Latest IELTS Idioms: Top Phrases Asked in Speaking Section of IELTS

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Every language has a different way of expressing things. People tend to use specific word combinations with an underlying meaning, which is unfamiliar to various early stage learners. In English, such expressions are called idioms and phrases. 

It is crucial for candidates aspiring towards a higher band score in IELTS to polish their vocabulary and show the examiner their skill in using idiomatic language. This is because the IELTS exam evaluates the speaking section with a parameter called lexical resource. This parameter requires candidates to use less common words and IELTS idioms vocabulary to establish collocation and style. 

So, how would one use idioms during a speaking test? More importantly, how to practice phrases for IELTS?

Here is a detailed guide to using phrases and idioms in the speaking test. The sections below also contain the commonly used expressions with examples and tips to practice using them during the test. 

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Latest IELTS Idioms: Top Phrases Asked in Speaking Section of IELTS

How To Use Idioms During the Speaking Test?

Often, idioms help in summarising a commonly caught cultural experience. For instance, one can use “bite the bullet” when referring to something unpleasant. Interestingly, phrases and idioms are distinct to their country of origin. Idioms used in Spain or France are different from the ones used in English-speaking countries. 

The need to enhance this vocabulary arises from the fact that the objective of the test is to evaluate the language proficiency of a non-native English speaking candidate. Possessing knowledge of cultural slangs, idioms and phrases then makes the candidate a better fit to be amongst native English speakers. 

One important thing candidates need to remember regarding idioms and phrases however, is using the right one at the right place. Many times, candidates try to force a phrase into a sentence to make it sound ornamental. This should be avoided as it makes the meaning unclear and at times illegible.

Here are a few tips for incorporating phrases and IELTS idioms into one’s sentences while attempting the speaking section:

  • Avoid over usage

Strategic use of idioms and phrases indeed add colour to the sentence. However, overusing these phrases can feel tedious and confusing to the interviewer. So, candidates must use them wisely.

  • Avoid clichés

Certain idioms are very commonly used and have gained the ‘cliché’ status. Relying on such phrases can indicate to the examiner that the candidate is not prepared enough as they could not display a more diverse knowledge.

Most Commonly Used Idioms With Examples

Various idioms are commonly used in the day to day life of individuals. The below table mentions the most common of them:

In the redLacking money, to owe moneyI am afraid I cannot afford it, I am in the red.
Out of the blueSomething unexpected Suddenly he asked me to marry him out of the blue.
A white lieTell a not so serious lieI don’t support the idea of you getting into trouble due to a white lie.
Give someone the green lightTo provide permissionI received the green light to travel abroad.
Green with envyTo be envious/jealous He was green with envy upon seeing her pass the exam.
Drop out Leave without completing/finishingShe dropped out of college yesterday.
Day and nightContinuous workI worked day and night to finish this project.
Pass with flying coloursPass a test/exam with great gradesMy daughter passed the finals with flying colours.
Learn by heartTo memoriseI learned the entire chapter by heart.
BookwormA person who reads a lotHe will finish the book within hours, he is a bookworm.
Break a legWishing good luck I really hope you break a leg today.
Better late than neverBetter to complete something now than neverI learned to drive a car at 30, better late than never.
Practice makes perfectImproving through practiceI need to practice more to ace the exam, you know practice makes perfect.
Blind as a batBad eyesightI am blind as a bat without my glasses.

Advanced to Difficult IELTS Idioms With Examples

Using a few difficult idioms during the IELTS speaking test impresses the examiner. However, it is imperative that the idioms that a candidate uses must be known to him/her. Here are a few difficult phrases for IELTS speaking with an example that one can use:

In for a penny, in for a poundThis phrase indicates that someone is committed to a particular task.When Adam’s grandmother was sick, he was in for a penny and in for a pound.
Chip off the old blockA person is similar in actions or behaviour as their parentsWhen his grandmother saw her grandson getting angry about small things, she knew he was a chip off the old block.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto youTreat others the same way you would want to be treatedI realised Peter’s aggression today towards the old beggar. He should do unto others as he would have them do unto him.
Every cloud has a silver liningBad things end and lead to good things eventuallyShe was crying over her stolen phone yesterday, but today she got a promotion at work. Indeed, every cloud has a silver lining.
Fair and squareBe fair and directTo be fair and square, I tried everything I could to get you through the concert.
Down for the count Give up/tiredThe kid is down for the count after visiting the amusement park.

How To Practice Idioms for IELTS?

Before incorporating IELTS idioms into the speaking test, candidates must know how to use these expressions in the proper context. Most aspirants may have heard that idiomatic languages improve the IELTS score. However, this statement is not always correct because idioms are not always appropriate to use in certain circumstances. So, students who are confused about the proper use of idioms can practice the below-mentioned things:


Idioms are fixed expressions, meaning one cannot alter their occurrence in a sentence. So, even a tiny mistake can leave a huge mistake and make the sentence sound awkward or even comical. 

For instance, candidates cannot use “sling your hooks”, or “I want to sling my hook”.

Here are some common idioms that most students fail to put into a sentence accurately:

Talk to my handTalk to the hand
Adam is on 9 cloudsI am on cloud 9
He will pass with a flying colour He will pass with flying colours


One of the most significant issues with IELTS idioms is that candidates need to have a thorough understanding of how and where they can be used. One cannot use them everywhere in their sentence, hoping to score better. 

For instance:

  • Few idioms depend upon the circumstance and with whom one is talking. For example, to say, “I am sorry your dog kicked the bucket” (died) is highly inappropriate.
  • Some idioms are suitable in sarcastic situations, for example, “sling your hook”.
  • A handful of idioms are not suitable for use during an interview. They sound better in informal situations. 


Idioms should be added to a conversation naturally. They must not be forced into a sentence. Moreover, the examiner will evaluate your speaking skills by considering how well you pronounce the IELTS idioms. So, it is crucial that candidates use idioms with all the features of fluent and connected speech.

The best advice to incorporate idioms wisely is to listen to native speakers via any medium and copy phrases that are being used. Also, aspirants must learn phrasal verbs to know which preposition will be appropriate with certain verbs. 

Indeed, IELTS idioms add colour to the conversation and help one to read between the lines. One can build their vocabulary by learning more phrasal verbs and idioms, which will improve their lexical resource, leading to an enhanced IELTS score. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered a good band score in the IELTS speaking section?

On an average, a 6.5 score indicates that the candidate is competent, meaning he/she can handle classroom situations, even though there are some mistakes with the language. Most universities would prefer their incoming candidates to have a band score of 6 and above in each section including speaking. 

How do I increase my band score in the IELTS speaking section?

One of the major techniques that help candidates achieve a better band score is to use cultural idioms and phrases like a native English speaker. In order to do that, it will help to memorise a mix of common and uncommon phrases and idioms. Do note that these idioms need to come naturally while speaking. To ensure that, you have to practice a bunch of idioms and form them into proper sentences. 

How many types of idioms are there?

There are seven idiom types: binomial idioms, pure idioms, prepositional idioms, partial idioms, euphemisms, proverbs, and clichés. You must learn and practise most of these types as that will enrich your language and thus help in scoring a higher band score in the speaking assessment. 

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Manisha Angre

Experienced IELTS prep trainer and education management industry veteran. Specializes in public speaking, international education, market research, mentoring, and management.

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