Common Idioms - S

Idioms - S

(on the) safe side

- to be safe and take no chances

I may not have enough money so just to be on the safe side I think I'll bring my credit cards.

save face

- save one`s good reputation when something has happened to hurt it

Our boss was very embarrassed when he had to tell us that the company had lost a lot of money. However, he was able to save face when he showed that the problems were outside of his control.

save one`s breath

- remain silent because talking will do no good

You may as well save your breath and not talk to her as she never believes you anyway.

save one`s neck/skin

- save oneself from danger or trouble

He left the scene of the fire as soon as possible in order to save his own neck.

save the day

- bring about victory or success - esp. when defeat is likely

He saved the day for his team after he played his best game of the season.

say a mouthful

- say something of great importance or meaning or length

He really said a mouthful yesterday when he made the announcement about his new job.

say one`s piece

- say openly what one thinks

He said his piece at the meeting and then left quietly by the back door.

say the word

- give a sign, show a wish

Just say the word and I will come and pick you up at the airport.

scare out of one`s wits

- frighten very much

Her little girl was scared out of her wits after she saw the horror movie.

scare the daylights out of someone

- frighten very much

Falling off her bicycle scared the daylights out of her.

scare up

- find or gather something with some effort

We were able to scare up a couple of sleeping bags so that we could go camping.

scatter around

- carelessly put in different places

His papers are always scattered around his house so he is never able to find anything.

school of hard knocks

- ordinary experiences of life

He learned all about life in the school of hard knocks.

scrape the bottom of the barrel

- take whatever is left after the best has been taken

They are really scraping the bottom of the barrel if they must give him a job.

scrape together

- gather money etc. a little at a time

We managed to scrape together enough money to go to Disneyland even though business is very bad and we don`t have much money.

scrape up

- find or gather something with some effort

His girlfriend scraped up some money and went to visit him during the summer.

scratch one`s back

- do something nice for someone in the hope that they will do something for you

"You scratch my back and I`ll scratch yours," he said when he offered to help me increase my sales.

scratch the surface

- make only a beginning to do or accomplish something

They have been gathering information about the planned merger but they have only scratched the surface of what is available.

screw around

- loaf about, hang around without doing anything

I spent the morning screwing around and didn`t get anything done.

screw up

- make a mess of something

My travel agent screwed up our travel schedule so we had to stay at the airport overnight.

scrounge around

- look in many places for an item or items

We didn`t have enough wood for the small building so we had to scrounge around the neighborhood to find some.

search me

- "I don`t know.", "How should I know."

"Search me," he said when I asked him what had happened to the front of his car.

search one`s soul

- study one`s reasons and actions to see if one has been fair and honest

I have been searching my soul to see if I was responsible for the accident that destroyed my friend`s car.

second-guess someone

- guess what someone else intends to do or would have done

You should never try to second-guess the firefighters in a dangerous situation.

second hand

- not new, used by someone else

He went to a second-hand bookstore to look for the books.

second thought

- after thinking about something again

On second thought maybe you should bring an extra coat.

second wind

- regaining your energy after being tired

After we got our second wind we continued on our hike up the mountain.

security blanket

- something one holds on to for reassurance or comfort (like a child and a blanket)

He uses his computer as his security blanket so that he doesn`t have to go out and meet new people.

see about (something)

- check into something

I`ll see about getting the book for you by next week.

see eye to eye

- agree

We don`t always see eye to eye on everything but generally we get along.

see off

- go with someone to their point of departure

I went to the airport to see her off.

see one`s way clear to do something

- feel able to do something

When you see your way clear to begin the project could you please come and tell me.

see out

- go with someone to an outer door

I went to the front door to see out our guests to their cars.

see out

- finish and not quit

I decided to stay with my company for awhile in order to see out the restructuring process.

see red

- become very angry

He saw red last night when I told him about the broken dishes.

see stars

- imagine one is seeing stars as a result of being hit on the head

When I was hit by the opposing football player I fell to the ground and began to see stars.

see the light

- realize your mistake, suddenly see how to proceed with something

He finally saw the light and began to do his work the same as everyone else.

see the light of day

- be born or begun

I don`t believe that his plans to build a new house will ever see the light of day.

see the world (things) through rose-colored glasses

- see only the good things about something, be too optimistic

She is a little unrealistic and tends to see the world through rose-colored glasses.

see things

- imagine sights that are not real, think one sees what is not there

He is always daydreaming and imagining that he is seeing things.

see through

- understand someone`s true character or motivation

I could easily see through his attempt to fire her from her job.

see to (something)

- attend to or do something

I will see to the rental car and you can see to the airplane tickets.

see to it

- take the responsibility to do something, make sure

Will you please see to it that the garbage is taken out in the morning.

sell like hotcakes

- sell quickly, sell rapidly

The tickets for the football game were selling like hotcakes when I inquired this morning.

sell out

- be disloyal, sell a secret, be unfaithful

He said that he was a socialist but as soon as he got a good job he sold out to the establishment.

sell oneself short

- underestimate oneself

He is selling himself short when he thinks that he can`t do any other job.

send away for something

- write a letter asking for something

I sent away for some postage stamps but they haven't arrived yet.

send someone packing

- tell someone to leave, dismiss someone

He was sent packing because of his bad attitude to his job.

send up

- sentence someone to prison

He was sent up for seven years for robbing a bank.

serve one`s purpose

- be useful to someone for a certain need

That tool should serve my purpose until I find the correct one.

serve someone right

- get the punishment or results that one deserves

He never studies at all so it serves him right to fail his exam.

serve time

- spend time in jail

He served time when he was young but now he is a model citizen.

set about

- begin, start

We set about preparing the office for the move to a bigger building.

set back

- cause to put off or get behind schedule, slow up

We were set back over a month when the floods destroyed the road to our farm.

set (one) back

- cost

How much did your new suit set you back?

set eyes on

- to see

I don`t know if she is here or not. I haven`t set eyes on her since yesterday.

set foot

- step, walk

I have never set foot in that restaurant and I never will in the future.

set forth

- explain exactly or clearly

He carefully set forth the terms of the rental contract.

set forth

- start to go somewhere, begin a trip

They set forth on their holiday about 7:00 this morning.

set in

- weather condition begins and will probably continue

The rain has set in and it looks like it won`t stop for awhile.

set loose

- set free, release something that you are holding

The wildlife department decided to set loose the bear that it had captured.

set off

- decorate through contrast, balance by difference

He painted the trim of his house red in order to set off the light colors.

set off

- to cause to explode

The fire set off a large explosion on the ship.

set one`s heart on

- want very much

I set my heart on a nice holiday this winter but I won`t be able to go because I have no money.

set one`s mind at rest

- free oneself from worry

I told him the reason we can`t come in order to set his mind at rest.

set out

- leave on a journey

Marco Polo set out for China many years ago.

set out

- decide and begin to try, attempt

He set out to learn Spanish when he was transferred to Mexico.

set sail

- start sailing, begin a sea voyage

The three women set sail for Hawaii on a small sailboat.

set store on (by)

- like or value, want to keep

Our company sets great store on their ability to attract good people.

set the pace

- decide on a rate of speed to do something that others will follow

The manager of our section sets the pace for the employees under him.

set the world on fire

- do something outstanding or that makes one famous

He has not been able to set the world on fire with his writing but he is trying very hard.

settle for

- be satisfied with less, agree to

I settled for less than I originally wanted with my contract but still I am happy with it.

set up

- establish, provide the money for something

The newspaper company provided the money to set up the new travel magazine.

set up

- make something ready to use by putting the parts together

After we set up the gas barbecue we were able to cook dinner.

set (someone) up

- put someone in a position to be manipulated

I don`t believe that I lost that money honestly. I believe that I was set up.


- arrangement, management, circumstances

My uncle has a very nice setup at his office.

settle down

- live a quiet normal life

He settled down and started a family after he finished university.

settle a score with someone

- retaliate against someone, pay someone back for a past wrong

He always appears to be trying to settle the score with him and never treats him fairly.

seventh heaven

- a state of intense delight

She has been in seventh heaven since she got the music award.

sewed up

- won or arranged as one wishes, decided

The candidate for the nomination easily sewed up his victory last week.

shack up with

- live with someone of the opposite sex without marrying them

When his sister was younger she shacked up with her boyfriend for a couple of years.

shake a leg

- go fast, hurry

"You will have to shake a leg if you want to arrive at the movie on time."

shake down

- get money by threats

The gangsters shook down the small shop owners to get some money.

shake off (an illness)

- get rid of (an illness)

She has been unable to shake off her illness and can`t come to the party.

shake up

- change the command or leadership of something

The president decided to shake up top management in order to bring new energy into the organization.

(be) shaken up

- be bothered or disturbed

I was a little shaken up after I heard about the fire at our new apartment building.

shape up

- begin to act and look right

He has finally begun to shape up and is doing his job much better.

shell out

- pay

I shelled out over a thousand dollars for the new stereo.

shine up to

- try to please, try to make friends with

He is always shining up to his boss in the hopes of getting a raise.

shoe is on the other foot

- opposite is true, places are changed

The shoe is on the other foot now that he has also bought a house and has to pay a lot of money every month for his mortgage.


- someone or something that is expected to win, a sure winner

The new president is a shoo-in to win another term in office.

shook up

- upset, worried

He was really shook up after the accident and has not been back to work since.

shoot one`s wad

- spend all one`s money, say everything that is on one`s mind

He shot his wad on a vacation to the Caribbean last winter.

shoot straight

- act fairly, deal honestly

He always shoots straight when he is dealing with the police or the government.

shoot the breeze/bull

- talk idly

I met him at the supermarket so we decided to shoot the breeze for a few minutes.

shoot the works

- spare no expense or effort

They are planning to shoot the works when they plan the victory celebration for the Olympic medal winners.

shoot up

- grow quickly

His son really shot up quickly when he went away for the summer.

shoot up

- arise suddenly

The flames shot up over the top of the building when the wind started blowing.

shoot up

- shoot at recklessly

In many western movies the outlaws come into town and shoot up everybody.

shoot up

- take drugs by injecting them

We were going to a movie when we saw the heroin addict shooting up heroin in the alley.

shop around

- go to various stores to look for something

We shopped around for a month before we bought a new stereo system.

shore up

- add support to something which is weak

It was necessary to shore up the house after the mud slide damaged the foundation.

short and sweet

- brief and pleasant

His visit with his parents was short and sweet.

short end (of the stick)

- unfair, unequal treatment

He always gets the short end of the stick when he is at work.

short of

- not have enough of something

We are short of sugar so could you please buy some when you are at the store.

short shrift

- rude treatment

She received short shrift from her supervisor when she asked for a holiday.

shot in the arm

- something inspiring or encouraging

His job search got a shot in the arm when the company president called him in for an interview.

shot in the dark

- an attempt without much hope or chance of succeeding

The attempt to find the small boy who had fallen into the river was a shot in the dark.

shove down one`s throat

- force someone to do or agree to something not wanted

I don`t like him because he is always trying to shove his ideas down my throat.

shove off

- start, leave

I think that it is time for us to shove off. It is almost midnight.

show off

- try to attract attention, display

He has bought a lot of new clothes that recently he has been trying to show off.


- a person who brags a lot

He is a show-off and is always trying to impress other people.

show one`s cards

- disclose one`s plans

He hasn`t really shown us his cards yet so I don`t really know what he wants.

show one`s (true) colors

- show what one is really like or is thinking

He has shown his true colors lately with his attempt to punish those who don`t reach the sales target.

show someone the door

- ask someone to go away

When he started yelling in the restaurant he was quickly shown the door.

show up

- appear, arrive, be present

What time did your friend show up for the party?

show up

- become or make something easy to see

At first we couldn`t see what was written on the vase but after a little effort to clean it up the design began to show up.

shrug off

- not be bothered or hurt by something, disregard

She is a little mean but we always just shrug off her comments.

shut off

- make something like water or electricity stop

We always shut off the gas when we leave the house for more than a few minutes.

shut off

- be apart, be separated from

The small town is shut off from the other towns in the valley.

shut out

- prevent the opposite team from scoring during a game

The national soccer team shut out the second place team three games in a row.

shut up

- stop talking

"Please shut up and let someone else speak for a change."

shut up

- close the doors and windows of a building for a period of time

We decided to shut up our cottage for the summer as we would not use it anymore.

shut up

- confine

We have to shut up our dog in the house when the mailman comes.

sick and tired

- dislike something, be annoyed with something

I am sick and tired of his constant complaining.

sick of (someone or something)

- bored with, dislike

I think that she is sick of working overtime every day.

side with

- favor, support a position in a dispute

Her mother always sides with her if they have an argument.

sight unseen

- before seeing a thing or person

He bought the car sight unseen and now he is having trouble with it.

sign over

- give something legally to someone by signing one`s name

He signed over his car to his son on his 21st birthday.

sign up

- promise to do something by signing one`s name, join

He signs up for tennis lessons every summer but his ability never improves.

simmer down

- become calm, quiet

He was very angry after the meeting but he has begun to simmer down a little now.

sing (whistle) a different tune

- contradict something said before, talk or act in the opposite way

Usually he doesn`t care if he disturbs his neighbors at midnight but now that he has to get up early in the morning he is whistling a different tune.

sink in

- to penetrate, become understood

What he said hasn`t really sunk in with the other members of the company.

sink one`s teeth into

- go to work seriously

It`s a difficult problem and is a little difficult to sink your teeth into.

sink or swim

- fail or succeed by your own efforts

He will have to sink or swim when he begins his new job.

sit back

- be built a distance away from a street

The large mansion sits back three or four hundred meters from the street.

sit back

- relax, rest, take time out

We decided to sit back for the day and not do anything.

sit idly by

- sit and watch or rest while others work

He sat idly by all morning while the others worked hard.


- political demonstration where students or workers refuse to leave their classroom or job sites

The students held a sit-in demonstration to demand an end to the war.

sit in on

- attend or participate in a meeting

Our boss sat in on the meeting so that he could find out what was happening.

sit on

- be a member of a jury or board, etc.

The former Prime Minister is now sitting on the board of many corporations.

sit right (negative)

- be unacceptable

His idea seemed good at first but it doesn`t seem to sit right with the president.

sit tight

- wait patiently for something

Please sit tight for a few minutes while I go and get a police officer.

sitting duck

- a non-moving target that is easily hit by a hunter

The hunter shot the sitting ducks easily and quickly.

sitting duck

- an unsuspecting person easily fooled - as if they are waiting to be attacked

The woman was a sitting duck when she sat on the bench with her purse beside her.

sitting pretty

- be in a favorable situation

He is sitting pretty with his new job and lots of money.

sit up

- stay awake instead of going to bed

My mother had to sit up all night as my younger sister was very sick.

sit well (with)

- please or find favor with someone

His decision to leave early for the weekend didn`t sit well with the other members of the staff.

six feet under

- dead

He doesn`t plan to move until he is six feet under.

(at) sixes and sevens

- in confusion or disagreement

They have been at sixes and sevens since they opened the new school.

six of one and half-a-dozen of the other

- two things the same, no difference

It was six of one or half-a-dozen of the other as to whether or not we should take the train or the airplane. They both arrived at the same time and cost the same.

(the) size of it

- the way it is

That`s about the size of it he said as he finished telling her about the accident.

size up

- form an opinion, assess a situation

It took him a little time to size up the candidate before deciding to give him a job.

skate on thin ice

- take a chance, risk danger or disapproval

He has been skating on thin ice recently with regard to his job. He is causing many problems and may be fired.

skeleton in one`s closet

- family secret

I heard that he has a lot of skeletons in his closet that he doesn`t want to talk about.

skid row

- area of a city where many people live who have no money and drink a lot of alcohol

The skid row of our city is very depressing with the large number of drunk people around.

skin alive

- scold angrily, spank or beat

She told her son that if he was late for dinner she would skin him alive.

skin and bones

- very skinny

The cat which we found in the empty house was all skin and bones..


- only on the surface, not having any deep or honest meaning

Although beauty is said to be only skin-deep many people care about it too much.

(no) skin off one`s nose

- matter of interest, concern or trouble to one

It is no skin off my nose whether or not she comes to the party.

(by the) skin of one`s teeth

- only just, barely

We were able to arrive in time for the train by the skin of our teeth.

skip bail

- run away and not come to trial and therefore give up any money that you may have already paid the court

The man didn`t want to go to jail so he skipped bail and went to another city.

skip it

- forget all about it

"Skip it", I said as she forgot to bring me the phone number after I had asked her three times.

slap in the face

- an insult

Not getting a promotion was a real slap in the face for her.

slap together

- make in a hurry and without care

We slapped together a picnic table for the company picnic.

sleep a wink

- get a moment`s sleep

I didn`t sleep a wink last night.

sleep on it

- think about something, consider, decide later

I will have to sleep on it tonight but I will give you an answer tomorrow.

slip of the tongue

- say the wrong thing at the wrong time

His insult to the customer was a major slip of the tongue.

slip one`s mind

- be forgotten

I`m very sorry I didn`t come and meet you last night. Our appointment totally slipped my mind.

slip up

- make a mistake

I slipped up when I said that I would not be able to go to the meeting next week.

slow down

- go more slowly than usual

You should slow down a little when you come to a bridge while driving.


- a form of striking without coming to a complete stop

There was a slow-down at the post office last year.

smack into

- collide, hit

The first car ran smack into the car behind it.

small fry

- someone or something of little importance, young children

The police are trying to find some of the major criminals in the drug trade. They are not interested in the small fry.

smash hit

- a very successful performance, song, play, or movie

The series of Star War movies were all smash hits.

smell a rat

- become suspicious

I don`t know what he is doing but something seems strange and I smell a rat.

smoke out

- force out with smoke

The rats were smoked out of their nests by the black smoke.

smoke out

- find out the facts about something

They were able to easily smoke out the real reasons for his decision to leave the company.

smooth something over

- make better or more pleasant

She tried to smooth over the problems between her boss and his sales staff.

snail`s pace

- a very slow movement forward

The cars on the highway moved at a snail`s pace.

snake in the grass

- an enemy who pretends to be a friend

You should be careful of her even if she seems very nice. She is like a snake in the grass.

(a) snap

- an easy task

The exam was a snap and I`m sure that I did very well.

snap out of it

- return to normal, stop being afraid

He finally snapped out of his depression and was able to return to work quickly.

snap up

- take or accept eagerly

The tickets to the concert were snapped up in three hours.

(not to be) sneezed at

- worth having, not to be despised

That new stereo system is not to be sneezed at.

(not a) snowball`s chance in hell

- no chance at all

They don`t have a snowball`s chance in hell of winning the game tomorrow.

snow job

- insincere or exaggerated talk designed to gain the favors of someone

His presentation at the interview was a total snow job.

snow job

- use technical vocabulary to seem like an expert in a field

The salesman gave us a snow job when he started to talk about the specifications of the machine.

snow under

- have or get so much of something that it can`t be taken care of

I have been snowed under with paperwork during the last few weeks.

soak up

- take into oneself like a sponge takes up water

He was able to soak up a lot of knowledge when he went to the summer film seminar.

sob story

- a story that makes one feel pity or sorrow

My sister told me a sob story about how she had lost her job.

sock it to someone

- give everything one is capable of

The president socked it to the audience with his speech at the convention.

so far

- until now

So far no one has entered the speech contest at the television station.

so far, so good

- until now things have gone well

"So far, so good." she replied when he asked her how her new job was going.

soft spot for someone/something

- a feeling of affection toward a person or thing

She has a soft spot for the elderly lady in the store.

so help me

- I promise, I swear

"So help me, if you don`t pay me back my money I will phone your company and ask them for help."

so long

- goodbye

"So long, I will see you next week."

somebody up there loves/hates me

- an expression meaning that an unseen power in heaven has been favorable/unfavorable to you

"Somebody up there loves me," he said as he found the money on the side of the road.

something else

- so good as to be beyond description

The movie was something else. It was the best movie I had seen in years.

something else again

- a different kind of thing

Working all day on Saturday is OK but working all day Sunday is something else again.

so much

- a large quantity of something

There was so much rain in the spring that our garden wouldn`t grow well.

song and dance

- excuses

He gave me a song and dance about being busy but I never really believed him.

son of a gun/bitch

- a person, used as an exclamation

I wish that that son of a bitch would stop using my camera without asking me.

sooner or later

- eventually

Sooner or later you must pay me back the money so you should do it as soon as possible.

sore loser

- someone who gets angry when they lose

He is a sore loser when he doesn`t win a game of tennis.

sort of

- almost, similar to, not quite

Did you finish cleaning the kitchen? Well, sort of, but not really.

sound off

- tell what one knows or thinks in a loud voice

He is always sounding off about why he doesn`t like his job.

sound out

- try to find out how a person feels about something by asking questions

I have been sounding out my wife recently about whether or not she wants to move to a new house.


- changing and adding something to make it more powerful or faster

He bought a souped-up car when he was a teenager.

spaced out

- confused, incoherent, resembling someone who is using drugs

He was totally spaced out when the professor asked him a question about the text.

speak for

- make a request for, ask for

He spoke for the comfortable chair as soon as he entered the room.

speak of the devil and he appears

- a person comes just when one is talking about him

"Speak of the devil and he appears," I said just as our colleague who we were talking about walked in the door.

speak one`s piece

- say openly what one thinks

I think that it is time for me to speak my piece and tell them what I want to do about the plans for a new factory.

speak out

- speak in favor of or in support of something

My boss spoke out in favor of a promotion for me.

speak up

- speak in a loud or clear voice

I had to ask the teacher to speak up as I couldn`t hear him at all.

spell out

- explain something in very simple words, explain very clearly

I spelled out our conditions for renting out our house very clearly.

spic and span

- very clean, very neat

The house was spic and span when we returned from our holiday.

spill the beans

- tell a secret, inform

He promised not to spill the beans about his plans to get married.

spitting image

- exact resemblance

He is a spitting image of his father.

split hairs

- make unnecessary distinctions

He makes a lot of good points but he also has a tendency to split hairs and waste a lot of our time.

split the difference

- settle a money disagreement by dividing the difference

We had to pay extra money for the car so we decided to split the difference.

split ticket

- vote for candidates from more than one political party

He always votes for a split ticket when he votes and never votes for only one party.

split up

- separate

They seemed like a nice couple but they suddenly decided to split up last month.

splurge on something

- spend a lot of money for something

He splurged on a beautiful present for his girlfriend.


- make something very easy for someone

He is a very strict teacher and never likes to spoon-feed his students.

spread oneself too thin

- try to do too many things at one time

She has been spreading herself too thin lately and is not accomplishing very much of anything.

spring chicken

- a young person (usually negative)

She is no spring chicken. She is almost 96 years old.

spruce up

- clean, redecorate

They spruced up the community center for the summer holidays.

(on the) spur of the moment

- suddenly

He decided to go to Hong Kong on the spur of the moment.

square away

- put right for use or action

Have you squared away your plans for your holidays yet?

square one

- in the beginning

We had to go back to square one and start the project over.

square peg in a round hole

- a person who does not fit into a job or position

He is like a square peg in a round hole trying to do the job of an accountant.

squawk about

- complain about

He is always squawking about the bad service in that restaurant.

stab someone in the back

- betray someone

I dislike him because he tried to stab me in the back during the last meeting.

stack the cards

- arrange things (unfairly) for or against a person

They are stacking the cards against him with their constant demands for more and more qualifications for the job.

stamping grounds

- a place where a person spends much of his time

He went back to his old stamping grounds which he remembered as a teenager.

stamp out

- destroy completely and make disappear

The government is making a great effort to stamp out smoking among teenagers.

(can`t) stand

- can`t tolerate, dislike

She can`t stand the other people in her class.

stand a chance

- have a possibility

They stand a good chance of winning the game.

stand by

- be near, waiting to do something when needed

There is a doctor standing by in case there is a medical emergency.

stand by

- follow or keep (one`s promise), be loyal to or support

She always stands by her husband when he has a problem.

stand clear of something

- keep away from something

Please stand clear of the door while we are moving the piano.

stand for

- be a sign of, make one think of

I didn`t know what the letters stood for so I was not able to write the correct name of the company.

stand for

- speak in favor of something or show that one supports it

All of the candidates stand for a platform of law and order.

stand for

- allow to happen or be done, permit

He will not stand for anybody to come to his classes late.

stand in awe of

- look upon with wonder, feel respectful to

He stands in awe of the former coach in the football department.

stand in for someone

- be a substitute for someone else

The other actor stood in for her when she was sick.

stand (someone) in good stead

- be a great advantage to someone

It will stand you in good stead with the company if you do the extra work.

stand off

- stay at a distance, stay apart

He always stands off from the rest of the students in his class.

stand off

- keep someone or something from coming near or winning

There was a stand-off at the bank between the police and the bank robbers.

stand on ceremony

- be formal

You don`t need to stand on ceremony. You can relax.

stand one`s ground

- maintain and defend one`s position

He stood his ground over his decision to fire the employee.

stand on one`s own two feet

- be independent

He learned to stand on his own two feet when he was very young.

stand out

- be more noticeable in some way than those around one

He likes to wear clothes that make him stand out from the crowd.

stand over

- watch closely, keep checking all the time

He stood over his son all day to make sure that he was studying for his final exams.

stand pat

- be satisfied with things and be against a change

We should stand pat for awhile and not do anything to cause any problems with the negotiations.

stand to reason

- make sense, be logical

If he told a lie about that it stands to reason that he will probably lie to you about other things too.

stand up

- strong enough to use for a long time

The new carpet is able to stand up to the use of many people.

stand up and be counted

- be willing to say what one thinks in public

The union members thought it was time that they stood up and were counted before management took away their benefits.

stand (someone) up

- fail to keep an appointment or date with your boyfriend or girlfriend

He stood her up on a date last Saturday and now she won`t talk to him.

stand up for

- defend against attack, fight for

The citizens of the town were ready to stand up for their rights,

stand up to someone

- be brave in confronting someone

He stood up to his boss during the meeting when his boss criticized his work.

stars in one`s eyes

- an appearance or feeling of very great happiness

She had stars in her eyes when she saw the beautiful ring that her boyfriend had bought for her.

start in

- begin a career

He started in as a mailroom clerk but soon he began to have more and more important jobs in the company.

start the ball rolling

- begin to do something

He finally started the ball rolling on their plans to build a new house.

start up

- begin operating, begin to play

He started up a small business when he was 20 years old.

stay away from

- avoid

He has been staying away from salty foods for several months now.

stay put

- stay in one place, not leave

We decided to stay put for our holidays rather than go away.

steal one`s thunder

- do or say something that another person had planned to say

He stole my thunder when he announced that he was leaving the company before me.

steal the show

- act or do so well in a performance that you get most of the attention

The little boy stole the show at the music festival.

steer clear of someone

- avoid

I have been steering clear of that person ever since our argument.

step by step

- gradually

He has made a great effort and step by step he has learned how to use a computer.

step down

- leave an important position

My father stepped down from his job as president of his company recently.

step on it

- go faster, hurry

"Step on it," he yelled as the taxi took him to the airport a little late.

step on one`s toes

- do something that embarrasses or offends someone else

He stepped on a lot of people`s toes at work and now has many enemies.

step on the gas

- go faster, hurry

I decided to step on the gas in order to get to work on time.

step up

- make something go faster or more actively

Recently we had to step up our effort to hire some new computer programmers for our company.

step up

- rise to a higher or more important position, be promoted

He stepped up to the position of manager after the old manager was fired.

stew in one`s own juice

- suffer from something that one has caused to happen oneself

He is stewing in his own juice after he got into trouble for being late.

stick around

- stay or wait nearby

We decided to stick around after the game to talk for awhile.


- someone who is old-fashioned, someone who doesn`t want to join in with others

He is a stick-in-the-mud and will never join in any of the activities at a party.

stick one`s neck out

- take risks, support someone

He never sticks his neck out for anyone at work and therefore has few friends.

stick it out

- endure, continue

She doesn`t like her new job but plans to stick it out until she saves enough money to go to Europe.

stick to (a story/the facts)

- remain faithful to something

Please stick to the facts when you tell the story to the police.

stick to one`s guns

- defend an action or opinion despite an unfavorable reaction

He is sticking to his guns on his decision to fire the manager of the store.

stick up

- rob with a gun

A man with a gun tried to stick up my mother when I was a child.

stick up for

- defend, help, support

He always sticks up for the younger workers at his company.

stick with

- continue doing, not quit

He has been able to stick with his trumpet lessons since he was a child.

stick with

- stay with, not leave

If you stick with your job for a few years you will be able to save a lot of money.

stick (someone) with

- leave someone with something unpleasant

I was stuck with paying the bill when I went to the restaurant with my friends.

sticky fingers

- the habit of stealing things that one sees and wants

The young boy has sticky fingers and you must watch him all the time.


- terrible, bad quality

Do you like that new policy at your company? No, I think it stinks.

stir up

- cause some action to occur, rouse

The man`s angry words stirred up the crowd and made them very angry.

stir up a hornet`s nest

- make many people angry, do something that many people don`t like

He stirred up a hornet`s nest when he began to talk about the problems with the bonus system at his job.


- having no money

He was stone-broke after he came back from his holiday in Greece.

stop by

- visit, pass by

Why don`t you stop by my house on your way home?

stop dead/cold

- stop very quickly or with great force

He stopped dead when he saw the bear in the middle of the road.

stop in one`s tracks

- stop very quickly or with great force

The elephant was forced to stop in its tracks by the electric fence.

stop off

- stop at a place for a short time while going somewhere

We decided to stop off in New York City on our way to Egypt.

stop over

- stay at a place overnight or for a short time while on a trip

The plane had to stop over in Alaska because one of the passengers had a heart attack.

straight from the horse`s mouth

- directly from the person involved

I went over to my friend`s house so that I could hear about her wedding straight from the horse`s mouth.

straight from the shoulder

- open and honest way of speaking

He always speaks straight from the shoulder.

straight out

- plainly, in a way that hides nothing

He was told straight out by his boss that his work was not satisfactory.

straighten up

- put in order, clean up

He had to straighten up the house before inviting his parents over for dinner.

strapped for cash

- have no money available

I am a little strapped for cash so I won`t be able to go away this summer.

straw in the wind

- a small sign of what may happen

When the company began to try and cut back on expenses it was a straw in the wind as to what would happen in the future.

straw that breaks the camel`s back

- a small problem which follows other troubles that makes you lose patience and be unable to continue as before

Recently she has caused many problems in this company. However, when she lost the key to the front door of the office it was the straw that broke the camel`s back and we decided to fire her.

stretch a point

- agree to something beyond the limit of what is normally allowed

I think it is stretching a point to think you can go and take a two-hour lunch break.

strike it rich

- become rich or successful suddenly

He struck it rich when he got a job at the computer company and was able to buy some stock very cheap.

strike out

- be put out of action through one`s own errors

He struck out in his attempt to gather enough support to build a new cafeteria in the building.

strike while the iron is hot

- take advantage of an opportunity

He decided to strike while the iron was hot and quickly applied for the job.

string along

- deceive or fool

He tried to string me along with his story about his sick mother.

string out

- make something extend over a great distance or over a long period of time

The games of the soccer tournament were strung out over a period of about 3 weeks.

strings attached

- obligations, restraining conditions

He was able to borrow the money for the furniture with no strings attached.

stuck on

- very much in love with, crazy about

My niece has been stuck on the boy next door for several months now.

stuck up

- acting as if other people are not as good as one is, conceited

We don`t like the new woman at work because she is very stuck up and thinks she is much better than the rest of us.

stuffed shirt

- a person who is too rigid or too formal

He is a stuffed shirt and I never feel comfortable to try and talk with him.

sucker list

- a list of easily-fooled people who are easily persuaded to buy something

The salesmen used a sucker list to try and get people to buy his new product.

sugar daddy

- a rich older man who gives money to a younger woman for her companionship

The woman went off on a nice winter holiday with her sugar daddy.

sum up

- put something into a few words, summarize

He summed up his presentation and asked for questions from the audience.

sunny-side up

- eggs fried on one side only

We asked for our eggs to be fried sunny-side up at the restaurant.

sure thing

- something sure to happen, something about which there is no doubt

His promotion to senior manager is a sure thing according to the president.

sure thing

- of course, certainly

"Sure thing, I would be glad to help you with your homework tonight."

swallow one`s pride

- bring one`s pride under control, become humble

I had to swallow my pride and go and ask my supervisor for some extra money.


- overwhelmed

I am a little swamped with work at the moment so I can`t meet you tonight.

swan song

- final appearance

He was a big hit during his swan song at the party last week.

swear by

- use as the support or authority that what one is saying is truthful

The accused criminal was asked to swear on a bible at the trial.

swear by

- have complete confidence in , be sure of something

He swears by the walk that he takes every morning.

swear in

- have a person promise to do his duty as a member of an organization or government dept. etc.

The new Prime Minister was sworn in last night at the parliament.

swear off

- decide to give up something that you are in the habit of using

My friend swore off alcohol several years ago.

sweat bullets/blood

- be nervous, be very worried

I was sweating bullets during the interview but after it started I was able to calm down.

sweat out

- wait anxiously, worry while waiting

I spent the evening sweating out whether or not I would get the job or not.

sweep off one`s feet

- overcome with strong feelings

We were swept off our feet over the excitement of the ceremony.

sweep under the rug

- hide or dismiss casually

They always sweep their problems under the rug and never want to discuss them.

sweetie pie

- darling, sweetheart

He always calls his wife sweetie pie. Even after they have been married for 30 years.

sweet on

- in love with, very fond of

He was sweet on his next door neighbor when he was a child.

sweet talk

- praise or flatter someone to get what you want

My sister tried to sweet talk our father into giving her the car but he said no.

swelled head

- a feeling that one is more important than one really is

He has a swelled head since he got the new position in his company.

swim against the tide/current

- do the opposite of what most people want to do

He is always swimming against the tide and never wants to do what his friends are doing.

switched on

- in tune with the latest fads, ideas and fashions

His aunt is really switched on and looks much younger than her age.

Idiom Quizzes - S

Choose an idiom at the bottom to replace the expression in the brackets below:

1. He stopped to (chat) for awhile before he started work.

(a) salt away (b) see the light (c) see the world through rose-colored glasses (d) shoot the breeze

2. She is always hoping that her son will (stop moving around) and get married.

(a) settle down (b) scatter around (c) serve time (d) snap out of it

3. We will have to go back to (the beginning) in order to solve the problem.

(a) scrape together (b) square one (c) sell ourself short (d) shape up

4. We never seem to (agree) on any important matter.

(a) scrounge around (b) send anyone packing (c) see eye to eye (d) smell a rat

5. The company decided to (repaint and clean up) the office before the 50th anniversary celebration.

(a) see off (b) simmer down (c) smack into (d) spruce up

6. The office is always (perfectly clean) when he begins work Monday morning.

(a) spic and span (b) settled down (c) second hand (d) a spitting image

7. We don`t have a hammer but this should (do just as well) until we find one.

(a) sink or swim (b) sell like hotcakes (c) serve our purpose (d) send someone packing

8. He (said the wrong thing) when he told her about his friend`s wedding.

(a) sank his teeth into it (b) sat right (c) made a slip of the tongue (d) shopped around

9. They (separated) after 20 years of marriage.

(a) scratched the surface (b) split up (c) snapped out of it (d) smoothed things over

10. He bought a (used) car to use for weekend camping trips.

(a) second-hand (b) shaped-up (c) shelled-out (d) second-thought

11. He has (saved) a lot of money from his present job.

(a) smacked into (b) salted away (c) shrugged off (d) squawked about

12. He (didn`t keep his date with) the woman from the restaurant.

(a) stood up (b) salted away (c) stuck up for (d) snapped out of

13. You will have to (go to various stores) to buy a stereo at a cheap price.

(a) stab someone in the back (b) shop around (c) straighten up (d) stick it out

14. I haven`t (formed an opinion of) the new man in the accounting department yet.

(a) stayed away from (b) struck while the iron is hot (c) shopped around (d) sized up

15. We are trying to (solve) the problems between our son and his wife.

(a) smooth over (b) sit tight (c) simmer down (d) side with

16. It (makes sense) that he has no money as he is always drinking at night.

(a) stretches a point (b) shoots the breeze (c) stands to reason (d) sells himself short

17. I went to the airport to (say goodbye to) my sister.

(a) stop by (b) shell out (c) side with (d) see off

18. He began to (become calm) a few minutes after the argument.

(a) simmer down (b) split hairs (c) stand up to someone (d) stick to his guns

19. Let's (begin the preparations) for the New Year's party.

(a) stand on our own two feet (b) stick it out (c) start the ball rolling (d) slip our mind

20. Please (wait patiently) for awhile so that I can prepare the material.

(a) stick your neck out (b) shrug off (c) sit tight (d) stand a chance

21. We spent some time (chatting) before I left for the train.

(a) shooting the breeze (b) shaping up (c) steering clear of everyone (d) sinking or swimming

22. You should (think about it) for awhile before you make a firm decision.

(a) splurge on it (b) stick your neck out (c) smell a rat (d) sleep on it

23. Her son was not able to (endure) the bad situation at his job.

(a) straighten up (b) stick out (c) snap out of (d) shell out

24. We have only (started) to finish all the work that we must do.

(a) stood our ground (b) scrounged around (c) scratched the surface (d) slipped our mind

25. He was (upset) after the car accident.

(a) sweating bullets (b) a stuffed shirt (c) sitting pretty (d) shook up

26. I (defended) his ideas during the meeting.

(a) stuck up for (b) set back (c) swamped (d) shopped around

27. I (don`t like) his bad attitude towards work.

(a) stab in the back (b) stay away from (c) stand in for (d) am sick and tired of

28. The new book has been (selling very well) since it was published last month.

(a) selling like hotcakes (b) selling itself short (c) swamped (d) straightened up

29. She is (an exact replica) of her father.

(a) a sore loser (b) a spitting image (c) the short end of the stick (d) square one

30. He (was in jail) three years ago for robbing a bank.

(a) settled down (b) spruced up (c) served time (d) salted away

31. She (disregarded) my advice to be more careful at work.

(a) shrugged off (b) snapped out of (c) splurged on (d) straightened up

32. He is always (complaining about) the food in the cafeteria.

(a) salting away (b) scraping together (c) seeing through (d) squawking about

33. She has been (avoiding) chocolate for many months.

(a) smacking into (b) staying away from (c) sizing up (d) sinking her teeth into

34. We (took the leftovers) when hiring employees for the new project.

(a) splurged on something (b) scraped the bottom of the barrel (c) stabbed someone in the back (d) stood to reason

35. Who did you finally (support) in the argument?

(a) split hairs (b) shoot the breeze (c) spruce up (d) side with

36. She finally (returned to normal) after becoming depressed about losing her job.

(a) sweated bullets (b) set herself back (c) snapped out of it (d) scraped together

37. He will never (do anything extra) unless it is beneficial to him.

(a) be on the safe side (b) sell like hotcakes (c) sink or swim (d) stick his neck out

38. I don`t like to play tennis with him because he is (someone who gets angry when he doesn`t win).

(a) a sore loser (b) square one (c) a snap (d) a song and dance

39. His drunk driving jail sentence is a (family secret).

(a) snowball`s chance in hell (b) song and dance (c) skeleton in his closet (d) spitting image

40. How much did your new car (cost)?

(a) see eye to eye (b) stand you up (c) start the ball rolling (d) set you back

41. He is not a nice person and always (fights against others).

(a) stabs people in the back (b) smooths things over (c) slips his mind (d) shoots the breeze

42. We managed to (gather) enough money to go on a holiday.

(a) squawk about (b) stay away from (c) stick up for (d) scrape together

43. The director was (tricked) and revealed the secret information.

(a) spruced up (b) set up (c) set back (d) seen off

44. (Suddenly) we became hungry and decided to go to a restaurant.

(a) At square one (b) On second thought (c) In seventh heaven (d) On the spur of the moment

45. We couldn`t really (seriously start) the project until we spoke to the supervisor.

(a) stand to reason (b) sink our teeth into (c) stick our neck out on (d) smack into

46. They are (in a good position) with their new house and money in the bank.

(a) a sore loser (b) a stuffed shirt (c) a snap (d) sitting pretty

47. She was able to (be firm and confront) her boss during the meeting.

(a) stand up to (b) sink her teeth into (c) stand clear of (d) stick up for

48. We went very early in order to (make sure) about the tickets.

(a) be on the safe side (b) make a slip of the tongue (c) see eye to eye (d) scratch the surface

49. She gave me (many excuses) as to why she was late with the report.

(a) a spitting image (b) a swan song (c) a snake in the grass (d) a song and dance

50. What he said (is unacceptable to) most members of the class.

(a) doesn`t sit right with (b) doesn`t have a snowball`s chance in hell with (c) sinks or swims with (d) sits tight with

51. What he said (was forgotten by me) and I couldn`t remember it the next day.

(a) saw eye to eye (b) spruced up (c) split hairs (d) slipped my mind

52. They (became suspicious) and went to the police for advice.

(a) smacked into (b) smelled a rat (c) straightened up (d) shrugged off

53. He heard the news right after the incident and (directly from those involved in it).

(a) scraped the bottom of the barrel (b) served his purpose (c) straight from the horse`s mouth (d) straight from the shoulder

54. The (final appearance) of the great opera star was a wonderful occasion.

(a) second thought (b) see off (c) swan song (d) spitting image

55. She (let out the secret) about the surprise party for her boss.

(a) served time (b) spilled the beans (c) shaped up (d) shot the breeze

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