The Top 40 Most Useful TOEFL Idioms You Might Not Understand

【1】take a rain check

used to tell someone that you cannot accept an invitation now, but would like to do so at a later time:

—— Can you come over for dinner tonight?

—— I’m up to my ears in work,so I’ll have to take a rain check.

【2】lost count 

to fail to be able to count someone or something, especially because there are so many:

—— Ever since your girlfriend moved to New York,you are always driving there.How many trips a week do you make anyway?

——I have lost count,but I can do it with my eyes closed.

【3】be in another world 

to not notice what is happening around you, usually because you are thinking about something else:

—— Peter’s really out of it these days.

—— Yeah,I know.Ever since he met Ann,he’s been in another world.

【4】make yourself at home 

to relax and make yourself comfortable in someone else’s place:

—— Do you mind if I take off my jacket?

—— Of course not,make yourself at home.

【5】save your breath 

used to say that it is not worth talking to someone because they will not listen to you:

—— Hey? John! John!

—— Save your breath.He”s out of earshot.

6】make sense 

to be clear and easy to understand: 

—— The plot of that movie is hard to follow.

—— It makes more sense the second time.

【7】cost someone an arm and a leg 

to be very expensive: 

——Did you see the diamond ring Bill gave to Linda?

——I sure did.It must have cost him an arm and a leg.

【8】burn a hole in one’s pocket 

If money is burning a hole in your pocket, you are very eager to spend it:

——Have you saved enough to buy that new printer for your computer yet?

——You know money seems to be burning a hole in my pocket lately . Maybe next month.

【9】fill one’s shoes 

to take someone’s place, often by doing the job they have just left: 

——Have you heard that Professor Jones is retiring?

——Yes.The faculty won’t find anyone to fill her shoes.

【10】is ice cold? 

as a matter of course; of course: 

——Does Prof.Ford always come to class?

——Is ice cold?

【11】like apples and oranges

to examine the similarities of things that are completely different :

——Which game do you think is more difficult to learn,chess or bridge?——They are like apples and oranges.

【12】look for a needle in a haystack 

something that is impossible or extremely difficult to find, especially because the area you have to search is too large:

——We are supposed to meet John here at the train station.

——That’s like looking for a needle in a hay stack .

【13】lose one’s train of thought

to be talking and then suddenly forget what you were talking about:

——When you interrupted me,you made me lose my train of thought.

【14】meet each other half way 

to compromise with someone: 

——My chemistry project is in trouble because my partner and I had totally different ideas about how to proceed.

——You should try to meet each other half way.

【15】on the dot 

at exactly the right time :

——Did you and Amanda really meet exactly five minutes to two in front of the theatre?

——Yes,we were both there on the dot.

【16】once and for all 

finally; permanently:

——I am going to tell that neighbor of mine to turn down that music once and for all.

——I see why you are angry.But I’ve always found that the polite route is the most effective.

【17】out of earshot 

the range of distance within which it is possible to be heard or to hear what someone is saying:

——Hey? John! John!

——Save your breath.He’s out of earshot.

【18】out of this world 

extremely good:

——Have you tried Susan’s apple pie?

——I got the last piece.And it was out of this world.

【19】play by ear 

to decide how to deal with a situation as it develops, rather than acting according to plans made earlier: 

——Marty,are you doing anything special for your presentation in political science tomorrow?

——Not really,because the class so often turns into a discussion,I’ve decided to play it by ear.

【20】ring a bell 

to sound familiar:

——That name just doesn’t ring a bell with me.

【21】share a common outlook 

to share the same opinion :

——Jeff and Alan share a common outlook on life.

【22】six of one and half-a-dozen of the other

two things are almost the same or equal :

——I can’t decide whether to take anthropology or geology this term.

——It’s six of one and half-a-dozen of the other.

【23】stick around 

to remain in a place: 

——Leaving the party so soon? We’re just getting ready to cut the cake.——Sorry,I can’t stick around.

【24】stick with 

to continue to be closely involved with someone or something :

——I wonder what this new flavor of ice cream tastes like?

——I tried it last week.If I were you,I would stick with an old favorite.


【25】straighten out 

to become straight :

——I almost forgot. I still owe you ten dollars from the other night.Do you have change for a twenty?

——Oh,not at the moment.Let’s just straighten it out some other time.

【26】toss and turn 

to be unable to sleep because of worrying: 

——Last night I tossed and turned in bed,too exhausted to sleep.

【27】turn one’s back 

to refuse to help or be involved :

——He’ll turn his back on me if I ask for money.

【28】under the weather 

Feel sick, poor health, tired or exhausted: 

——It’s good to see you,Mary.How have you been?

——Actually I have been feeling under the weather recently.

【29】bite off more than one can chew 

Try to do more then you can handle:

——I hear you’ve been taking an advanced physics course this semester.

How’s it going?

——I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.


【30】break new ground 

to begin to do something that no one else has done; to pioneer :

——His architectural design broke new ground in the field.

【31】do the trick 

to do exactly what is needed :

——I’ve been trying to get the furnace started,but I can’t find the right switch.

——Here,I believe this one in the back will do the trick.

【32】drag one’s feet 

 postpone doing what one should be doing:

——How’s Bob coming along on his dissertation proposal?

——He’s really been dragging his feet.

【33】draw the line 

to set a limit at something; to decide when a limit has been reached: 

——Paul expects me to clean the room every week.

——That’s where I draw the line.

【34】feel down in the dumps 

Feel unhappy:

——Kate was really feeling down in the dumps about her latest chemistry assignment.

【35】few and far between 

very few; few and widely scattered; not very many or not appearing very frequently: 

——Steve is really a terrific guy.

——He sure is.Ones like him are few and far between.


【36】fit as a fiddle 

Being in good health; in a sound condition: 

—— Harry! How have you been? I haven’t seen you in ages.

——I’m fit as a fiddle.This exercise program I’m following is terrific.

【37】grin and bear

to accept an unpleasant or difficult situation because there is nothing you can do to improve it: 

——Carla,I can’t take this job any longer.

——If you need the money,you’ll just have to grin and bear it.

【38】hit the spot

to be exactly right; to be refreshing: 

——This Lemonade sure hits the spot.

——And how!

【39】keep between the two of us 

to keep the secret between you and me: 

——What I’m going to say is rather personal,so let’s keep between the two of us.

【40】know a thing or two about

To have practical sagacity; be worldly-wise: 

——Do you think Andy could help us plan the camping trip to West Virginia?

——Well, since he spends every summer there,he might know a thing or two about it.