167 WAEC Idioms and Their Meaning

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

In this lesson,

You will see all the WAEC idioms and their meaning from 1988 till date with the popular idioms that are likely to be repeated in your WAEC this year.


ALSO SEE: How To Get A1 in WAEC English Language


Take note.

The PDF version of these WAEC idioms is available for your free download at the bottom of this lesson.

And a link for you to practice WAEC English past questions on Idioms is also at the bottom of this lesson.

WAEC idioms and their meaning

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

  1. A BONE OF CONTENTION: a topic which causes disagreement between people.
  2. A BULL IN A CHINA SHOP: a person who acts in a careless way especially in a place where care is needed.
  3. A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK: a person who is very similar to their father or mother in the way they look or behave.
  4. A CLOSED BOOK: someone or something that you do not know anything about.
  5. A HARD NUT TO CRACK: a difficult situation to deal with.
  6. ALL WALKS OF LIFE: every job or position in the society.
  7. A PRETTY KETTLE OF FISH: an awkward, difficult or bad situation.
  8. A RUNNING BATTLE: a fight or disagreement that continues for a long time.
  9. AT CLOSE QUARTERS: very near.
  10. AT DAGGERS DRAWN: very angry with each other.
  11. AT LOOSE END: having nothing to do and not knowing what to do.
  12. AT THE CROSSROADS: at an important point in life.
  13. BEG THE QUESTION: to make someone want to ask a question that has not yet been answered.
  14. BE HOME AND DRY: to do something successfully.
  15. BE ON TENTERHOOKS: to be very anxious to find out about something or see what will happen.
  16. BLOW YOUR OWN TRUMPETS: to boast about your abilities or achievements.
  17. BLOW YOUR TOP: to get very angry.
  18. BORN WITH A SILVER SPOON IN YOUR MOUTH: to have rich parents.
  19. BREAK THE BACK OF SOMETHING: to finish the largest or most important part of a task.
  20. BURY THE HATCHET: to stop being unfriendly and become friends again.
  21. CASTLES IN THE AIR: plans or dreams that are not likely to happen.
  22. CATCH SOMEONE’S EYE: to attract someone’s attention.
  23. CATCH SOMEONE OUT: to show that someone does not know much or is doing something wrong.
  24. CATCH SOMEONE RED-HANDED: to catch someone in the act of doing something wrong or committing a crime.
  25. COME OUT IN THE OPEN: no longer hidden or kept secret.
  26. COME TO TERMS WITH SOMETHING: to gradually accept a sad situation.
  27. COME UNDER FIRE: to be heavily criticized.
  28. CREAM OF THE SOCIETY: the best people of a particular kind.
  29. CUT OFF YOUR NOSE TO SPITE YOUR FACE: to do something when you are angry that is meant to harm someone else but which also harms you.
  30. CUT SOMEONE TO THE QUICK: to upset someone very much by doing or saying something unkind.
  31. DOWN TO EARTH: to be honest and realistic.
  32. EAT HUMBLE PIE: to say or show that you are sorry for a mistake that you made.
  33. EAT YOUR HEART OUT FOR SOMEBODY OR SOMETHING: to feel unhappy especially because you want someone or something that you cannot have.
  34. EAT YOUR WORDS: to admit that what you said was wrong.
  35. FALL THROUGH: to fail to happen as planned.
  36. FEATHER YOUR OWN NEST: to make yourself rich especially in an unfair or dishonest way.
  37. FIND YOUR FEET: to become comfortable with and start showing confidence in a new situation.
  38. FLY OFF THE HANDLE: to suddenly become very angry.
  39. GET ON SOMEONE’S NERVES: to annoy someone.
  40. GET UNDER SOMEONE’S SKIN: to annoy someone.
  41. GIRD UP YOUR LOINS: to get ready to do something difficult.
  42. GIVE SOMEONE THE BOOT: to sack or dismiss someone.
  43. GIVE SOMEONE THEIR MARCHING ORDER: to order someone to leave a place or job.
  44. GO OFF AT A TANGENT: to suddenly start saying something that is off-topic.
  45. GO OFF THE RAILS: to lose control.
  46. GO STRAIGHT: to stop being a criminal and live an honest life.
  47. GO WITH A SWING: to be lively and enjoyable.
  48. HAND IN GLOVE WITH SOMEONE: to work closely with someone especially in a secret or illegal way.
  49. HANG UP YOUR BOOT: to retire from playing a sport.
  50. HANG YOUR HEAD: to feel ashamed or embarrassed.
  51. HAVE A CHIP ON YOUR SHOULDER: to be sensitive about something that happened in the past and become offended when it is mentioned.
  52. HAVE A SOFT SPOT FOR SOMEONE OR SOMETHING: to like someone or something.
  53. HAVE TOO MANY IRONS IN THE FIRE: to be involved in several activities at the same time with the hope that at least one will be successful.
  54. HAVE YOUR HEART IN YOUR BOOTS: to be sad or depressed.
  55. HAWKS AND DOVES: those who like war and those who like peace.
  56. HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD: to say something that is exactly right.
  57. HIT THE ROOF: to suddenly become very angry.
  58. HOLD BRIEF FOR SOMEONE OR SOMETHING: to support or be in favour of someone or something.
  59. HOLD THE FORT: to have the responsibility for something while other people are away.
  60. HOLD YOUR OWN: to stand your ground and not let life or anyone push you around.
  61. HOOK, LINE AND SINKER: completely.
  62. IN YOUR ELEMENT: doing what you are good at.
  63. KEEP AN EYE ON SOMEONE/SOMETHING: to carefully watch someone or something.
  64. KEEP SOMEONE AT ARM’S LENGTH: to avoid having a close relationship with someone.
  65. KEEP SOMEONE ON THEIR TOES: to make sure that someone is ready to deal with anything that might happen by doing things that they are not expecting.
  66. KEEP TABS ON SOMEONE OR SOMETHING: to watch someone or something closely.
  67. KEEP THE WOLF FROM THE DOOR: to have enough money to avoid going hungry.
  68. KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED: to hope that something will be successful.
  69. KEEP YOUR HEAD: to remain calm in a difficult situation.
  70. KEEP YOUR HEAD ABOVE WATER: to manage or survive through a difficult financial situation.
  71. KEEP YOUR NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE: to work hard for a long period of time without stopping.
  72. LEAVE NO STONE UNTURNED: to try every possible course of action in order to find or achieve something.
  73. LEAVE SOMEONE COLD: to fail to affect or interest someone.
  74. LET OFF THE HOOK: to allow someone to go without punishment for doing something wrong.
  75. LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE: to avoid mentioning something that happened in the past in order to avoid any problems or argument.
  76. LOSE FACE: to be embarrassed or humiliated.
  77. MAKE A VIRTUE OF NECESSITY: to manage to gain an advantage from something that you have to do and cannot avoid.
  78. MAKE BRICKS WITHOUT STRAWS: to try to work without the necessary material, money, or information.
  79. MAKE LITTLE OF SOMETHING OR SOMEONE: to consider something or someone to be less important.
  80. MAKE MUCH OF SOMEONE OR SOMETHING: to consider someone or something to be very important.
  81. MAKE SOMEONE’S BLOOD BOIL: to make someone extremely angry.
  82. MAKE SOMEONE’S HAIR STAND ON THE END: to shock or frighten someone.
  83. MAKE YOUR MARK ON SOMETHING: to become famous or successful in a particular area.
  84. NIP SOMETHING IN THE BUD: to stop something when it has just begun because it will likely cause more problems.
  85. NOT LET THE GRASS GROW UNDER YOUR FEET: to not delay in getting something done.
  86. NOT TURN A HAIR: to show no emotion, especially when something surprising or shocking happens.
  87. NOT YOUR CUP OF TEA: not what you like or interested in.
  88. ONCE IN A BLUEMOON: very rarely.
  89. ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA: in a situation in which you have to choose between two things that are both unpleasant.
  90. ON THE HOUSE: free of charge.
  91. OUT OF THE BLUE: unexpectedly, without warning.
  92. OUT OF BOUNDS: an area where some people are not allowed to go into.
  93. PALM SOMETHING OFF ON SOMEONE: to trick someone into accepting something that has no value.
  94. PASS ON: to die.
  95. PASS OFF: to take place and be completed in a particular way.
  96. PLAY ALONG WITH SOMEONE OR SOMETHING: to pretend to agree with someone or something.
  97. PLAY IT BY EAR: to deal with situations as they develop rather than having a plan to follow.
  98. PULL STRINGS FOR SOMEONE: to use your influence in order to gain an advantage for someone.
  99. PULL THE WOOL OVER SOMEONE’S EYES: to try to trick someone by hiding your real intention.
  100. PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER: to take control of your feelings and behave in a calm way.
  101. PUT IN A GOOD WORD FOR SOMEONE: to praise someone to someone else in order to help them get a job.
  102. PUT SOMETHING ON THE LINE: put something at risk.
  103. PUT UP WITH SOMEONE OR SOMETHING: to tolerate someone or something.
  104. PUT YOUR CARDS ON THE TABLE: to tell someone honestly what your plans or ideas are.
  105. READ SOMEONE THE RIOT ACT: to tell someone with force that they must not do something.
  106. RISE TO THE OCCASION: to successfully handle a difficult situation.
  107. ROUND THE BEND: crazy.
  108. SAVE FACE: to avoid embarrassment or humiliation.
  109. SEE NO FURTHER THAN YOUR NOSE: to be unable to foresee problems beyond the present time.
  110. SEND SOMEONE TO COVENTRY: to refuse to speak to someone as a way of punishing them for something they have done.
  111. SET LITTLE STORE BY SOMETHING: to consider something to be less important.
  112. SIT ON THE FENCE: to avoid taking sides.
  113. STEAL THE SHOW: to attract more attention and praise than others in a particular situation.
  114. STEER A MIDDLE COURSE: to find or take an action that avoids two extreme positions.
  115. STICK TO YOUR GUN: to refuse to change your mind about something even when others are trying to persuade you that you are wrong.
  116. SWEEP SOMEONE OFF THEIR FEET: to make someone fall suddenly and deeply in love with you.
  117. TAKE SOMETHING IN YOUR STRIDE: to accept and deal with something difficult without letting it worry you too much.
  118. TAKE SOMETHING TO THE HEART: to be very upset by something that someone says or does.
  119. TAKE SOMETHING WITH A PINCH OF SALT: to be careful about believing that something is completely true.
  120. TAKE THE BREAD OUT OF SOMEONE’S MOUTH: to take away someone’s job or their source of income.
  121. TAKE TIME BY THE FORELOCK: to seize an opportunity without delay.
  122. TALK SHOP: to talk about your work with the people you work with in the presence of others who are not in the same line of work.
  123. TALK THROUGH YOUR HAT: to say silly things while you are talking about a topic that you do not understand.
  124. TEAR YOUR HAIR OUT: to show that you are very angry or anxious.
  125. THE GOSPEL TRUTH: a completely true statement.
  126. THE LAST WORD IN COMFORT: a thing or place of high quality.
  127. THROUGH THICK AND THIN: even when there were problems and difficulties.
  128. THROW DUST IN SOMEONE’S EYE: to try to mislead or deceive someone.
  129. THROW LIGHT ON SOMETHING: to make a something easier to understand.
  130. TIGHTEN YOUR BELT: to spend less money because there is less available.
  131. TO GET EVEN: to punish someone who has done something bad to you before by doing something equally bad to them.
  132. TURN SOUR: to stop being pleasant.
  133. TURN THE CORNER: to pass a very important point in an illness or a difficult situation and begin to improve.
  134. TURN THE TABLE: to change a situation so that you are now in the stronger position than the person who used to be in that stronger position.
  135. WITH ONE VOICE: with everyone agreeing.
  136. WITH YOUR TAILS BETWEEN YOUR LEGS: to feel ashamed or embarrassed because you have been defeated or punished.
  137. YOUR TRUE COLOURS: your real character.

Popular idioms in WAEC

These are the WAEC idioms that appeared more than once in the past questions and are therefore more likely to be repeated in your WAEC this year.

  1. ALL HANDS ON DECK: everyone must help especially in a difficult situation.
  2. A SHADOW OF YOUR FORMER SELF: to not have the strength, power or influence that you used to have.
  3. A SKELETON IN THE CUPBOARD: something shocking or embarrassing that happened to you or your family in the past that you want to keep secret.
  4. BEAT ABOUT THE BUSH: to talk about something for a long time without coming to the main point.
  5. BLAZE THE TRAIL: to lead the way or set a trend.
  6. BREAK NEW GROUNDS: to make a new discovery.
  7. BY AND BY: soon.
  8. BY HOOK OR BY CROOK: to use any method you can, even a dishonest one.
  9. EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING: every sad or difficult situation has a positive side.
  10. GET A COLD FEET: to suddenly become nervous about doing something that you had planned to do.
  11. GET TO YOUR HEAD: to feel too proud of your success or achievement in a way that annoys others.
  12. GIVE SOMEONE A FREE HAND: to give someone the freedom to do what they want and make their own decisions.
  13. GO SCOTFREE: without receiving the deserved punishment.
  14. GO WITH THE CROWD: to do what everyone else is doing.
  15. KILL TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE: to achieve two things at the same time with one action.
  16. LEARN THE ROPES: to learn how a particular job is being done.
  17. MAKE A CLEAN BREAST ABOUT SOMETHING: to tell the truth about something so that you no longer feel guilty.
  18. MAKE BOTH ENDS MEET: to earn just enough money to be able to buy the things you need.
  19. NOT OUT OF THE WOODS: not yet free from problems
  20. PLAY TO THE GALLERY: to behave in an exaggerated way in order to attract people’s attention.
  21. RING TRUE: to seem sincere.
  22. SWEEP THE BOARD: to win everything in a competition.
  23. SMELL A RAT: to suspect that something is wrong about a situation.
  24. SEE EYE TO EYE: to have the same opinion as someone else on a particular topic.
  25. TALK WITH TONGUE IN CHEEK: to mean something as a joke or say it without being serious.
  26. TO A DEGREE: partly.
  27. TURN A BLIND EYE TO SOMETHING: to pretend not to notice something bad that is happening.
  28. TURN OVER A NEW LEAF: to change your behaviour for the better.
  29. WIDOW’S MITE: a small contribution happily given by someone who can barely afford it.
  30. WIN SOMETHING OR SOMEONE HANDS DOWN: to win something or someone very easily.

Test yourself

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

  • PRACTICE QUESTIONS

GOOD LUCK.

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