||You had better
go now or you will be late for class.
a very narrow amount
Synonym: by the skin of (one’s) teeth, close shave
The expression literally means that the distance between two
things is only as great as a hair is broad.
1. The cars turned suddenly to avoid a collision. They
missed each other by a hair’s breadth.
2. Bill came so close to the edge that he was only a hair’s
breadth away from falling over the cliff.
|hair stand on end
||She became frightened
||Her hair would
stand on end every time she watched a horror movie.
|hale and hearty
||well and strong
||My uncle is a
hale and hearty fellow who never gets sick.
MIND TO DO (SOMETHING)
inclined or disposed to do something; to have almost decided
to do something
The expression is usually used to describe a threat that is
not likely to be carried out.
1. Beth has been so cold and rude to me lately, I have half
a mind not to invite her to my party.
2. Roger was tired of his job and frequently threatened to
leave the company. He had half a mind to quit, sell his
house, and sail to Europe.
poorly planned or thought out
The expression suggests that when something is only half
baked, it is not completely cooked, i.e., not properly
1. John suggested some half baked idea to get rich quick.
Anyone with any brains could see that it wouldn’t work.
2. You come in here and present some half baked plan to
reorganize the company and fire half of the employees. That
won’t go over too well with the workers!
half the work or effort
The expression is used to describe what may seem to be less
than half the effort, a small part of the effort or just the
beginning of the effort, but which in fact goes a long way
to getting the work done.
1. Once you narrow down the topic for your dissertation,
that’s half the battle. Doing the research and writing it is
the other half.
2. I finally bought all the materials to build those
bookshelves. That’s half the battle.
||The union and managers
were able to hammer out a new plan.
||arrange to give after
||She plans to
hand down her jewelry to her daughter.
||I went to the company
early to hand in my job application.
close or intimate
The expression refers to two people or things being as close
to each other as the good fit of a hand in a glove.
1. Tom and Kate were made for each other. They go hand in
2. Those two workhorses pull that plow as though they were
one animal. They work together hand in glove.
|hand it to
||give credit to
||You have to hand
it to her because she worked hard and was
HANDLE/TREAT (SOMEONE) WITH KID GLOVES
to treat someone cautiously or gently because he or she is
easily hurt or angered
The expression literally means to handle someone with gloves
made of very soft kid (young goat) leather.
1. The boss is a difficult person to persuade—you have to
approach her very carefully and put your ideas forward in
just the right way. She has to be handled with kid gloves.
2. You can come right out and tell me what the problem is.
There’s no need to handle me with kid gloves.
The expression is usually used with money. It suggests that
one draws in a fist full of money while the other hand is
being extended to gather in more money in a continuous
1. In the ten years we owned that house, we were never able
to get it into good repair. We poured money into it hand
over fist, but nothing helped.
2. Paul’s candy was such a success at the fair, his stall
was always busy with buyers. He was taking in money hand
over fist, faster than he could count it.
to live in poor conditions from day to day; to be
The expression suggests that a person’s need is so immediate
that what he collects in hand goes straight into his mouth
and that there is no room for saving or planning ahead.
1. When Brad lost his regular job, he had to take any
temporary one that came along, and he never knew when he’d
find another. He lived hand to mouth.
2. Some people in areas affected by drought live a handto-mouth
existence. They collect what little food they can and never
have enough to save some for another day.
|hang a left
||Make a left turn
||Hang a left
at the next corner
|hang a right
||Make a right turn
||Hang a right
at the next corner
|hang in there
||She plans to
hang in there even though she is taking eight
classes this semester.
||Just hang loose
for another few days.
||Do you always
hang out at this park?
||We need to hang
tough on our decision.
an obsession, problem, or concern about something
The expression is used to describe an obsession or concern
that may be regarded as somewhat eccentric, unreasonable or
1. Alan refused to let Jan pay for her movie ticket, even
though the two were not on a date. Alan has a hang up about
what is socially acceptable and who should pay.
2. Please don’t use that kind of language or tell that kind
of joke around me. I’m old-fashioned, and I guess I have a
hang up about such crude behavior, especially in mixed
||I have decided to
hang up my teaching job.
sexual misconduct (sentence 1); mischievous behavior or
activity (sentence 2); or suspicious activity (sentence 3)
Synonym: monkey business
1. The woman knew that her husband sometimes met with
friends, both male and female, from before they were
married, but she felt confident that there was no hanky
panky going on with any of the women.
2. The children’s mother thought that the children were just
a little too quiet. She thought they must be up to some
3. The manager in charge of the warehouse suspected that
someone was stealing some of the equipment stored there.
There was definitely some hanky panky going on.
1. Nothing depresses Charlie—he always sees the bright side
of life. He’s really a happy-go-lucky guy.
2. Sometimes sad events happen, and you just have to learn
to deal with them along with the good times. Life can’t
always be happy-go-lucky.
ACT TO FOLLOW
a person or thing that is so good that the person or thing
that follows may not measure up to the same standard
The expression probably originates from the time of
vaudeville when a show consisted of several acts, each by
different actors. It was hard to succeed if one’s act
followed another that was extremely popular, because the
audience would compare the two and expect the second act to
measure up to the high standard of the first.
1. The last manager of this department was hardworking and
well-liked by everyone. I doubt anyone else will be as good
as she was—she will be a hard act to follow.
2. My job here is fun, stimulating, and the pay is good. If
I ever leave, it will be a hard act to follow.
HARD/TOUGH ROW TO HOE
a difficult task
The expression suggests that using a hoe (a garden tool) to
weed a row of plants can sometimes be a difficult task.
1. Going to medical school is not going to be easy. In fact,
it will be a tough row to hoe.
2. Life can be a hard row to hoe. You have to put a roof
over your head and food on the table, and it’s not easy for
||The used car salesman
used a hard sell to get us to purchase this
|have a buzz on
||was slightly intoxicated
||I had a buzz on
after the third martini.
an ace up one's sleeve
|have good vibes
||feel good about
||I have good
vibes about our new secretary.
|have it all together
||feel mentally all there
||Recently I don't
have it all together.
HAVE/GOT IT MADE
to have no problems; to have achieved success
1. Elaine has a great job, a nice home, and a good family.
She doesn’t need anything else; I think she’s really got it
2. Remember Larry, the artist? He married a wealthy woman
and now he doesn’t have to do odd jobs to support himself
anymore. He has it made.
THE LAST LAUGH
to outsmart or get revenge on someone who thinks he or she
has been clever
Compare to: he who laughs last, laughs best; laugh all the
way to the bank
1. The boys thought they had tricked the girls by locking
them in the kitchen, but he girls had the last laugh when
the boys got hungry and realized they couldn’t get in.
2. Mark was lazy and decided to let Roger do most of the
work. But Roger had the last laugh because, in the end, Mark
got none of the credit.
AND SHOULDERS ABOVE
at a much higher level
Compare to: run circles around (someone); not hold a candle
The expression suggests that someone or something that is
head and shoulders above someone or something else is
substantially better. Whereas run circles around someone
means to outperform someone (usually physically), head and
shoulders above someone usually refers to a person’s or
object’s character or inner qualities.
1. Lisa’s work is outstanding and no one’s comes close to
being so good. Her work is head and shoulders above everyone
2. This performance of the play was head and shoulders above
the previous performance. The actors really did an excellent
job this time.
a person with power in a company or organization
1. If you want to spend that kind of money on your project,
you’ll probably have to get permission from the head
honchos. If I were you, I’d make an appointment with your
2. The director wanted to include a big battle scene in his
movie, but the head honchos at the studio wouldn’t allow it.
THE CLOUDS, HAVE (ONE’S)
to be impractical or absent-minded; to be unaware of what is
going on around one
Antonyms: down to earth; both feet on the ground
The expression suggests that one whose head is in the clouds
is out of touch with the reality around him/her.
1. I don’t know where my mind is today—I can’t keep my
thoughts on my work. My head is in the clouds.
2. Don’t go to Susan for advice; she’ll give you some
romantic and impractical solution to your love life. She
always has her head in the clouds.
OVER HEELS IN LOVE
very much in love; uncontrollably in love
1. Richard fell in love with Pamela the first time he saw
her, and now he can’t think about anything else. He is head
over heels in love with her.
2. In the 1960s, many young girls in the United States and
Europe fell head over heels in love with the pop singers the
|heads will roll
||people will be punished
||Some heads will
roll when the boss looks at the costs this month.
(SOMETHING) THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE
to hear a rumor that may or may not be true
Antonym: straight from the horse’s mouth
The expression suggests that a grapevine, long, tangled and
indirect, can act as a means of communication, but the
message is not direct and may be distorted or untrue.
1. No one knows it yet, but I found out that the boss is
about to quit. I can’t tell you who told me, but let’s just
say I heard it though the grapevine.
2. “How did you find out Karen was going to have a baby?” I
asked. “I heard it through the grapevine,” answered Julie.
serious and intimate
The expression is usually used to describe an important and
sincere talk between two people.
1. I have to talk to you about something that is serious and
very important to both of us. I want to have a
heart-to-heart talk with you.
2. You always make a joke about everything, and you never
talk to me seriously about things that are important. Don’t
you ever talk heart to heart with anyone?
a person who is important and influential; a leader in a
Synonyms: bigwig; force to be reckoned with
The expression suggests that the person carries a lot of
weight and therefore influence in a particular field. A
bigwig is frequently limited to the business world and
suggests a person who is high up on the corporate ladder. A
force to be reckoned with can be used to describe someone or
something that is powerful, and may instill a sense of fear
that heavyweight does not. The expressions heavyweight and
lightweight come from the sport of boxing. Boxers are put
into classes according to their weights. Heavyweight is the
heaviest class, with boxers weighing more than 175 pounds or
1. The two important and well-known authors John Steinbeck
and Ernest Hemingway are heavyweights in American
2. You cannot dismiss the importance and influence of
heavyweight Steven Spielberg on the movie industry. His use
of high-tech visual effects has become the new standard for
(to be) in serious trouble
Synonyms: in Dutch; in hot water; in the doghouse
1. I don’t know how the accident happened, but the car
fender is ruined. I’m going to have hell to pay when I get
2. Your parents told you not to be late getting home again.
If you don’t get home on time tonight, you’ll have hell to
to hesitate to say something directly
Compare to: beat around the bush; stonewall
The expression probably originates from the sounds one might
make when clearing one’s throat and trying to introduce a
1. Andrew wanted to ask Gail to marry him but he couldn’t
find the words. He stood there, hat in hand, hemming and
2. You don’t have to be afraid to tell me what happened.
Stop hemming and hawing and get to the point.
HITCH/THUMB A RIDE
to solicit a ride in someone’s (a stranger’s) car; to
The expression thumb a ride denotes that the traveler
solicits the ride by standing on the side of the road and
extending his or her thumb toward passing cars.
1. Julian had no car, but he needed to visit his mother in
the hospital in another town, so he hitched a ride.
2. The boys had no way to get to the beach, about 60 miles
away. They decided to stand by the side of the highway and
thumb a ride.
unplanned or random; equally likely to succeed or fail
1. Sometimes Ann is at home when I drop by to visit her, and
sometimes she’s not. It’s hit or miss catching her at home.
2. The repairman’s work is hit or miss. Sometimes the
machine works when he’s finished fixing it, and sometimes it
to find something of great value
Synonym: strike it rich
Compare to: hit the jackpot
The expression originates from the mining and gold-rush days
when a person could become rich if he or she found dirt with
gold in it.
1. They invested their money in oil wells in Texas and they
hit pay dirt. Now they’re the richest people I know.
2. Chuck went off to Alaska looking to hit pay dirt, but I
don’t think he’s going to find what he wants. Everything
worth finding has already been claimed.
3. The senator’s enemies started to investigate his past in
the hopes of finding something scandalous. They hit pay dirt
when they uncovered his driving record and found that he had
been arrested for drunk driving.
to get rich or find something of value
Synonym: hit pay dirt
The expression originates from gambling, in which the
jackpot is the money collected from the gamblers and divided
among the winners.
1. Mabel always bought one lottery ticket in the hopes that
one day she would hit the jackpot and never have to work
2. I went to the library not expecting to find any of the
books that were on my list, but I hit the jackpot. I managed
to find all seven of them.
NAIL ON THE HEAD
to come to the right conclusion
Synonym: put (one’s) finger on it/(something), get
(something) on the nose
1. Henry wouldn’t tell his wife what was wrong, but when she
asked him if he had lost his job, she could tell by the look
on his face that she had hit the nail on the head.
2. We sat around the table trying to figure out why the
project wasn’t working. Everyone suggested ideas and
possibilities. When Leslie outlined what she thought the
problem was, we could all see that she had hit the nail on
to go to bed
1. I’m really tired—I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.
I’m going to hit the sack.
2. After a hard day, Richard decided to hit the sack even
though it was only 8:00 p.m.
to satisfy in just the right way
Compare to: fill/fit the bill
The expression is often used in reference to food or drink.
1. The boys were sweating from planting trees in the hot
sun. When their mother brought them some cold lemonade to
drink, it really hit the spot.
2. I think I’d like something to eat after the theater. A
little light supper after the play will just hit the spot.
CANDLE TO (SOMEONE), NOT
not equal to someone or something; when two persons or
things are compared, the first one is clearly inferior to
the second one
Compare to: head and shoulders above (someone); run circles
1. This house doesn’t hold a candle to the one we looked at
yesterday. The one we saw yesterday was practically twice
the size and had much better light.
2. Marjorie’s cakes can’t hold a candle to Kate’s. Kate’s
are light, fluffy and flavorful, and Marjorie’s are as heavy
(ONE’S) BREATH, NOT
to not wait for something to happen because it probably
won’t happen soon, if at all
The expression is always used in the negative.
1. Shirley said she would come, but don’t hold your breath.
She often doesn’t show up, even when she says she will.
2. I’m hoping they will decide to buy the house, but I’m not
holding my breath. So many things can go wrong with the
to stay calm or be patient when someone wants to hurry
Synonym: keep (one’s) shirt on
Antonyms: shake a leg; step on it
The expression is generally used in the imperative. It is
used by an adult to children, a superior to an inferior or
between two equals on friendly or intimate terms.
1. The children were ready to go, but their father was not.
They kept bothering him until he told them to hold their
2. Now just hold your horses. I know you’re in a hurry, but
you can’t go outside without your coat on in this chilly
to be able to withstand opposition or attack; to do just as
well as other people
1. Sarah may be the smallest child in the class, but when it
comes to defending herself, she can hold her own.
2. We didn’t think Mark was very good at speaking, but he
really held his own in that debate.
to refrain from speaking
1. Ella wanted to talk to Bob immediately, but there were
too many people around, so she held her tongue and waited
until they were alone.
2. The young boy began shouting at his mother, and she lost
her temper and told him to hold his tongue. She told him it
was not polite to talk to anyone like that.
3. I’ve listened to you criticizing him and I’ve held my
tongue, but I can’t any longer. Now I’m going to tell you
some of the positive sides of his character.
(SOMEONE/SOMETHING) AT BAY
to prevent someone or something that is threatening or
attacking from being able to advance
1. The hen held the dog at bay while her baby chicks ran for
2. They held the soldiers at bay with their swords for as
long as they could, but in the end, they were defeated.
to take care of a place or to keep an activity going while
someone is away
The expression probably originates from the idea of
defending (holding) a fort under attack.
1. The manager left the store to go to lunch. She asked the
sales clerk to hold the fort while she was gone.
2. I got the party started and then discovered that I had to
leave to get some more food. I asked my friend to hold the
fort until I got back.
to be credible or sound; to stand up to scrutiny; to make
The expression is used in reference to arguments or ideas
rather than people.
1. The politician argued that they had to raise taxes, but
the reasons he gave didn’t hold water.
2. Two scientists claimed that they had achieved fusion at
room temperature. Other scientists wanted to test the theory
to see if it would hold water.
||I had to hole up
for three days because my boyfriend was looking for me.
||a definite success
||The new promotion plan
is home free.
The expression can refer to a physical addiction (sentence
1) or it can have the sense of being very enthusiastic about
something (sentence 2).
1. When he started smoking, Keith didn’t believe that the
nicotine in cigarettes was addictive, but now he is hooked
2. I love reading detective stories, and I read at least two
every week. I’m hooked on them.
LINE, AND SINKER, FALL FOR/ SWALLOW (SOMETHING)
to believe something completely, usually in the sense of
The expression originates from fishing. One expects the fish
to bite only the hook, but in some cases the fish might be
taken in so completely and foolishly that it swallows not
only the hook but the fishing line and the sinker as well.
1. The children made up such a believable story that their
mother fell for it hook, line and sinker.
2. The salesman was such a smooth talker, he could make
anyone believe his stories. People always swallowed them
hook, line and sinker.
1. When Bill found out that Sandra had blamed her mistake on
him, he was hopping mad and threatened to tell their boss
about all of the things she had done wrong.
2. The basketball player was hopping mad when the referee
didn’t call the other team’s foul, but he knew that getting
angry would only get him ejected from the game.
skip and a jump
to play a little roughly
Synonyms: clown around; monkey around; fool around
Horse around emphasizes the physical nature of the play
whereas clown around means to act silly, and monkey around
means to fiddle or tinker with something.
1. Don’t forget we’re in a library, boys. People are trying
to read quietly and concentrate on their work. Stop horsing
2. The children should not horse around in the garage. There
are too many dangerous tools in there.
OF ANOTHER COLOR
a situation or plan which represents a change from what was
expected or assumed
1. Yesterday you said you wanted to go to the movies with a
friend, and I assumed you meant a girlfriend. If you want to
go with Ken, that’s a horse of another color.
2. At first, the unions accepted management’s offer of a 10%
pay raise until they realized that management meant to
spread the raise over four years instead of over two. To the
unions, that was a horse of another color.
common sense (sentence 1) or shrewdness; cleverness
The expression probably originates from the idea that a
person who knew what to look for in a horse (i.e., had a
sense for horses) could find the best horses to buy.
1. You just don’t have any horse sense when it comes to
looking after yourself. You stay up late, don’t get enough
sleep and eat poorly.
2. I took my father along when I went to shop for a new car.
He has real horse sense and can spot a good deal.
UNDER THE COLLAR
Antonym: keep (one’s) cool
Compare to: lose (one’s) temper; make (someone’s) blood boil
1. When Tammy tried to blame the mistake on Sue, Sue got hot
under the collar.
2. I get hot under the collar every time I remember how rude
the bank manager was to us.
to be out of breath (sentence 1) or to threaten
ineffectually (sentence 2)
A huff is a feeling of displeasure or resentment. A puff is
a burst of breath.
1. All the runners were out of breath and were huffing and
puffing by the end of the marathon.
2. Mrs. Rene returned to the shop to complain about the
service she had gotten from a new sales clerk. After she
left, the manager told the sales clerk not to be too
concerned. “Mrs. Rene is always huffing and puffing about
something or other. She doesn’t really mean anything by it,”
said the manager.