Idioms & Phrases Question & Answer

Idioms & Phrases form an important part of the English language section of various competitive and bank exams like- SEBI Grade A, SBI PO, IBPS PO, SSC CHSL, SSC CGL, RBI Grade B and many others.

What are Idioms & Phrases?

Idioms refer to a collection of words/phrases which have a different meaning from that of the literal meaning of the words used. Even though the meaning of the idioms is different from the literal meaning, they can be understood because of their popular use. They are used to express different thoughts, ideas, emotions, etc. in a dramatic way.

Let’s understand with the help of an example-

‘It’s raining cats and dogs’

The above expression does not mean that cats and dogs are falling from the sky, but it is a metaphorical expression which means that it is raining heavily.

A phrase refers to a group of words which can be short or long. It is a small group of words that stand together as a single unit. Generally, it is a part of a bigger clause/sentence. Therefore, it does not always contain a subject and verb. Phrases cannot convey a complete thought. Moreover, phrases do not give figurative meaning, they mean exactly what the words indicate.

For example-

The phone was on the table.

The children were giggling and laughing when the teacher left the classroom.

Types of Phrases

Give below are the types of phrases-

Type of PhrasesPhrasesExamples
Noun Phrases Consists of a noun and all its modifiers. I need to talk to the woman I met yesterday.
Verb Phrases Consists of verbs and all its modifiers. He was waiting for the rain to stop.
Gerund Phrases It is a noun phrase that starts with a gerund. Getting a promotion is exciting.
Infinitive Phrases It is a noun phrase that starts with an infinitive verb. To see Niagara Falls is mind-boggling.
Appositive Phrases It restates and defines a noun. It consists of one or more words. A cheetah, the fastest land animal, can run 70 miles an hour.
Participle Phrases It begins with a past/present participle. The happy dog ran the entire length of the field, pausing only to sniff the dandelions.
Prepositional Phrases It begins with a preposition that does act as a noun, adjective or adverb. He won the challenge against all odds.
Absolute Phrases An absolute phrase contains a subject but doesn’t have an action verb. It modifies the whole sentence and not just a noun only. The kids attacked the pile of nachos, their fingers getting the last bit of cheese off the plate.

Examples of Idioms/Phrases

Given below are examples of some of the most commonly asked idioms and phrases in the competitive exams-

The tip of the iceberg A small part of a bigger problem Tax evasion was just the tip of the iceberg. The company has committed countless other crimes.
The eleventh-hour Last minute/last chance to do something The student submitted the assignment at the eleventh-hour.
The whole nine yards Everything possible We covered the whole nine yards in the meeting. There is nothing left to do.
Thick in the head Stupid or foolish Bruno is so thick in the head. He keeps licking the wall.
Through thick & thin In good and bad times He loved his wife through thick and thin.
The home stretch Near the end We’re on the home stretch now. We will be there in a few minutes.
Take a rain check To reschedule Can I take a rain check? I do not have time to go out tonight.
Take the bull by the horns To face a challenge  If you want to be the CEO of the company, you have to take the bull by the horns and work harder.
Take with a grain of salt Don’t believe it to be completely accurate I always take what I read in the news with a grain of salt.
Throw caution to the wind To let go of all responsibilities Let’s throw caution to the wind, quit our jobs and go on a vacation.
Throw under the bus cause someone else to suffer in order to save oneself or gain personal advantage One of my coworkers threw me under the bus to our boss.
Tie the knot To get married Are you ever going to tie the knot? You aren’t getting any younger.
Time is money Time is valuable We can not wait here all day. Time is money.
Throw in the towel To give up Rocky never threw in the towel during his fighting career.
Once in a blue moon A rare event The earthquakes hit once in a blue moon in this part of the earth.
Beating around the bush Avoiding the main topic The President was beating around the bush when the citizens demanded a reason for the forgery of legal documents.
Cry over spilled milk being upset over something that has already happened and cannot be changed. I know you didn't mean to break my phone, so there's no use in crying over spilt milk now.
Piece of cake Something that is easy to do/understand I thought that the problem would be tough, but it turned out to be a piece of cake!
Blessing in disguise an apparent misfortune that eventually has good results. His accident was a blessing in disguise because it gave him a lot of time to think about his life.
Bite off more than you can chew To take up a task which you may not be able to accomplish due to lack of ability. I bit off more than I could chew when I decided to take up the 300 page research project.
Don’t judge a book by its cover To not judge solely on appearance  The house looked impressive in the advertisement. Still I made a trip to the house to check everything. It is wise not to judge a book by its cover.
To sit on the fence To remain neutral Since I wasn’t aware of the details, I decided to sit on the fence during the argument between my cousins.
Break the ice  To initiate a social conversation or interaction At the start of the lecture, the new professor tried to break the ice by telling a joke.
At the drop of a hat  Willingness to do something instantly She expects me to make dinner at the drop of a hat even if I am very busy with office work
Black & blue Full of bruises The young lad was all black and blue after a tiff with a raging senior.
On cloud nine To be very happy I will be on cloud nine when my first article gets published.
Open Pandora’s box To find a source of great troubles and problems Finding the wallet on the road opened up Pandora's box. I was arrested for stealing when I went to report it at the police station.
To move heaven and earth To exert all efforts He moved heaven and earth to ensure that his family was taken care of in the foreign land in his absence.
Apple of one’s eyes Being cherished more than others are Sam is adored by his teacher for his childlike nature. He is the apple of her eye.
To spill the beans To disclose a secret The little one spilled the beans about the surprise vacation we had planned.

Sample Questions on Idioms/Phrases

Choose the option that best describes the bolded idiom-

Q1) It will take him some time to get a handle on how things run in this part of the world.

  1. each himself 
  2. Develop an understanding of
  3. Write it down
  4. Explain it someone 

Answer: (b)


“Get a handle on” means to understand and comprehend something or some situation. So in the context of the sentence, the person will need to understand how things work in this part of the world.

Q2)   My brother spilled the beans about the surprise party planned for our parents.

  1. o misbehave
  2. o keep secrets
  3. o reveal secret information 
  4. o great obstructions

Answer: (c) 


“Spilled the beans” means to reveal secret information.

Q3) I would like to visit my grandfather more often, but he talks his head off every time I visit him.

  1. o shout loudly
  2. o talk in whispers
  3. o talk to oneself
  4. o talk excessively

Answer: (d)


“To talk one’s head off” means to talk excessively.

Q4) When Aryan was transferred to a new school, he felt like a fish out of water because he did not know anyone there.

  1. Disgusted
  2. Uncomfortable
  3. Disappointed
  4. None of these

Answer: (b)


“Fish out of water” means uncomfortable.

Q5) He got fired for playing fast and loose with the company’s money.

  1. o deceive someone
  2. o behave irresponsibly
  3. o be efficient
  4. None of the above

Answer: (b)


“To play fast and loose” means to behave irresponsibly.


Idioms and Phrases have become an invaluable part of the English section of the competitive and bank exams. They are also very scoring, therefore, you must revise them often. Having a knowledge of idioms and phrases will help you in solving questions on error spotting, filling in the blanks, spelling correction, reading comprehension, etc. Candidates can expect around 4 to 5 questions from this topic.

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