise party?Someone spilled the beans at work.
20On 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.

10 Common Idioms for IELTS Speaking Exam with Meaning and Example

S.No.IdiomMeaningExample
21A blessing in disguiseA positive thing that isn’t recognized until laterI failed 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. 
22A 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. 
23Actions 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. 
24Practice makes perfectContinuously doing something to improveWe should keep studying for the IELTS. Practice makes perfect.
25Back 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 go back to the drawing board now.
26all earsready to listen attentivelyCould you elaborate on your concerns? I'm all ears.
27hard feelingsresentment, bitternessDo you harbor any hard feelings towards your former employer?
28Rule 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.
29Every 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.
30give it the best shotmake a sincere effortWhat's your approach to achieving your goals?

10 Best Idioms for IELTS Speaking

S.No.IdiomMeaningExample
31full of beansenergetic, livelyI'm always full of beans and ready to take on new challenges with enthusiasm.
32Cut 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. 

33Let sleeping dogs lieAvoid a conflictThere is no point arguing with her. I would better let the sleeping dogs lie.
34Let the cat out of the bagTell someone something that you were not supposed toI told your mother about our last weekend party. I am sorry, I did not mean to let the cat out of the bag.
35An arm and a legVery expensiveMy vacation to Hawaii cost me an arm and a leg
36a penny for your thoughtsask what someone is thinkingYou seem lost. A penny for your thoughts?
37Smell 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. 
38The 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. 
39Tongue-in-cheekSomething said in humor rather than seriouslyIt was all tongue-in-cheek. He did not mean to hurt you.
40Under the weatherUnwellShe could not attempt the exam as she was under the weather.

10 Simple Idioms for IELTS Speaking

S.No.IdiomMeaningExample
41Until the cows come homeFor a very long timeHe has been trying to get admission in an international university until the cows come home.
42Water under the bridgeThings from the past that is not important anymoreThe two brothers have had disagreements in the past for business decisions. But it’s all water under the bridge now. 
43Working 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. 
44Down to earthpractical, grounded, unpretentiousI would say I'm a down-to-earth person who values simplicity and doesn't put on air.
45Judge a book by its coverForming opinions about someone or something merely from outside appearance.He is a simple man but is the CEO of a company. Don’t judge a book by its cover. 
46Found my feetTo become comfortable in what you are doingI 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.
47Go 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.
48Got 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.
49Hit 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.
50Get a head startbegin something before othersTaking internships and gaining relevant experience can help students get a head start in their desired fields.

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

10 Best Phrases to Use in IELTS Speaking Test

Using a variety of idioms and phrases in the IELTS Speaking Test will show the examiner your fluency and proficiency in the English language. Here are the ten best idioms and phrases for IELTS Speaking that can help you make a strong impression:-

S.No.PhrasesUsageWhy it works
1If my memory serves me wellDescribe previous interactions or events that may have taken placeShows a thoughtful disposition when recounting events
2To be honestEmphasize the passion and authenticity of your messageMakes you seem open, which might help make your responses appear more credible
3At the end of the dayIdeally this statement could be used as the final words expressing your major ideas.Shows your ability to wrap up ideas and concepts effectively
4I would say thatUse this to present your views or opinions on a subjectIndicates you are open to bearing diverse opinions
5On the wholeSupports your presentation of a fair perspectiveShows your ability to analyze and consider all angles of a subject
6In my opinionSimple approach to present your point of viewDirect and leaves no room for ambiguity
7If I remember correctlyUse this when you want to recall certain informationShows that the information remembered is accurate
8It's worth mentioning thatUtilize this to emphasize a critical pointAccentuates critical aspects, demonstrating that you can do so
9From my point of viewAn additional approach to express your thoughtsDeepens and formalizes your viewpoint
10As far as I can tellUse it to offer your personal opinionSuggests an in-depth review founded on observation
Here are few more Samples Reading Answers for IELTS
Making Every Drop Count Reading AnswersAir Traffic Control In The USA Reading AnswersBring Back The Big Cats Reading Answers
Alternative Medicine In Australia Reading AnswersThe Intersection Of Health Sciences And Geography Reading AnswersSheet Glass Manufacture The Float Process Reading Answers
The Life And Work Of Marie Curie Reading AnswersWhy Pagodas Don't Fall Down?Spoken Corpus comes to life Reading Answers

Sample IELTS Speaking Answers Using Common Idioms

When answering the questions in the IELTS Speaking test, using the top idioms for different scenarios can prove helpful. Below are examples that can help you add variations and tone to your language.

1. Describing a Joyful or Exciting Experience

"I was ecstatic to learn that I had got into my dream college! There could not have been a better time. I felt on cloud nine. Finally, I was rewarded for my late nights and struggles."

2. Expressing Disappointment or Dislike Towards Someone

“Sadly, I can’t recommend John for your project. He's proven to be a bad egg on multiple occasions. His punctuality and attitude have proven to be unpredictable and unprofessional.”

3. Describing an Energetic or Lively Person

"My younger sister has always been full of beans. She begins jumping with energy right from morning until she goes to bed at night. 

4. Discussing the Importance of Preparation

"A head start is essential in today's very competitive employment market. Applying for jobs after graduation with relevant experience from internships or voluntary work can be very beneficial."

5. Asking for Someone’s Thoughts or Opinions

"You seem deep in thought. A penny for your thoughts? Your viewpoint on this would be interesting to hear."

6. Acknowledging a Challenging Situation

“Clearly, our approach wasn't resonating with our target audience, so the ball is in your court to come up with fresh ideas."

Read More:

IELTS Score for UKIELTS Score for USAValidity of IELTS Score
IELTS Speaking TopicsIELTS Reading TipsIELTS Preparation Books
Types of IELTS ExamIELTS Academic vs GeneralIELTS Exam Pattern

How to Use Idioms in IELTS Speaking Test

Now that you have a list of 50+ idioms and phrases used in the IELTS Speaking Test, let us understand the important do's and don’ts of using idioms in IELTS.

Do’sDon’ts
If you think the examiner might not understand an idiom, explain it.Don't assume the examiner knows every idiom, especially uncommon or culturally unique ones.
Pay attention to the examiner's reply and adjust the use of your idioms accordingly.Using idioms without knowing their meaning or proper application may impair your coherence and fluency.
Practice using idioms in different parts of the IELTS Speaking testAvoid using informal idioms in a formal testing environment.
Practice idioms for IELTS Speaking with meaning in your responses to ensure you understand their nuances.Misuse or inappropriately using idioms may damage your credibility.

How Can You Practice Idioms Effectively

Idiomatic expressions are one of the tricky aspects of the language; it takes time and energy to maneuver through them. To effectively incorporate useful idioms, I recommend following the below-mentioned practical tips:-

1. Read and Listen to English Language Daily

Watch TV shows or movies or read scripts, articles, or books by writers who often incorporate idioms. Dedicate enough time to listen to English podcasts. Take a look at how native speakers incorporate idioms into their language in their day-to-day speech.

2. Make Notes

You can write the meanings of idioms and sample phrases so that they can be readily used in a complete sentence. You can also save them as a Word file or PDF in your systems. Turn to these useful idioms for IELTS Speaking PDF often to bring them to use in your daily life.

3. Practice Speaking

Try to include idioms in your regular, daily conversations. Begin by focusing on some of the most frequently used speaking idioms for IELTS, and then gradually build up your IELTS Speaking vocabulary list.

4. Watch IELTS Tutorial Videos

Watch IELTS Speaking videos to gain tips from language experts and determine the level of idioms past applicants have used - learn from their examples.

How Vital are Idioms for Excelling in IELTS Speaking Section

Idioms are quite vital for excelling in the IELTS Speaking section for several reasons:-

1. Fluency and Naturalness

Your English will sound much more natural and fluid when using idioms seamlessly in your answers. It will help you improve your speech and become more confident. It can provide you an advantage over applicants who just used formal language since you will be able to communicate in a style that is more authentic and less stiff.

2. Higher Band Scores

Gaining proficiency with idiomatic language can help improve your lexical resource and eventually help you get a better band score. It is recommended to research and rehearse persistently using IELTS phrases for better preparation. Examiners may note your idiomatic ability, showing you can employ sophisticated and subtle words well and effortlessly.

3. Engaging Speech

The strategic use of idioms can enhance the examiner's interest in your answers. With the distinctiveness and depth these common phrases bring, your English becomes richer and more interesting. The examiner may become more involved as you will be able to convey your points skillfully with vibrant emotions.

Conclusion

While idioms are not mandatory for the IELTS Speaking Test, they can undoubtedly give you a competitive advantage. Incorporating common and-out-of-the box idioms and phrases into IELTS Speaking responses can significantly enhance the naturalness and fluency of your English, demonstrating a higher level of language proficiency.

Regular practice of these expressions, can add color and depth to your answers, making them more engaging for the examiner. Remember, the key is to use them appropriately and in context, ensuring your speech remains clear and the meaning is accurately conveyed.

Recommended Reads:-

IELTS EligibilityIELTS RegistrationIELTS Syllabus
Academic IELTSIELTS Band ScoreIELTS Writing Task 1
IELTS Writing Task 2IELTS Slot BookingIELTS Band Score Chart

Download E-Books for IELTS Preparation

IELTS IDIOMS GUIDE
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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.

Download IELTS Sample Papers

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FAQs on Idioms for IETS

How to Use Idioms in the IELTS Speaking Test?

Every person has a different way to describe things. Some languages and cultures have a certain set of phrases that have special meanings. In the English language too, idioms and phrasal verbs are commonly used to express strong emotions.

In the IELTS Speaking test, 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:-

IdiomMeaningExample
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 and also form a part of the IELTS questions, directly or indirectly. You can use idioms in the IELTS Speaking and Writing to aim for a better score. Some idioms are common in various cultures and languages. A candidate must know how to use and pronounce these idioms correctly.

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:-

S.No.IdiomMeaningExample
1Brought upraised/developedI was brought up in India.
2To run in the familysimilar qualities among family membersMy parents love to travel and I like to explore the world. It actually runs in the family.
3Give someone the green lightto give permissionI am given the green light by my parents to go on a vacation with my friends. 
4Out of the bluesomething that happened unexpectedlyI got a promotion which was out of the blue. 
5Bookwormsomeone who reads a lotI 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 your conversation with the examiner. By using you can enhance your lexical resource, increasing your chances of improving the band score and performing well on the test day. But remember the key is not to overdo anything.

Which Words, Phrases, and Idioms Must I Use in the IELTS Speaking Test to Score a Band 7?

You must not use common idioms and conversational vocabulary if you want to score band seven and above in the IELTS Speaking test. You should show 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.

What Are the 10 Idiomatic Expressions?

Some common idiomatic expressions that can be useful for IELTS are:-

  • To break the ice
  • To kill two birds with one stone
  • To beat around the bush
  • To let the cat out of the bag
  • To see eye to eye
  • To be on the same page
  • To go the extra mile
  • To hit the nail on the head
  • A piece of cake
  • To make a long story short
     

Can Using Idioms Enhance Your IELTS Speaking Score?

Effective use of idioms in IELTS Speaking may raise your overall score. Idioms demonstrate a strong understanding of the English language and can improve the naturalness and fluidity of your speech. However, they should be used appropriately and in the right context to avoid confusion.

Are There Any Idioms That I Should Avoid Using in the IELTS Speaking Test?

Avoid using overly informal, obscure, or culturally specific idioms that the examiner may not be familiar with. Stick to widely understood and appropriate idioms to ensure clear communication.

Can Overusing Idioms Negatively Impact My IELTS Speaking Score?

Overusing idioms can have a negative impact on your speaking score. While idioms, when used appropriately, can enhance your language ability, overusing them can make your speech appear forced, artificial, or even perplexing. You must achieve a balance and use idioms carefully.

How Many Idioms Should I Use in the IELTS Speaking Test?

There is no set number of idioms you need to know for the IELTS Speaking test. The key is to use them effectively and naturally when the opportunity arises. While overusing idioms might reduce your overall coherence and fluency, using a few well-chosen ones can showcase your linguistic ability.

Pragya Sharma

Sr. Content Editor

Pragya Sharma is a content developer and marketer with 6.5+ years of experience in the education industry. She started her career as a social media copywriter for NIELIT, Ministry of Electronics & IT, and has now scaled up as a 360-degree content professional well-versed with the intricacies of digital marketing and different forms of content used to drive and hook the target audience. She is also a co-author of 2 stories in an anthology based on the theme- women empowerment.

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