How to use idioms in the IELTS Speaking Test

How to use idioms in the IELTS Speaking Test

How to use idioms in the IELTS Speaking Test

Every language has a different way to describe things, ideas or feelings. We use a combination of words that have a meaning that is not always clear to someone who is learning that language. Each culture has a different set of phrases that have special meaning in their country. In English, we use idioms and phrasal verbs to express ourselves. This idiomatic language is used frequently in our everyday communication so, it’s very important that we understand what idioms are and how to use them.

The IELTS Speaking assessment criteria focuses on how well you can use idiomatic language from bands 7 and upwards. At band 7, you will see this statement for Lexical Resource:

  • uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary and shows some awareness of style and collocation, with some inappropriate choices.

What’s an idiom?

An idiom is a phrase or expression that generally has non-literal meaning – the meaning cannot be directly understood by reading each word. For example, if you are very happy because you got a band 8 in your Speaking test, you might say: “I was over the moon when I saw my results”. If we look at the literal meaning of these words, we think about looking over the moon up in the sky beyond the stars! However, the idiomatic meaning of this phrase is to do with happiness – “I was very happy when I saw my result.”

Idioms are used so often in a natural way by native speakers that they often go unnoticed, we are not even aware that we are using them because we have grown up listening to these phrases and expressions. However, when you are a language learner, you have to learn how to use them correctly, so they don’t sound unnatural. You might have heard the term collocation, which is also assessed in the IELTS Speaking test. Collocation refers to words that often go together naturally and are generally used in that order when speaking. For example, you would never say food fast as the order is incorrect, you would always say fast food. Collocation is very important when using idiomatic language as the words you choose are just as important as the order they are spoken in.

What’s a phrasal verb?

Phrasal verbs are compound verbs where a verb is combined with an adverb or a preposition. When these phrasal verbs are made, they often have idiomatic meaning, and you cannot understand the meaning by reading what each word means. For example, the combination of the verb picks plus the reposition up – pick up – means lift. We can use this phrasal verb to ask someone to pick up something we dropped on the ground, or we can also use this expression to ask for a lift in a car – “I need a lift, can you please pick me up on the way to school?”

So, as you can see, we use idiomatic language all the time to express ourselves in a more colourful way where the combination of words we use have idiomatic meaning.

Let’s look at some common idioms and phrasal verbs that are used in everyday communication.

Common everyday idioms

There are thousands of idioms and phrasal verbs used every day when we express ourselves. I will pick out (choose) a few that are used commonly in daily conversation.


  • Barrel of laugh: someone who is very funny
  • Old as the hills: some who is very old
  • In the doghouse: To have some unhappy with you
  • Up for Grabs: Available for anyone Split hairs: Argue Or worry about small details
  • Round the bend: Crazy, insane
  • See eye to eye: To concur, agree
  • Break a leg: Good luck
  • Ball is in your court: It is up to you to make the next decision or step
  • Barking up the wrong tree: Looking in the wrong place.
  • Be glad to see the back of: Be happy when a person leaves.
  • Against the Clock: Rushed and short on time.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover: Don’t judge something primarily by its appearance.
  • Kick the Bucket: Die
  • Oddball: a weirdo or a strange person
  • Knee Jerk Reaction: A quick and automatic response
  • Hang in there: Don’t give up
  • Pull yourself together: Calm down
  • So far so good: Things are going well so far
  • Down-To-Earth: sensible and realistic
  • Curiosity killed the cat: Being too Curious can get you into trouble
  • 9 Elvis has left the building: The show has come to an end It’s all over
  • 2 Last straw: The final problem in a series of problems
  • Joined at the hip: to be exceptionally close to someone
  • Elbow grease: hard physical effort
  • Forty winks: a short nap
  • Black out: Faint
  • Black and blue: Describe something that is badly bruised
  • Golden opportunity: The perfect chance
  • Have the blues: Be sad or depressed
  • Black sheep: A Who is a disgrace to a family or group
  • Doing your homework: You can’t play game anymore until you do your homework
  • Under one’s belt: She has almost a year as minister under her belt.
  • As far as anyone knows: As far as anyone knows, this is the last of the great herds of buffalo.


  1. Cambridge 11 – GT IELTS Reading Answers




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