Common Idioms to Boost Your IELTS Score – Topic: Expectation



the calm before the storm or the lull before the storm

You describe a very quiet period as the calm before the storm or the lull before the storm if it is followed by a period of trouble or intense activity.

Things are relatively relaxed at the moment but I think it’s probably the calm before the storm.

The Emergency Department is fairly quiet, it’s probably the lull before the storm.

castles in the air

If you describe someone’s plans as castles in the air, you mean that they are not realistic and have no chance of succeeding.

The population began to understand that the president’s election promises had been castles in the air.

not count your chickens or not count your chickens before they’re hatched

If you say that you are not counting your chickens (before they’re hatched), you mean that you are not making plans for the future because you do not know for certain how a particular situation will develop.

If we get through to the next stage we’ll be competing against some top-class sides, so I’m not counting my chickens.

When dealing with important financial arrangements, never count your chickens before they’re hatched.

NOTE: You can also use the proverb don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched from which this expression comes.

The contract is not signed yet. Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.

feel something in your bones

If you say that you can feel something in your bones, you mean that you feel very strongly that you are right about something, although you cannot explain why.

Joe, I have a hunch you’re going to lose tonight. I just feel it in my bones.

NOTE: You can also use know, believe, and sense instead of feel.

Tradition is very important – you’d think a conservative would know that in his bones.

NOTE: You can also say that you have a feeling in your bones.

I’ve got a feeling in my bones we’re going to lose this by-election.

not have a prayer

If you say that someone does not have a prayer, you mean that it is impossible for them to achieve something.

The team was on such good form their opponents didn’t have a prayer.

it’s early days or it’s early in the day

If you say that it’s early days or it’s early in the day, you mean that it is too soon to be sure about what will happen about a situation in the future. [BRITISH]

We haven’t made a lot of progress, but it’s early days yet.

The spokesman did not expect any immediate changes. ‘It is very early in the day yet.’

like looking for a needle in a haystack

If trying to find something is like looking for a needle in a haystack, it is extremely difficult or impossible.

She was told by police that searching for the dog would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

NOTE: This usage of this expression is very variable.

It soon became clear that we were looking for a needle in a haystack.

It’s very much a needle in a haystack situation that we’re dealing with.

a long shot

If you describe a way of solving a problem as a long shot, you mean there is little chance that it will succeed but you think it worth trying.

NOTE: The reference here is to someone shooting at a target from a very long distance.

You could try to find her. It’s a long shot but you could start with her old school.

on the cards

If something is on the cards, it is very likely to happen. [BRITISH]

NOTE: This is a reference to Tarot cards or other cards used to predict the future.

A major change in the way hospitals and schools are funded is on the cards.

on the off-chance

If you do something on the off-chance, you do it because there is a small chance that a good thing will happen even though you do not really expect it to. [mainly BRITISH]

She had turned up on the off-chance of catching a glimpse of the princess.

out of the blue

If something happens out of the blue it happens unexpectedly.

NOTE: This expression compares an unexpected event to a bolt of lightning from a blue sky.

Then, out of the blue a solicitor’s letter arrived.

par for the course

If something that happens is par for the course, it is not good but it is what you expect.

NOTE: In golf, ‘par’ is the number of strokes a good golfer is expected to take for a particular hole or for the whole course.

There are leaves and branches all over the streets, and the power is out. But that’s all par for the course in a hurricane.

not a snowball’s chance in hell

If there is not a snowball’s chance in hell of someone doing something or of something happening, there is no chance at all that they will do it or it will happen. [BRITISH, SPOKEN]

Do you seriously think he has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this election?

NOTE: You can also say that someone does not have a chance in hell of doing something.

They don’t have a chance in hell of privatizing the economy. They have no idea how a free market works.


Exercise 1

Decide if the sentences are true (T) or false (F)

  1. If there is calm before the storm, there will be a quiet period before a period of intense activity.
  2. If something comes out of the blue, It doesn’t surprise you.
  3. If something is par for the course, it’s better than expected.
  4. If something is a long shot, you don’t expect it to be successful.
  5. If you do not count your chickens before they’re hatched, you don’t make plans for the future.
  6. If you feel something in your bones, you feel strongly that you are right about something.

Exercise 2

Choose the best answer to complete the sentences.

1          They offered me the job right out of the _______________ .

a          blue     b          storm               c          sky

2          He’s desperate to get the lead part in the play but he doesn’t have a _______________

a          shot     b          off-chance       c          prayer

3          It’s _______________ days but the project appears to be developing well.

a          calm     b          early                c          blue

4          I called on the _______________ -chance and happened to find her at home.

a          off       b          on                    c          long

5          The classroom was horribly quiet but it was just the lull before the   _______________

a          prayer  b          storm               c          coursev

6          I knew it was a long _______________ but I thought I’d ask for a replacement anyway.

a          chance b          prayer              c          shot

Exercise 3

Complete the sentences with the words in the box.

on        in         in         on        before              in         for      in

1          A good fisherman knows ___________ his bones when it’s going to rain.

2          Wearing black is par ___________ the course at a formal event like this.

3          I phoned ___________ the off-chance that you might like to join us.

4          History has shown that their dreams were just castles ___________ the air.

5          None of us have a chance ___________ hell of winning the lottery.

6          It’s ___________  the cards that he’ll be the next prime minister.

7          The peace in the garden was the calm  ___________ the storm.

8          It’s too early  ___________ the day to say if this is a good policy.

Exercise 4

Match idioms 1-6 with situations A-F.

1          Tom wants to pass his driving test before buying a car.

2          The manager thinks the staff are unhappy about something.

3          Business has been good so we should make a profit this year.

4          He suffered a knee injury – as so many tennis players do.

5          You can’t remember where you parked your car at the airport.

6          Arif has entered a golf tournament even though he’s never played before.

A He has a feeling in his bones.

B He’s not counting his chickens.

C He doesn’t have a chance in hell.

D It’s on the cards.

E It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.

F That’s par for the course.

 Exercise 5

Re-order the phrases to make sentences. Add punctuation where necessary.

1          you shouldn’t look / as it’s been on the cards / for a long time / so surprised

2          to have a prayer / he did not seem / the world title / of regaining

3          for doctors who / par for the course / long hours are / are still training

4          by phoning the embassy / trying to find you / I admit that / was a bit of a long shot

5          more helpers / on the off-chance / I went / that they would need

6          which side / it’s too early in the day / will win the match / to predict

7          building / the afternoon / they spent / castles in the air

8          in my bones / will be fine / that everything / I sense

Exercise 6

Match the underlined words and phrases in sentences 1-8 with an idiom with the same meaning A-H.

  1. A new hospital is likely to happen, and so is a children’s clinic.
  2. It’s still only the beginning, so it’s difficult to say whether the business will be successful or not.
  3. I need to locate a specific document in this pile of papers. It’s extremely difficult to find.
  4. I know you probably can’t help me but I thought I’d ask just in case there’s a possibility.
  5. I’m sure he’s going to propose to her – I am convinced!
  6. He hasn’t got any possibility of succeeding.
  7. I think their order will be for 200 boxes but I don’t want to change our plans until that’s confirmed.
  8. The report described our plans as unrealistic and ambitious.

A castles in the air

B a snowball’s chance in hell

C like looking for a needle in a haystack

D feel it in my bones

E early days

F on the cards

G on the off-chance

H count our chickens before they’re hatched

Your turn!

Use the idioms in this unit to describe any of your present or past expectations. For example:

I called round to see Jan on the off-chance yesterday.

It’s early days to say whether I’ll apply to study for a postgraduate degree.


Exercise 1

1 T       4 T

2 F       5 T

3 F       6 T

Exercise 2      

1 a       4 a

2 c       5 b

3 b       6 c

Exercise 3      

1 in      5 in

2 for    6 on

3 on     7 before

4 in      8 in

Exercise 4      

1 B      4 F

2 A      5 E

3 D      6 C

Exercise 5

1          You shouldn’t look so surprised as it’s been on the cards for a long time.

2          He did not seem to have a prayer of regaining the world title.

3          Long hours are par for the course for doctors who are still training. OR For doctors who are still training, long hours are par for the course.

4          I admit that trying to find you by phoning the embassy was a bit of a long shot.

5          I went on the off-chance that they would need more helpers.

6          It’s too early in the day to predict which side will win the match.

7          They spent the afternoon building castles in the air.

8          I sense in my bones that everything will be fine.

Exercise 6                              

1 F       4 G      7 H

2 E       5 D      8 A

3 C      6 B

Written By

Syed Monif is a professional content marketer and IELTS Trainer by day, and a bookworm by night, and sometimes during the day too! He currently works on creating extremely user-friendly and engaging content for the online portal His work involves creating and editing content while making sure they're super interesting and easy to read! And also as a master procrastinator, right now he's probably googling something so arbitrary like 'How rich is Scrooge McDuck?' without realizing that his lunch break is almost over.

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