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The ONLY 10 idioms you need for IELTS

One piece of advice you have probably already heard is USE IDIOMS in your IELTS Speaking Exam. All the sources will tell you that when you use idioms, you have a higher chance of getting a higher score. Yes, this is true. But there is more to it than that.


Are you struggling with how to use them? Do you know which idioms you can use for the IELTS Speaking Exam? Many articles just give you a whole bunch of great idioms to use but if you don’t know how to use them, you’ll never remember them. This article is aimed at showing you how you can practice using idioms so that you can actually remember them.


This article will look at:

  • What idiomatic language is

  • Why you should use idioms

  • Which idioms are best to use

  • How you can practice using idioms in the IELTS Speaking Exam

  • Examples of Topic related idioms


What is idiomatic language?


Idiomatic language is a group of words used together that mean something, which is often completely different from the meaning from each separate word. They are natural phrases that are often used informally by Native speakers.


For example,


Hold your horses



This does not literally mean that you should hold onto your horses that are in the stable. It means that you should be patient and wait.


Now, because the meaning of the phrases are usually so different from the words used in them, they can be really tricky to learn. Remember, you would also have some idioms in your own language and it is a good idea to find common idioms from your language and remember the English version of them. That way, you will also feel more comfortable using them.



Why should you use idioms?


Idioms are a big part of everyday English and something which Native Speakers use without even realizing it. In the IELTS Exam, the examiner will be testing your ability to convey your thoughts and ideas as naturally as possible. As an IELTS teacher, whenever my students use an idiomatic phrase, it really impresses me. Just today, one of my students told me that they ‘had a blast’ at an event they attended over the weekend. It stands out -- and in a good way. You want to make sure that you impress the IELTS examiner too.


According to the IELTS Speaking rubric, you cannot score higher than a 6 or 6.5 if you do not use idiomatic language. Unless you show the examiner that every other aspect of your speech is flawless, you won’t be able to score much higher and this is a mistake that students often make.


Remember the examiner doesn’t just ‘feel’ that this student should get a certain score, they follow a certain criteria that you need to try and match.


Have a look at this snapshot of the Official public version of the IELTS Speaking Rubric





What about Phrasal Verbs?


I believe that phrasal verbs are just as important as idiomatic language for the IELTS exam, perhaps even a little more important. Phrasal verbs are used in speech daily and you will really sound much more natural if you use them.


Here some 20 of the most popular phrasal verbs


  1. Break up

  2. Bring up

  3. Take after

  4. Come across

  5. Find out

  6. Get along

  7. Look for

  8. Give up

  9. Look forward to

  10. Take up

  11. Try out

  12. Try on

  13. Put up with

  14. Work out

  15. Pick up

  16. Put off

  17. Get rid of

  18. Put up with

  19. Drop by

  20. Eat out


If you would like to know more about these phrasal verbs and their meaning, drop a comment below and I will go into more detail about them. But let’s get back to talking about idioms!


Which idioms are best to use?


Do you want to know the truth?


Are you sure?


There isn’t a secret list of idioms that you can learn that are the best to use. I’m sorry to disappoint you. Also, all those other articles aren't helpful at all. It really depends on what you say, the context you use it in and how you use it. That is what this article is about. I want to give you an idea of which type of context you can use idioms in.


Certain idioms you can use in many different contexts, so I would suggest focusing on those.

For example, the idiom A watched pot never boils means a situation or event can take far longer than expected. Now, this idiom is usually used as a comment on something by saying it on its own. Or with something along the lines of ‘As you know, a watched pot never boils’. There aren’t many situations in the IELTS exam that you can pull this idiom out to use in. I would rather focus on idioms that would make more sense to use in a variety of situations.


Take this idiom for example, once in a blue moon, which means rarely or on the odd occasion can be used in many different contexts. You could be talking about a hobby that you used to do and don’t do anymore. You can be talking about a family member and the fact that you rarely see them. Therefore, this idiom is one that IELTS students love to remember. I would also warn you that it is also an idiom that IELTS examiners have heard over and over again. I would welcome you to use this idiom, however make sure you use other idioms as well. This one is too common to be proof of using idiomatic language.


How can I practice using idioms for the IELTS Exam?


If there is one piece of advice I could give, for anything vocabulary related in the IELTS Exam, it is to group them.

Group them? What do you mean by grouping them?

When you are studying the topic of your hometown, you learn vocabulary related to your city, buildings, public transport and words related to historical sites or attractions. You should do the same when you are studying idioms. It is always important to remember in what context you can use the idiom.

1. An idiom to talk about cost

For example, next to nothing. This idiom means barely or an amount that is extremely small.

What context can we use this idiom in?

I would use this idiom when talking about a number of things, such as

  • Cost of something - The hotel we stayed in cost next to nothing.

  • This idiom can be used when talking about the topic of travel, food, gifts, shopping, hobbies.

  • Anything that involves talking about money!

Therefore this is an extremely useful idiom to remember as it is very versatile.

Now, let’s look at a number of other examples.

Examples of Topic Related Idioms



2. An idiom to express happiness


Over the moon with joy

Meaning - to be completely happy about something.

Example - I was over the moon with joy when I found out that my brother will be home for Christmas


This idiom can be used in many IELTS Topics.


Talking about gifts - I was over the moon with joy when my husband gave me my birthday present

Talking about travelling - I was over the moon with joy when I went to Paris for the first time.

Talking about sports - I was over the moon with joy when my team won the match.





3. An idiom to express that something is irritating.


To get on your nerves

Meaning - something irritates you

Example - that politician’s speeches really gets on my nerves.


Talking about friends or family - My brother can sometimes get on my nerves

Talking about your country - The public transport system gets on my nerves

Talking about music, movies or hobbies - Romantic movies really get on my nerves



4. An idiom that describes that something has a lot of positive aspects


Best of both worlds

Example- My hometown has a lot of nature and a vibrant city life, so it has the best of both worlds.


Talking about places

Talking about your job

Talking about your country or city.



5. An idiom that shows you are not sure about something


To be in two minds

To be on the fence about smth.


This idiom can be used when you are giving your opinion about something or about a future decision that you need to make that you are not sure of.


It can be used in many different topics, and especially in the IELTS Speaking Test Part 3.


6. An idiom that describes that something is normal


run of the mill

nothing to write home about


Talking about your job

Talking about a place or city

Talking about a restaurant or meal

Talking about a gift you received

Talking about something that you have done in the past


7. An idiom that shows that something impressed you


Something blew me away

Example- The churches in Spain really blew me away, they were absolutely stunning.


Talking about people

Talking about something that you bought

Talking about a place you visited

Talking about a gift your received

Talking about an experience

Talking about a meal or restaurant

Talking about a book or film



8. An idiom that that says that something is the best


Hands down


Talking about people - He is hands down the kindest person I have ever met

Talking about something that you bought - That is hands down the best pair of shoes I’ve ever bought

Talking about a place you visited

Talking about a gift your received

Talking about an experience

Talking about a meal or restaurant

Talking about a book or film



9. An idiom to talk about struggle


To fight tooth and nail


To talk about past experiences - I had to fight tooth and nail to climb up that mountain

To talk about getting somewhere - I had to fight tooth and nail to carry my bags onto the train

To talk about relationships - I had to fight tooth and nail to get my brother to help me do the dishes


10. An idiom about being sad


Down in the dumps


To talk about your emotions. Most IELTS Topics ask for your emotions and thoughts on the matter. If you want to talk about a time that you were sad or failed, this is the idiom to use.


Talking about the past - After I failed my test, I was down in the dumps.



Here is our list.

Focus on these few idioms and you will be golden. Make sure you are confident in using a few idioms instead of trying to memorize plenty of different ones.


Happy Studying,

With love,


The Effective IELTS Team











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