Dinesh Pandiyan


IELTS Speaking Idioms

  • By Kanan Team
  • 12-10-2022

An idiom is a phrase or expression with a figurative or non-literal meaning. For example: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Candidates are able to speak like native English speakers by learning the given idioms for IELTS speaking. Practising and using a lot of idioms and collocations can help you to get a high band score in the IELTS speaking exam

In the IELTS speaking module, you will find four band descriptors. Those are fluency and coherence, lexical resource, grammatical range and accuracy, and pronunciation. Your speech will be natural and fluent by using English-language idioms. Our list of idioms for IELTS speaking is designed by our experts to help you to get a band 9 score.

List of 63 Useful Idioms for Band 9 Score

Practising idiomatic language in your IELTS preparation can be helpful to get a band 9 score. Use the list of 63 English-language idioms in your IELTS speaking preparation to achieve a better band score. 

( Note: The given list of idioms for the IELTS speaking exam has taken from a different set of topics including hometown, work, relationships, environment, etc. )

S.no Idioms Definition Example
1. Water Under The Bridge Past things that are not important anymore I had some problems with my friends. But, those are water under bridges now. 
2. Practice makes perfect! Constant practice leads to improvement Try to do the math as much as possible. Practice makes perfect!
3. Hit the nail on the head  Saying things in a precise and right manner In debate, you have hit the nail on the head towards the opposite group.
4.  Back to the drawing board! Attempts are failed. So, now it's time to start over again with different methods We have done a poor job in our project. Back to the drawing board!
5. An Arm and A Leg Very costly BMW and all is an arm and a leg for me.
6. Over the Moon Extreme happiness I was over the moon when I got selected for a job
7. Between a rock and a hard place Two equally bad choices I don’t like my partner. If I leave her, she could hurt herself. I am between a rock and a hard place.
8. It’s Not One Thing, It’s the Other Problems are happening simultaneously I got rejected from a job. Now, I broke my legs. If it’s not one thing, it’s the other.
9. Pulling your Leg Teasing or Joking around Don’t take it personally. I am just pulling your leg
10. You are what you eat Eating healthy food can make you healthy. And, eating junk food could worsen your health You are what you eat. So, Eat good food.
11. Don't judge a book by its cover Judging someone based on their appearance is misleading Don’t judge a book by its cover, he is an intelligent person.
12. Take a rain check Rejecting an invitation now. But, when you would like to do it later. I can't come to the party now. I have to take a rain check.
13. The heat of the moment Doing or saying something suddenly without thinking about it. Sorry for what I have said. I said in the heat of the moment
14. Bite my Tongue Stopping yourself from saying something  I have to bite my tongue now to prevent bad situations
15. Jumping the Gun  Starting or Initiating something too early Why are you jumping the gun? Tomorrow is only a festival
16. Once in a Blue Moon Occurring so rarely We can see him once in a blue moon
17. Cut to the chase Getting to the point and leaving out all the non-essential information Please cut to the chase. We don’t want to listen to all your stories. 
18. Keep an eye on him Watching someone in a careful manner He seems a little suspicious. So, keep an eye on him
19. Rule of Thumb A principle or guideline based on practice rather than theory As a rule of thumb, you should take 2000 calories
20. Work against the clock Not having sufficient time to do something  We have to work against the clock to complete this project
21. Flogging a dead horse Working on something that is not going to change I think we are flogging a dead horse. It’s better to focus on some other thing
22. Smell a rat Sensing something that is not right Don’t try to conceal the truth. I can smell a rat
23. Kicked the bucket Died Jack kicked the bucket when he dived into the sea
24. Put all your eggs in the basket Putting all of one’s resources into one thing Don’t put all your eggs in the basket. Invest the money in different stocks. 
25. Chip on his shoulder The feeling of inferiority or unpleasantness He feels a chip on his shoulder when he thinks about his job.
26. Piece of cake Very easy Achieving high marks in science is a piece of cake for me.
27. Cloud has a silver lining Seeing the positive side in a negative situation Don’t worry about that. Every cloud has a silver lining.
28. Let the sleeping dogs lie Avoiding a conflict or problem I don’t want to discuss it with him anymore. It's better to let the sleeping dogs lie.
29. Spitting Image Looking exactly the same thing He’s a spitting image of her brother.
30. Bent over Backwards Put a lot of effort to do something I bent over backwards to help her. But, she doesn’t even care about me.
31. Break a leg Good luck Today, you are going to take a major exam, right? Break a leg.
32. The Ball's in your court To tell someone it’s their turn to make a decision Who are you going to marry? The ball’s in your court, now.
33. Playing a devil's advocate Argue for an unfavourable side to provoke a debate I am playing devil’s advocate to know the flaws in my position
34. Until the cows come home Taking a very long time He is eating slowly. He will be there until the cows come home
35. Hold your horses Telling someone to be patient Hold your horses, you're behaving so idiotically
36. Tongue-in-cheek Something said it humorously rather than seriously Sorry for what I have said. It was just tongue-in-cheek.
37. Sitting on the fence Not able to make firm and strong decisions I don't know which career he is going to choose. He is sitting on the fence.
38. Found my feet Become comfortable with what one is doing At first, I wasn't able to cook. But, now I have found my feet.
39. A drop in the ocean A minute part of a bigger thing. He has a lot of wisdom. What he just said is a drop in the ocean.
40. Blessing in disguise At first, it seems like the wrong thing but it turns out to be good. I failed the previous exam which was a blessing in disguise. Now, I got higher marks.
41. Driving me up the wall Irritating or Annoying somebody He is driving me up the wall. He keeps on doing that. 
42. Under the Weather Unwell He is not talking with us. I guess he is under the weather.
43. Actions speak louder than words Actions have a better impact than speaking  We have to act instead of thinking too much about that. Actions speak louder than words.
44. It’s a small world Meeting someone who is close in an unexpected context. I met George in the supermarket. It’s a small world
45. Fixed in their ways Sticking to conventional or normal ways of things.  My relatives are fixed in their ways. They are compelling me to marry.
46. Go the extra mile Doing more than what is necessary or required.  He will go the extra mile to irritate others.
47. Over the top Excessive Your excitement is over the top. It does not deserve that much.
48. Bite the hand that feeds you Hurting someone who helped you Be with your parents when they are old. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
49. Let the cat out of the bag Telling something to someone that you are not supposed to I told your secret to Sanjay. Sorry, I didn’t mean to let the cat out of the bag.
50. Got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning Being in a bad mood I guess he got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. That’s why he is in a terrible state of mind. 
51. Fresh as a daisy Someone who is active, lively, and jovial Though my mother aged, she is stills as fresh as a daisy
52. Couch potato A lazy person or someone who is watching TV without doing any work. My friend is a couch potato. He is watching TV programmes though he has a lot of work.
53. Bad egg A person who is not trustworthy. I think you should not tell your secrets to mohan. He is such a bad egg.
54. Party Pooper A person who is not participating in fun activities or enjoyment. Why Sam is so sad in this function. Party Pooper!
55. Eager beaver A person who is enthusiastic and hardworking. Vignesh is an eager beaver. He can finish any work on time. 
56. Throw in the towel Giving up I don’t think it will work anymore. I’ll throw in the towel.
57. Get a headstart Start prior to others The only way to win the competition is to get a headstart.
58. Down to earth A person who is practical and realistic George is such a down to earth person. He can offer practical solutions to problems rather than  confusing us.
59. Burned the Midnight oil Staying up too late I burned the midnight oil to complete the homework.
60. Crash course A quick lesson I have done an IELTS crash course to get a good band score.
61. Out of the blue  Something occurred in an unexpected way I got shocked since he surprised me, out of the blue
62. Pass with flying colours  Passing a test with high grades or marks  My daughter passed with flying colours in her college exams
63.  To follow in someone's footsteps  Achieving things that someone already did  Following someone's steps is not a bad thing since it guides us.

Download the list of useful idioms for IELTS speaking pdf as a reference for your IELTS speaking preparation. 

Phrases to help you in the IELTS Speaking Exam 

Make sure to use the phrases appropriately in the IELTS speaking exam. Overusing the phrases could make your speech more unnatural and scripted. Use the phrases in the proper places to speak like native English Speakers.  

I guess you could say

This phrase can be used when you are lacking in subject knowledge. You can use it in the IELTS speaking test since IELTS is a language test rather than an Intelligence test. 

Example: I guess you could say that people lack motivation when they are in stressful situations.

Well, I think nowadays it’s a difficult question because…

It expresses the current state of conditions and problems. In the IELTS speaking test, you can use it for follow up questions since you could encounter unexpected questions.

Example: Well, I think nowadays it’s a difficult question because there are a whole lot of people using mobile phones. 

Yes definitely, there are a few reasons for this, firstly….   and secondly…

You can use this phrase when you are agreeing with an examiner and build up the answers. In IELTS speaking part 2 - in depth discussion, you can start a speech and build it up for several questions. 

Example: Do you think most people want to earn more money ? Yes definitely, there are few reasons for this, firstly the price for all the products and services is increased. Secondly, people want to buy more latest stuff.  

Well to be totally honest I’ve never really thought about it before…

It can be used when you have heard something new. In an individual long turn test, you can start out your speech when you are lacking knowledge on the given topic. 

Example: Describe a thing which moves with the vibrations

Well to be totally honest I’ve never really thought about it before

If my memory serves me well…

This phrase can be used when you are relying on past experiences or memory to tell something. You can use this phrase a good deal for IELTS speaking part 2. 

Example: If my memory serves well, it is a blockbuster movie from the 1980’s. 

I’ve forgotten… but…

You can use this phrase when you forget something specific but express information about that. It will be useful for you when IELTS speaking part 2. 

Example: I’ve forgotten the exact place but I went there often.

Is it okay to speak about … ?

This question phrase can be asked when you are trying to talk about something controversial and whether the listener is okay with it or not. In the IELTS speaking test, you can use this question phrase when you are going to start out a new subject. 

Example: Is it okay to speak about terrorism?

I’m going to talk about… 

You can use this phrase when you are starting out a speech. In an individual long turn test, this phrase can be used at the beginning of the speech. 

Example: I’m going to talk about one of my childhood experiences. 

The only thing I could think of to speak about is…

When you don’t have much ideas on a specific topic, you can use this phrase.  You can use this phrase if you aren't able to generate ideas when you are in the IELTS speaking test. 

Example: The only thing I could think of to speak about is things I have learned during my college years. 

I think I’ve covered everything…

This phrase is appropriate at the end of the conversation or speech. You can use this standardly to complete the individual long turn test.

I think I’m going off-topic

This phrase can be used when you think you are speaking more than what is required. In the IELTS speaking test, you return back to the topic by using the phrase.

I can’t think of anything else to say

When you are running out of ideas, you can use this phrase. You could encounter a question where you get only one idea to formulate your answer. At that time, using this phrase at the end of the speech will be helpful. 

How to Use Idioms in IELTS Speaking?

You can figuratively describe your feelings and ideas using idioms. But, importantly, you must use the idiomatic expressions properly since it could affect your fluency and IELTS band score. So, remember the points given below while you are preparing idioms for the IELTS speaking test.

  • Overusing idioms: Using idioms strategically can really express your speaking skills. But, if you are using it frequently, then it will seem unnatural. It could create a bad impression on your examiner. 
  • Using Irregular verbs: Idioms you are using could consist of irregular verbs such as gotten, drove, etc., You need to change it according to the tenses. Or else, it will be out of context.
  • Avoid using cliches: Using cliche idioms indicates low-level preparation to your examiner. So, it is better to form good sentence structures instead of using cliches.
  • Mind the context: Whenever you use idioms, make sure it fits into the context. Using idioms in your speech, out of context, will affect your band score. 
  • Unsuitable idioms: You may have the intention to use unconventional idioms to impress the examiner. But, more likely, it will seem odd while you are speaking. So, use the right idiom, in the right context, and in the right manner (pronunciation), to attain a good band score. 

Read the IELTS speaking tips to improve your speaking skills. 


IELTS speaking is divided into three parts: introduction, long-turn individual test, and follow-up questions. You can improve your level of speech in all three parts with the help of our “idioms for IELTS speaking”. You can also use the phrases and idioms for IELTS speaking pdf for your exam preparation. 


1. Should idioms be used in IELTS speaking?

Most of the time, people use idioms informally. Spoken English is less formal than academic written English. So, idioms can be used in IELTS speaking. 

2. How can I use idioms in the IELTS speaking test?

You can use idioms to express a specific thought in the IELTS speaking test. It will improve your English language fluency and continuity.

3. What are some common idioms used in the IELTS speaking test?

There are several common idioms used in the IELTS speaking test such as a white lie, child’s play, day and night, in the red, a dime a dozen, and beat around the bush.

4. What is the difference between idioms and collocations?

Idioms will lose their meaning if the words are separated. But, the meaning of the collocations sustains even if the words break apart.

5. Which idiom can be used to express sadness?

One of the idioms that can express sadness is down on the mouth. When the teacher scolded Gokul. He was down on his mouth. 

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