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English Idioms for A+ Essays

So, English idioms. Can you think of some examples? “The early bird gets the worm!” “Bite your tongue!” Do they “drive you crazy?” Keep calm and take a deep breath. Professional writers from are walking encyclopedias, they know all idioms inside out. Give us a couple of minutes to explain to you everything.


English idioms


First of all, let's see what an idiom is. It is a word or phrase which has a different meaning than its literal definition. Idioms are a short and sweet way of conveying something that would otherwise require a number of sentences. In many cases, their real meanings are difficult to establish. For example, if we say that “this man loves blowing his own trumpet”, it has nothing to do with the music. The idiomatic expression highlights that a person loves talking about himself.

The Ground Rules for the Use of English Idioms in Your Essay

Rule #1: Idioms are common English expressions that can be used in formal and informal situations. They come up all the time in both written and spoken English.

Rule #2: Idioms must be used appropriately for the context of the essay. When used correctly, especially in the academic writing, they show creativity and demonstrate control over the language.

Rule #3: Do not confuse phrasal verb idioms with slang. For instance, do not write in your essay that somebody “flunked out of college” (to fail and have to leave). “To flunk out” is slang. You do not want to use this expression in a formal academic essay.


As you are painfully aware, the idioms are quite challenging to learn because the meaning of the whole phrase often does not relate to the literal meaning of the individual words. Most of the time, when you are trying to learn the idioms, you are looking on a website that has the list of hundreds of phrases and end up getting frustrated and confused.


The secret to learning idioms is to focus on the ones that are relevant and are often used in everyday conversation. When you hear a new idiom and learn the meaning, think about a situation in your own life where the meaning of this phrase is relevant. To make it easier for you, we have compiled a list of idioms that will pepper your writing. So, let's learn some advanced vocabulary, specifically verbs that you can use in your essays as well as in the IELTS or the TOEFL exams to level up your paper.

Useful English Idioms for Your Essay

Cut Corner

This is a quite common idiom you have to know to spice up your essay and speech. What does it mean? It means to do something badly or cheaply. Often, to save time or money. We could say: “the construction company cut corners when they were building the bridge, which is why it eventually collapsed.”

Hang in There

This idiom means to be patient or wait when things are difficult. For instance, “I know you having trouble in the math class but do not drop out, if you hang in there, you will eventually understand the material”.

On the Fence

It is one of the most useful idioms for IELTS or TOEFL exams. You can use it when writing about someone who has not decided between two options. Let us give you an example: “He was on the fence about whether to write a history essay or order one online”.

Test the Waters

If you want to try something without completely committing to it, you can test the waters. For instance, “if you are not sure whether you want to join the college club or not, you can test the waters by just going to the first meeting.”

Make a Long Story Short

This is a great idiom to use in your essay if you want to conclude something. It means to briefly summarize the main point. Now that we have warmed up, it is time to move on to more challenging English idioms which you can be applied in your essay.

School of Thought


Thoughtful person


It is a viewpoint or an opinion that some people subscribe to. Where does this come from? Historically, we had Plato who concentrated on metaphysics and Aristotle with his own school of thoughts – he considered the world from the point of view of a scientific perspective. You can talk about the different schools of thought: the one which examines the ways to educate children, control taxes or reduce violence. So, any topic can have schools of thought (a public and commonly held opinion by a group of people).


The introduction to an essay could sound like this: “There is a growing debate as to the role of government in media supervision. One school of thought suggests that authorities have an obligation to protect a nation's citizens by banning harmful materials from appearing in the media. Another view is that censorship is itself harmful and the government should allow natural social discourse to dictate what constitutes acceptable expression.”


In this example, you can always say “some people think” instead of “one school of thought suggests”. But if you want to have a little bit of sophistication to get your score up, use more complex writing.

Make the Grade/Cut

That idiom means to perform to a certain standard. If you do not make the grade, you are below the acceptable minimum and you are not going to get what it is you are going after.  For example, “not all students can go to Ivy League School. Those who do not make the grade often choose public colleges or vocational schools.” Basically, they did not have enough good grades to enter Ivy League School.


Here is another example: “With so many companies offering similar services, those that do not make the cut in terms of quality and price often find themselves out of business. ” To simply put, it does not good enough to compete.

(Live in an) Ivory Tower

If you think about elephants and their tusks, that material is ivory. This phrase means that a person is detached from reality, unaware of the common person's needs and troubles. If you live in an ivory tower, you are high above the average person, you are a little bit in a luxury world.


For example, “Academics, especially older ones, are often seen as living in ivory towers, reading and writing books that do not apply to most people's lives.” “Recent developments in world politics reflect the average person's distrust of politicians' ivory tower approach to governance.”

Learn (Something) the Hard Way

It means to learn through difficult experiences and mistakes. “Some children refuse to listen to the advice of the adults around them and seem bent on (determined to) learning the facts of life the hard way.”


So, hang in there! Be sure, with these idioms, the next essay of yours will be a piece of cake!

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