170 Popular JAMB Idioms and Their Meaning

Would you like to know all the idioms in JAMB that are likely to be asked again this year?

In this lesson,

You will see all the JAMB idioms and their meaning from 1978 till date with the popular one that are likely to be repeated in your JAMB this year.


ALSO SEE: How To Score High In JAMB Use of English


Take note.

A link for you to practice JAMB English past questions on Idioms is included at the bottom of this lesson.

JAMB idioms and their meaning

These are the idioms in JAMB that appeared only ONCE in the past questions and are therefore likely to be repeated in your JAMB this year.

  1. ABOVE BOARD: honest and legal.
  2. A BURNING QUESTION: a very important or urgent question.
  3. A DOG’S LIFE: a sad life, full of problems and unfair treatment.
  4. A DROP IN THE OCEAN: an amount of something that is too small or unimportant to make any real difference in the situation.
  5. A FLASH IN THE PAN: someone or something whose success or popularity is unlikely to last.
  1. AN ITCHING PALM: to have a greedy nature or want a bribe.
  2. ASK AFTER SOMEONE: to want to know how someone is or how they are doing.
  3. AS THE CROW FLIES: in a straight line.
  4. A STORM IN A TEACUP: a lot of anger or worry about something that is not important.
  5. A TASTE OF YOUR OWN MEDICINE: the same bad treatment that you have given to others.
  6. AT CLOSE QUARTERS: very near.
  7. AT CROSS PURPOSES: to have opposite views with goals that interfere with each other.
  8. AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR: at the last moment.
  9. A WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE: to think or talk about past experiences.
  10. BALL OF FIRE: an ambitious and enthusiastic person.
  11. BEAT SOMETHING DOWN: to persuade someone to reduce the price of something they are selling.
  12. BEAT THE AIR: to keep doing something pointless or futile.
  13. BE BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA: to have two choices that are both equally unpleasant.
  14. BEG THE QUESTION: to make someone want to ask a question that has not yet been answered.
  15. BE IN THE RED: to owe money to your bank because you have sent more than you have in your account.
  16. BITE OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW: to try to do too much or do something that is too difficult.
  17. BREAK EVEN: to complete a business with losing money or making a profit.
  18. BRING SOMEONE TO BOOK FOR SOMETHING: to punish someone for doing something wrong.
  19. BRING SOMETHING UP: to mention a topic or start a talk about it.
  1. BURNING THE CANDLE AT BOTH ENDS:
    • to try to do so many things in too short a period of time.
    • to work or do other things from early in the morning until late at night.
  2. BY LEAPS AND BOUNDS: very quickly or in large amounts.
  3. COOK THE BOOKS: to change facts or figures dishonestly or illegally.
  4. COUNT YOUR CHICKEN BEFORE THEY HATCH: to be too confident that something will be successful without considering that something may still go wrong.
  5. COME TO A HEAD: to be forced to deal with something quickly because it has suddenly become very bad.
  6. COME TO GRIEF:
    • to end up in total failure.
    • to be harmed in an accident.
  7. COME OFF: to have the intended effects or results.
  8. CRACK UP: to start laughing a lot or to become ill due to pressure.
  9. CROSS THE BRIDGE WHEN YOU GET TO IT: to worry about a problem when it actually happens and not before.
  10. CUPBOARD LOVE: a type of affection shown to someone in order to get something.
  11. CUT CORNERS: to do something in the easiest, cheapest or quickest way, usually by ignoring the rules.
  12. CUT NO ICE: to have no influence or effect on someone.
  13. DO SOMETHING WITH A HEAVY HAND: to do something in a strict way or exerting a lot of control.
  14. DRAW THE LINE: to set a definite limit on what you are willing to do or accept.
  15. EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING: every sad or difficult situation has a positive side.
  16. FALL IN WITH SOMETHING OR SOMEONE:
    • to agree with something.
    • to meet or associate with someone by chance.
  17. FALL THROUGH: to fail to happen as planned.
  18. FAST FRIENDS: very close and loyal friends.
  19. FULL OF YOURSELF: to think that you are very important in a way that annoys other people.
  20. GET A GRIP ON YOURSELF: to control your behaviour or emotion after being afraid or angry.
  21. GET BACK AT SOMEONE: to do something bad to someone who has done something bad to you.
  22. GET SOMETHING OFF YOUR CHEST: to talk about something that has been worrying you for a long time so that you feel less anxious.
  23. GIVE SOMEONE A BUMPY RIDE: to make a situation difficult for someone.
  24. GO BACK ON YOUR WORD: to not do something that you said you would do.
  25. GO OFF AT A TANGENT: to suddenly start saying something that is off-topic.
  26. GO THROUGH FIRE: to face many challenges in the process of doing something.
  27. GO UNDER: to be unable to pay what you owe.
  1. HAVE A FINGER IN EVERY PIE: to be involved in different activities all at once.
  2. HAVE A HEART OF STONE: to not show others sympathy or pity.
  3. HAVE AN AXE TO GRIND: to have private reasons to being involved in something.
  4. HAVE SOMETHING UP YOUR SLEEVE: to keep a plan or an idea secret until you need to use it.
  5. HAVE YOUR HEART IN YOUR MOUTH: to feel nervous or frightened about something.
  6. HEAD OVER HEELS IN LOVE: to love someone very much.
  7. HIT THE JACKPOT: to suddenly become very rich or successful.
  8. HOLD FORTH: to speak for a long time about something in a way that other people may find boring.
  9. IN A SPOT: in a difficult situation.
  10. IN THE AIR: felt by a number of people to exist or be happening.
  11. IRON SOMETHING OUT: to get rid of problems or difficulties that are affecting something.
  12. KEEP A STIFF UPPER LIP: to hide your emotions and not let other people see what you are feeling.
  13. KNOCKING YOUR HEAD AGAINST A BRICK WALL: to keep trying to do something that will never be successful.
  14. KNOW WHICH SIDE YOUR BREAD IS BUTTERED: to know what to do or who to please in order to put yourself in the best possible situation.
  15. LARGER THAN LIFE: attracting special attention because of unusual and flamboyant appearance or behaviour.
  16. LEAVE MUCH TO BE DESIRED: to be bad or unacceptable.
  17. LET SOMEONE STEW IN THEIR OWN JUICE: to leave someone to worry or suffer the unpleasant effects of their own actions.
  18. LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD: to create a situation where everyone has the same opportunity.
  19. LIKE A BEAR WITH A SORE HEAD: bad-tempered
  20. LIVE A SPARTAN LIFE: to live a strict and harsh life with no pleasures.
  21. LIVE FROM HAND TO MOUTH: to have just enough money to live on and nothing extra.
  22. LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP: to think about the possible results or danger of something before doing it.
  23. LOSE GROUND TO SOMEONE OR SOMETHING: to lose an advantage that you once had.
  1. LOSE HEART: to stop hoping for something or stop trying to do something because you no longer feel confident.
  2. LOST YOUR TONGUE: to suddenly become unable to speak due to shock or confusion.
  3. MAKE A CLEAN SWEEP OF SOMETHING:
    • to remove all the things or people from an organisation who are thought to be unnecessary.
    • to completely win a competition, game or an election.
  4. MAKE A MESS OF SOMETHING: to ruin something.
  5. MAKE A PROFESSION OF YOUR FAITH: a declaration of faith or beliefs.
  6. MAKE SOMEONE’S HAIR STAND ON THE END: to shock or frighten someone.
  7. MEET YOUR WATERLOO: to experience your final defeat or failure.
  8. NAIL THE LIE TO THE COUNTER: to prove or expose that something is false.
  9. NOT BAT AN EYELID: to show no surprise or emotion when something unusual happens.
  10. NOTHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT: not too good but just ordinary.
  11. NO LOVE LOST: when two people or groups do not like each other at all.
  12. ON SOMEONE’S TRAIL: to follow or track someone.
  13. OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: to leave the usual method and do something unique.
  14. OFF THE RECORD: not official or publicly known.
  15. OUT OF TUNE WITH SOMEONE OR SOMETHING: to not have the same opinion, feeling or interest as someone or something.
  16. OUT OF THE WOODS: free from problems.
  17. PAY LIP SERVICE TO SOMETHING: to say that you agree with something but do nothing to support it.
  18. PICK SOMEONE TO PIECES: to find fault and criticize someone harshly.
  19. PIGS MIGHT FLY: used to say that you do not believe that something will ever happen.
  20. PLAY SECOND FIDDLE: to be in a lesser or subordinate position to someone.
  21. PULL THROUGH: to get better after a serious illness or to succeed in doing something very difficult.
  22. PULL TOGETHER: to act or work with other people in an organised way without fighting.
  23. PUT ON A BOLD FRONT: to make yourself appear more courageous than you really are.
  24. PUT PAID TO SOMETHING: to stop something or destroy it.
  25. PUT SOMEONE THROUGH:
    • to instruct someone to complete a task.
    • to make someone undergo something unpleasant.
  26. PUT SOMETHING ASIDE: to ignore or forget about something.
  27. PUT THE CLOCK BACK: to return to a situation that existed in the past or to remember a past age.
  28. PUT UP WITH SOMEONE OR SOMETHING: to tolerate someone or something.
  29. PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN: to be very strict in opposing what someone wishes to do.
  1. PUT YOUR SHOULDER TO THE WHEEL: to start working very hard at a particular task.
  2. RUN SOMEONE DOWN: to criticise someone in an unkind way.
  3. RUN SOMEONE TO EARTH: to succeed in finding something after a long search.
  4. SCARED OF YOUR OWN SHADOW: to be easily frightened or nervous.
  5. SEE EYE TO EYE: be in full agreement.
  6. SET THE CATS AMONG THE PIGEONS: to say or do something that is likely to cause trouble.
  7. SETTLE AN ACCOUNT WITH SOMEONE: to pay or receive money owed.
  8. STANDING OVATION: when people stand up to clap after a speech or performance.
  9. STAND YOUR GROUND: to continue with your opinion or intention when someone is opposing you and wants you to change.
  10. STEAL THE SHOW: to attract the most attention and praise
  11. STEPPED OFF ON THE WRONG FOOT: to have an unfortunate or unpleasant start.
  12. STICK TO YOUR GUNS: to continue to have your own opinion about something even though other people are trying to tell you that you are wrong.
  13. STILL WATERS RUN DEEP: to say that a person who seems to be quiet or shy may surprise you by knowing a lot or having deep feelings.
  14. STRIKE GOLD: to find or do something that brings you a lot of success or money.
  15. STUCK BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: to be in a situation where you have to choose between two things which are both unpleasant.
  16. STUCK IN YOUR THROAT:
    • words that are difficult or impossible to say.
    • situations that are difficult or impossible to accept.
  1. SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE: to decide to do something even though it will make you feel embarrassed or ashamed.
  2. TAKE A HIT: to be damaged or badly affected by something.
  3. TAKE TO SOMEONE OR SOMETHING: to begin to like someone or something.
  4. TAKE TO YOUR HEELS: to run away from something or someone.
  5. TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE BALL: to lose focus or motivation.
  6. TALK WITH TONGUE IN CHEEK: to mean something as a joke or say it without being serious.
  7. TALK YOUR WAY OUT OF SOMETHING: to use charming or persuasive speech in order to avoid something, especially a punishment.
  8. TAKEN ABACK: to surprise or shock.
  9. THE LAST WORD IN SOMETHING: the most recent, fashionable or advanced thing.
  10. THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS: an experience that results in a great change in someone’s attitude or beliefs.
  11. TIGHTEN YOUR HOLD: to increase the control you have on someone or something.
  12. TO BE ON SOMEONE’S TAIL: to follow closely behind someone.
  13. UNDER THE HAMMER: for sale.
  14. UP AGAINST SOMETHING: to be facing problems.
  15. WHEN IT RAINS, IT POURS: to say that when one bad thing happens to you, other bad things happen soon after.
  16. WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN: a difficult situation in which you are forced to decide what is important to you.
  17. WITH YOUR TAILS BETWEEN YOUR LEGS: to feel ashamed or embarrassed because you have been defeated or punished.
  18. WRIGGLE OUT OF SOMETHING: to avoid doing something in some clever or dishonest way.

Popular idioms in JAMB

These are the JAMB idioms that appeared TWICE OR MORE in the past questions and are therefore MORE LIKELY to be repeated in your JAMB this year.

  1. A BED OF ROSES: an easy or pleasant situation.
  2. A BIG HEART: very kind or generous.
  3. A DARK HORSE: a person who does not tell others much about their life or who surprises others by having interesting qualities.
  4. A JAUNDICED EYE: to have a negative view or opinion due to past experiences.
  5. AN OLIVE BRANCH: to say or do something to show that you wish to make peace with someone.
  6. BIRD’S-EYE VIEW: a view that allows you to see a broad area of something.
  7. BRUSH UP ON SOMETHING: to quickly improve your skill on something especially when you have not used it for a while.
  8. CALL SOMETHING OFF: to cancel something or decide that it will no longer happen.
  9. COCK AND BULL STORY: a story or an excuse that is likely to be false.
  10. CROSS THE RUBICON: to pass the point where a decision taken cannot be changed.
  11. DIE-HARD: strongly against change.
  12. GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER: to start to organize yourself so that you do things in an effective way
  13. HIT ON A PLAN: to think of or discover a plan.
  14. KEEP YOUR SHIRT ON: to remain calm in an anxious or annoying situation.
  15. LEAD A DOG’S LIFE: to lead a life that is difficult, unpleasant, or boring.
  16. LEAVE SOMEONE IN THE LURCH: to fail to help someone when they are relying on you to.
  17. LIVE IN EACH OTHER’S POCKET: to be too close to someone or spend too much time with someone.
  18. MAKE GOOD SOMETHING:
    • to amend or correct something.
    • to keep your promise.
    • to accomplish something.
  1. NECK AND NECK WITH SOMEONE: to be at the same level with someone in a competition.
  2. NIP SOMETHING IN THE BUD: to stop something when it has just begun because it will likely cause more problems.
  3. PASS FOR SOMEONE OR SOMETHING: to be accepted as someone or something.
  4. PLAY TO THE GALLERY: to do something in public in a way which you hope will impress people.
  5. PLUMB THE DEPTHS: to reach the highest point of evil or unhappiness.
  6. POINT BLANK: very definite or direct.
  7. STEER A MIDDLE COURSE: to find or take an action that avoids two extreme positions.
  8. TAKE EXCEPTION TO SOMETHING: to object strongly to something.
  9. TAKE SOMEONE IN: to make someone believe something that is not true.
  10. TELL-TALE SIGN: showing that something exist or has happened.
  11. THROW YOUR WEIGHT AROUND: to use your position or influence unfairly to get what you want.
  12. TO KEEP OPEN HOUSE: to have your house in a condition in which visitors are welcome at any time.
  13. UNDER A CLOUD: used to say that other people are suspicious of someone because they think he/she has done something wrong.
  14. UP IN THE AIR: not yet decided.
  15. WIDE OF THE MARK: not accurate

Test yourself

Click on the link below to test your knowledge on some of these idioms in JAMB now.

GOOD LUCK.

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