The Best Idioms to Learn for IELTS are Ones You Can Use Often

  • Posted by Kate Keating

Learning idioms and phrases for the IELTS can be difficult. Yet, these types of phrases and expressions come up all of the time in the English language. Since they often don’t make sense literally, you will need to familiarize yourself with their meaning and usage. It takes a lot of work to learn idioms and phrases for the IELTS, but, don’t worry, they can be fun. They are often humorous and add a little spice to your English. You will sound like a native speaker when you use common idioms and phrases.

To truly learn idioms, you must take a three-prong approach. First, you need to hear or read a new expression. In order to spice up your vocabulary with idioms and phrases, you first have to constantly be on the prowl for them. Second, write it down. Actually, writing it the old-fashioned way with a pen and paper will help you remember it. And, finally, use it. You must speak it or write it to someone in order for it to be something you actually know and use. Once you use it, you will own it.

As you try to learn idioms and phrases, only attempt to learn a couple at a time. If you try to learn too many, you will only get confused and end up not learning any. Another good tip is to try to create a diary of idioms and phrases. You could categorize them to help you understand when to use each one.

The categories that will be covered in this article are emotions (happy, sad, angry etc.), people’s personalities, and the cost of things – the reason I have chosen these are they are the ones that can come up in the test the most often and if you concentrate on these you will have more chance of using what you are learning.

Also take a look at my email course: 24 Idioms To Use In IELTS for more idioms that can be used often in the test.


We’ll start with some common idioms that express Anger or Frustration. If you “blow a fuse (or gasket)”, you are furious. My parents blew a fuse when they found out I didn’t clean the kitchen after I promised I would. Or, I blew a fuse when I found out my girlfriend cheated on me.

If you are “seeing red” you are furious. I started seeing red when my car wouldn’t start again. Or, my friend saw red when he dropped and broke his new iPhone.

Loud noises when I’m trying to sleep makes my “blood boil.” If your blood is boiling, you are very angry.

I began with anger, but now I’m going to add to that idea. When you “go off the deep end,” you can be really angry, but you could also be irrational. Let’s say your car didn’t start this morning, so instead of calling a mechanic like a rational person, you went “off the deep end” and started smashing your car windows with a baseball bat.

Maybe your car is not starting right after you finished fixing a flat tire, then you “can’t take it anymore,” because you are frustrated and out of patience.

If you’ve “had it up to here” with something, you are extremely frustrated with whatever is happening and can no longer deal with it. When you use this expression, you usually hold up a hand to eye level to indicate where “here” is. I’ve had it up to here with your lateness. It is usually spoken in an annoyed and somewhat loud voice.

Now that we’ve covered so many angry and annoyed idioms and phrases, let’s “switch gears” (change the topic) and feel happy.

If you are “walking on air” or you’re “on cloud nine,” you feel euphoric and elated. Winning an Oscar must be such a great feeling. The winners must feel like they are walking on air.

I just won the lottery; I’m on cloud nine!

If you feel as if you are “on top of the world,” you probably accomplished a great feat. You feel fantastic and euphoric when you’re on top of the world because you just got a promotion.

If you are “over the moon,” you are thrilled and so very happy. You would be over the moon if you just won the jackpot or found out you passed a very difficult exam with a very high score.

You might be “tickled pink” when you receive good news. I was tickled pink when I went on vacation and they upgraded my flight to first class at no charge.

Let’s switch gear again and go on to feeling sad:

If you are “down in the dumps” or “feeling the blues,” you are sad. While on vacation at the beach, you were down in the dumps because it rained every day. Since you spent so much money on your dream vacation and it rained each day, you started feeling blue thinking of all the wasted money and time off from work.

The Cost of Things

Speaking of money, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” If you save your money today and not buy that other outfit, you can spend that money later. This idiom is more like advice on how to wisely use (or not use) your money.

If something costs “an arm and a leg” it is too expensive. Basically, this idiom asks you if you are willing to give up both an arm and a leg to buy an expensive item. I wanted to purchase a new computer, but it costs an arm and a leg. You also don’t want to “pay through the nose” for a used computer. It’s just too expensive.

If you keep shopping, you might be able to find a used computer “dirt cheap.” If a product is dirt cheap, you found a deal; it is inexpensive.


If you say someone is “a pain in the neck,” you consider that person annoying. So, if you don’t want to hang out with a pain in the neck, you definitely want to hang out with a “people person.” If you are called a people person, you are outgoing and get along well with others.

if you are a XXX person you like that kind of thing very much

My friend is a dog person (my friend loves dogs and has several as pets)

Are you a cat person or a dog person (which do you prefer?)

I’m not really a party person (I don’t like to go to parties)

I’m not really a meat person (I don’t like to eat meat)

It might be fun to hang out with a “party animal,” but only on the weekends. A party animal loves to attend parties and is usually the person having the most fun. My friend Dan was dancing on top of the table, he’s a party animal!

I was a “happy camper” when the flight attendant provided me with a warm blanket, pillow, and a martini. If you are a happy camper, you are very satisfied and pleased. Yet sometimes “happy camper” can be used in the negative because it pokes fun at someone who is always happy and satisfied, which can be annoying.

As you study idioms and prepare for the IELTS, just remember “haste makes waste” (you’ll make mistakes if you rush through the test), so don’t rush. Also, don’t have “your head in the clouds” (lacking concentration) because you will make mistakes if you’re not focused on the test. Give yourself “some slack” (don’t be so critical) when it comes to preparing for the test, you’ll pass with “flying colors” (you’ll achieve a high grade)! “Break a leg!” (The best of luck to you).

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Kate Keating

Qualified IELTS Tutor and Coach

Trained with British Council

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