Idioms for GCE O levels English with meanings and examples

Mastering Idioms for GCE O Levels English: An Essential Guide for Success with meanings and examples

Let’s start with the list of 25 advanced idioms for GCE O Levels:

  1. Bite the bullet
  2. Cut corners
  3. Break the ice
  4. When pigs fly
  5. Beat around the bush
  6. Kick the bucket
  7. The ball is in your court
  8. Burn the midnight oil
  9. Hit the nail on the head
  10. The last straw
  11. Go the extra mile
  12. Let the cat out of the bag
  13. Sit on the fence
  14. Off the record
  15. The tip of the iceberg
  16. Spill the beans
  17. Through thick and thin
  18. Turn over a new leaf
  19. Under the weather
  20. Up in the air
  21. Get your act together
  22. Bite off more than you can chew
  23. Kill two birds with one stone
  24. Take with a grain of salt
  25. Miss the boat

Let’s look at them in a table format with meanings and examples:

IdiomMeaningExample of Usage
Bite the bulletTo face a difficult or unpleasant situation bravely.Despite her fear, she decided to bite the bullet and present her project to the class.
Cut cornersTo do something in the easiest, quickest, or cheapest way.If you cut corners on this assignment, your teacher will notice.
Break the iceTo start a conversation or create a more friendly atmosphere.He told a joke to break the ice at the start of his presentation.
When pigs flySomething that will never happen.He said he would clean his room when pigs fly.
Beat around the bushTo avoid getting to the point of the matter.Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you want.
Kick the bucketA humorous way of saying ‘to die’.He’s so healthy, I think he’ll be the last to kick the bucket.
The ball is in your courtIt’s someone else’s turn to take action or make a decision.I’ve done all I can, now the ball is in your court.
Burn the midnight oilTo stay up late working on a project or task.She had to burn the midnight oil to finish her project on time.
Hit the nail on the headTo be exactly right about something.His analysis of the problem really hit the nail on the head.
The last strawThe final problem or difficulty that makes a situation unbearable.His rude comment was the last straw, and she decided to leave.
Go the extra mileTo make a special effort to achieve something.She always goes the extra mile to make her customers happy.
Let the cat out of the bagTo reveal a secret, often by mistake.He let the cat out of the bag about their surprise party.
Sit on the fenceTo avoid making a decision or taking a side.It’s time to stop sitting on the fence and make a decision.
Off the recordNot officially, often used when revealing a secret.He told me off the record that he’s planning to quit his job.
The tip of the icebergJust a small part of a much larger problem or situation.These complaints are just the tip of the iceberg.
Spill the beansTo reveal secret information, often unintentionally.She spilled the beans about their engagement before they could announce it.
Through thick and thinIn both good and bad times.They’ve been best friends for years, sticking together through thick and thin.
Turn over a new leafTo change one’s behaviour for the better.He decided to turn over a new leaf and start studying more seriously.
Under the weatherFeeling ill or sick.She’s feeling under the weather today and won’t be coming to school.
Up in the airUncertain or undecided.The date of the trip is still up in the air.
Get your act togetherTo start to organize yourself so that you do things in an effective way.It’s time to get your act together and start revising for your exams.
Bite off more than you can chewTo take on a task that is too big.By accepting all those assignments, he’s bitten off more than he can chew.
Kill two birds with one stoneTo accomplish two different things at the same time.By studying on the bus, I can save time and kill two birds with one stone.
Take with a grain of saltTo not fully believe something that you are told.He’s always exaggerating, so I take what he says with a grain of salt.
Miss the boatTo miss an opportunity.If you don’t apply soon, you might miss the boat.

But let’s not stop there, let’s go well advance on idioms:

Here’s a list of 20 uncommon idioms:

  1. A feather in one’s cap
  2. At sixes and sevens
  3. Be all ears
  4. Catch someone red-handed
  5. Cold shoulder
  6. Dressed to the nines
  7. Fall off the back of a lorry
  8. Give the green light
  9. Go down a storm
  10. Have a whale of a time
  11. In a pickle
  12. Make a beeline for
  13. Not my cup of tea
  14. Once in a blue moon
  15. Pull someone’s leg
  16. Put all your eggs in one basket
  17. See eye to eye
  18. Take the bull by the horns
  19. The lion’s share
  20. Wet behind the ears

And here they are in a table format with their meanings and examples:

IdiomMeaningExample of Usage
A feather in one’s capAn accomplishment one is proud ofGetting into the university of her choice was a feather in her cap.
At sixes and sevensIn a state of confusion or disarrayHe was at sixes and sevens after the unexpected news.
Be all earsTo listen attentivelyWhen she started talking about her trip, I was all ears.
Catch someone red-handedCatch someone in the act of doing something wrongI caught him red-handed while he was copying my work.
Cold shoulderTo ignore someoneShe gave him the cold shoulder at the party.
Dressed to the ninesDressed very elegantlyShe arrived at the prom dressed to the nines.
Fall off the back of a lorryAcquired in a possibly illegal or dubious wayThis new painting? It fell off the back of a lorry.
Give the green lightGive permission for something to happenThe director gave the green light to the project.
Go down a stormTo be received very enthusiasticallyHis joke went down a storm at the party.
Have a whale of a timeHave an exciting or fun timeWe had a whale of a time at the beach yesterday.
In a pickleIn a difficult positionI’m in a real pickle – I accidentally invited two friends to dinner on the same night.
Make a beeline forHead straight for somethingAs soon as she entered the store, she made a beeline for the sales rack.
Not my cup of teaNot to one’s likingPlaying video games is not my cup of tea.
Once in a blue moonRarelyHe only cleans his room once in a blue moon.
Pull someone’s legTo joke or tease someoneAre you pulling my leg or did you really win the lottery?
Put all your eggs in one basketRely on a single opportunityDon’t put all your eggs in one basket; apply to several universities.
See eye to eyeTo agree on a subjectMy sister and I see eye to eye on most things.
Take the bull by the hornsFace a problem directlyShe decided to take the bull by the horns and confront her friend about their argument.
The lion’s shareThe majority or largest partHe ate the lion’s share of the pizza.
Wet behind the earsInexperiencedThe new intern is still wet behind the ears.


Idioms, those colourful expressions that paint a thousand words in just a few, are an essential aspect of language mastery. For English students preparing for their General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE O Levels) English Examinations, understanding, and correctly using Idioms for GCE O levels English with meanings and examples can make a significant difference. This article presents vital strategies to help Secondary 4 students master idioms for GCE O levels English and presents resources to aid learning. This guide goes beyond the primary level lists, ensuring a more in-depth and elevated exploration of idioms.

Best Strategies to Master Idioms

Here are some practical strategies for mastering idioms in preparation for the GCE O levels:

  1. Understanding, Not Memorising: Approach idioms with the goal of understanding their meanings and applications, not just rote memorisation. This makes usage more natural and meaningful.
  2. Practice through Reading and Listening: Regularly read English books, listen to English songs, or watch English movies. It helps in encountering idioms in a natural context.
  3. Contextual Learning: Use idioms in daily conversations, writings, and presentations to get a practical grasp on them.
  4. Make a List: Keep an ongoing list of idioms and their meanings, along with examples of their use.
  5. Revision: Regularly revisit your idiom list and practice using them to ensure they stick.
  6. Idiom Games: Play games like ‘idiom charades’ or ‘idiom trivia’ to make learning more fun and engaging.

Unveiling the Complexity of Idioms

Idioms can be a vibrant addition to any conversation or written discourse. But they are also among the trickiest parts of any language, not least because they often seem illogical if taken literally. For example, the idiom “break a leg” doesn’t really mean someone should harm themselves. Instead, it’s a quirky way of wishing someone good luck.Many idioms have historical or cultural roots that explain their often surprising meanings. For instance, “the ball is in your court” is derived from tennis and is used to convey that it’s now someone else’s turn to take action or make a decision.

Making Idioms a Part of Your Language Arsenal

Learning idioms is a step-by-step process. Start with the most common idioms, understand their meaning and context, and then gradually move to the more complex ones. Don’t rush to learn all idioms at once. It’s more important to thoroughly understand a few than to half-know many.Remember to use the idioms you’ve learned in your writing and conversation. For example, if you’re writing an essay, you could incorporate idioms to make your points more vividly. But be careful not to overdo it. The use of idioms should be natural and not forced.

Diving Deeper: Advanced Idioms for GCE O Levels

Now that you’ve gotten the hang of the basics, it’s time to tackle more complex idioms. These idioms may seem daunting at first, but with consistent practice and application, they can become second nature. Here are a few to start with:

  • Bite the bullet: To face a painful situation bravely.
  • Kick the bucket: A light-hearted or humorous way of saying ‘to die’.
  • Cut corners: To do something in the easiest, quickest, or cheapest way, often sacrificing quality.

Online Resources for Idiom Mastery

The internet provides a treasure trove of resources to help you master idioms. Here are a few credible sites to visit:

  • EnglishClub: This site offers a comprehensive list of idioms, with explanations and example sentences.
  • Idioms4you: This site offers audio examples of idioms in context, helping you understand how to use them in conversation.
  • BBC Learning English: Their “The English We Speak” series often includes episodes focused on idioms, providing an entertaining way to learn.
  • LearnEnglish – British Council: This offers quizzes and lessons to make idiom learning more interactive.


Idioms, with their unique ability to pack a punch in a few words, add flavour to language. Therefore, mastering idioms for GCE O Levels English not only aids in scoring better in your exams but also in becoming a more effective communicator. With the right strategies, practice, and resources, idioms can transform from confusing phrases to powerful tools in your linguistic arsenal. Remember, the journey to idiom mastery is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Stay patient, stay consistent, and you will surely see results.

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