Learn new expressions in English with these exercises:
If you have an idea that has become an obsession, you have a ‘bee in your bonnet’.
- He’s got a bee in his bonnet about politically correct language.
- She’s got a bee in her bonnet about recycling.
When somebody loses a boyfriend or girlfriend, we can tell them that there are lots more possible candidates with an expression about fish:
- There are plenty more fish in the sea.
- There are other fish in the sea.
If you disclose a secret, you ‘let the cat out of the bag’.
- The President’s visit was supposed to be confidential but somebody must have let the cat out of the bag.
- He thought she knew the secret and so he told her and let the cat out of the bag.
If you are in an environment or doing an activity where you know nothing, you are ‘like a fish out of water’.
- When they started talking about nuclear physics I felt like a fish out of water.
- I couldn’t understand anything I read or heard in Tokyo and I was a real fish out of water.
If there is a difficult situation but you take action to confront it you are taking ‘the bull by the horns’.
- I decided to take the bull by the horns and go in and ask for a raise.
- If he’s not doing his job, you are going to have to take the bull by the horns and tell him.
If somebody is very restless, they have ‘ants in their pants’ (often shortened in US English to ‘antsy’.)
- He can’t keep still. He’s got ants in his pants.
- The long wait made the children antsy.
A member of a family or other group who is embarrassing, undesirable or disreputable is called a ‘black sheep’.
- I was always considered the black sheep of my family because I was a socialist.
- My uncle went to prison and is considered the black sheep of the family.
‘Until/till the cows come home’ means ‘for a very long time’.
- They could argue until the cows come home and still not reach an agreement.
- “I could dance with you till the cows come home. Better still, I’ll dance with the cows and you come home.” (Groucho Marx)
In British English, for a very small space we can say that :
- There is no room to swing a cat.
(A cat was an old form of whip – not the animal!)
If you behave stupidly, carelessly or in a very casual manner, you ‘monkey around’.
- Stop monkeying around and get on with some work!
- Who has been monkeying around with this machine?
If you are very suspicious about something, you ‘smell a rat’.
- They said they will honor the contract but I smell a rat.
- He said he was qualified but I smelled a rat, checked up on him and found out that he wasn’t.
If something ‘goes to the dogs’, it is in a bad state or even ruined.
- Since he took over as chairman, the company has gone to the dogs.
- This part of town has really gone to the dogs in the last few years.