Common Idioms to Boost Your IELTS Score – Topic : Fear and Frustration


Fear and frustration

at the end of your tether

If you are at the end of your tether, you are very upset because you are no longer able to deal with a difficult situation.

NOTE: A tether is a rope or chain which is used to tie an animal to a post or fence.

I had tried every solution I could think of. I was at the end of my tether.

a bundle of nerves

If you say that someone is a bundle of nerves, you mean that they are extremely nervous.

 NOTE: A bundle is many things that are tied or wrapped together.

Elaine admitted she was a bundle of nerves when she had to sing in front of the queen.

butterflies in your stomach

If you have butterflies in your stomach, you feel very nervous about something that you have to do.

Now I’ve qualified as a competitor, I’m starting to feel the butterflies in my stomach already.

NOTE: Butterflies is also used in many other structures and expressions with similar meaning.

If a jockey says he doesn’t get butterflies down at the start, he’s telling lies.

frighten the life out of someone or scare the life out of someone

If someone or something frightens the life out of you or scares the life out of you, they frighten you very much. [INFORMAL]

It used to frighten the life out of me when they tried to jump on the moving train.

Further tests revealed that I needed major heart surgery. It scared the life out of me.

get cold feet or have cold feet

If you get cold feet or have cold feet about something you have planned to do, you become nervous about it and are not sure that you want to do it.

Leaving Ireland wasn’t easy and I had cold feet about it a couple of times.

not get a word in edgeways

If you cannot get a word in edgeways in a conversation, you find it difficult to say anything because someone else is talking so much. [BRITISH]

For heaven’s sake, Sue, will you let me get a word in edgeways!

give someone the creeps

If someone or something gives you the creeps, they make you feel nervous or frightened. [INFORMAL]

That statue in my parents’ hallway always gave me the creeps.

jump out of your skin or nearly jump out of your skin

If you jump out of your skin or nearly jump out of your skin, you are suddenly very surprised or shocked by something.

The first time I heard shots I jumped out of my skin but now I hardly notice them.

I was concentrating so hard I nearly jumped out of my skin when there was a sudden knock on the door.

the last straw or the final straw

If you say that something is the last straw or the final straw, you mean It is the latest in a series of bad events and it makes you unable to deal with a situation any longer.

NOTE: The reference here is to an animal which is already carrying a great deal on its back and which collapses when one more thing is added.

The relationship had been in trouble for a while and Jack’s behaviour that night was just the final straw.

on edge

If someone is on edge, they are anxious and unable to relax.

She seemed a bit on edge the whole evening, which I decided was due to work stress.

red tape

Red tape is official rules and documents that seem unnecessary and cause a delay.

NQTE: Lawyers and government officials used to tie documents together with red or pink tape.

After dealing with all the red tape and finally getting approval for the building, our funding has been cut.

scare someone out of their wits

If something or someone scares you out of your wits, they make you very frightened or worried.

Oh, I’m so glad you’re all right! You scared us out of our wits. We heard you had an accident.

NOTE:  The verb frighten is sometimes used instead of scare.

The tree crashed through the conservatory, frightening me out of my wits.

be shaking like a leaf

If someone is shaking like a leaf, their body is shaking a lot, usually because they are very frightened.

I didn’t think about the danger at the time. Afterwards, I was shaking like a leaf.

until you are blue in the face

If you say that someone can say or do something until they are blue in the face, you mean that however many times they say or do it, it will not affect. [INFORMAL]

The president can issue orders until he is blue in the face, but no one will take any notice. 


Exercise 1

Choose the best answer to complete the sentences.

1          I had __________ in my stomach before I walked out onto the stage.

a creeps           b          butterflies        c          nerves

2          I’ve written to the newspapers until I’m blue in the __________ but they do nothing.

a face               b          skin      c          feet

3          The door suddenly banged and frightened the __________ out of me.

a life                b          leaf      c          wits

4          After the car alarm went off, getting the key stuck in the lock was the last __________

a edge              b          straw   c          word

5          I’m at the end of my __________ – I can’t find my credit card anywhere.

a tether                        b          mind    c          nerves

6          Could you please stop for a moment and let me get a __________ in edgeways?

a straw             b          foot     c          word

Exercise 2

Choose the correct explanation for each sentence.

1          There was so much red tape involved in getting a visa.

a It was expensive.      b There were a lot of official documents to complete. I’m finished my task.

2          I’m at the end of my tether.

a I’ve really had enough of this situation.       b I’m finished my task

3          I nearly jumped out of my skin!

a Something made me laugh.                          b I was frightened.

4          I’ve got butterflies in my stomach.

a I feel ill.                                                                    b I am nervous.

5          Just before the parachute jump, I got cold feet.

a I was too scared to do it.                                         b I couldn’t wait to do it.

6          What’s wrong? You’re shaking like a leaf.

a I think you’ve got some exciting news to tell me.    b I think you’ve had some shocking news.

Exercise 3

Match sentence halves 1-6 with A-F to make complete sentences.

1          She’s afraid of flying. Before the plane takes off

2          Please take off that horrible mask.

3          I don’t know why I feel uneasy about that man.

4          You’ve had a nasty shock. Sit down –

5          I’m sorry I’ve been in such a bad mood recently.

6          I was late for work – and then when I tripped on the way to the bus stop

A He just gives me the creeps, for some reason.

B I’ve been on edge about work – things are very stressful at the moment.

C it was the last straw!

D she’s a bundle of nerves.

E You scared me out of my wits!

F you’re shaking like a leaf.

Exercise 4

Correct the idioms in these sentences.

  1. He was on the edge, continually glancing behind him, thinking he was being followed.
  2. When his phone rang, he almost jumped out of his stomach.
  3. The house was silent and still and gave me the cold creeps.
  4. She was frightened out of her tether but somehow managed to swim back to shore and crawl out of the water.
  5. On the morning of the match, I was a bunch of nerves.
  6. Poor Charles was totally exhausted and just about at the end of his wits.

Exercise 5

Complete the sentences with idioms from this unit, changing the pronouns and verb forms if necessary. Some sentences can take more than one idiom.

1          I nearly _________ when the plate crashed to the floor.

2          Ingrid felt _________ , wondering what he would think of her family and her house.

3          I argued _________ that the project was worth the money, but no one would listen.

4          Immediately after the accident, as I realised I was still alive, I noticed that I _________

5          When they told me I’d got the part, I suddenly _________ and nearly changed my mind.

6          We are spending more and more time dealing with _________ and filling in forms.

7          It was _________ : he snatched his coat and marched out of the office.

8          The way she carefully studied me and took my personal details _________

Exercise 6

Complete the table. Put the idioms in the correct groups.

a bundle of nerves | not get a word in edgeways | jump out of your skin | butterflies in your stomach | frighten the life out of someone | at the end of your tether |  scare someone out of their wits | get/ have cold feet |
sudden fright 1 ________________________________

2 ________________________________

3 ________________________________

feeling nervous 1 ________________________________

2 ________________________________

3 ________________________________

frustration 1 ________________________________

2 ________________________________

Your turn!

Have you felt fear, nervousness, or frustration recently? Use the idioms in this unit to describe your experience. For example:

The fire alarm went off during class and scared the life out of us.

I was a bundle of nerves before my oral exam.


Exercise 1

1          b

2          a

3          a

4          b

5          a

6          c

Exercise 2

1          b

2          a

3          b

4          b

5          a

6          b

Exercise 3

1          D

2          E

3          A

4          F

5          B

6          C

Exercise 4

1          on edge

2          jumped out of his skin

3          gave me the creeps

4          frightened out of her wits

5          a bundle of nerves

6          at the end of his tether

Exercise 5

1          jumped out of my skin

2          on edge

3          until I was blue in the face

4          was shaking like a leaf

5          got cold feet

6          red tape

7          the last straw

8          gave me the creeps OR scared/frightened us out of our wits

Exercise 6

sudden fright frighten the life out of someone

jump out of your skin

scare someone out of their wits

feeling nervous a bundle of nerves

butterflies in your stomach

get/have cold feet

frustration not get a word in edgeways

at the end of your tether


Written By

Misbah Kagad is a Content Marketing Specialist, currently working as IELTS Trainer at Experience Expert with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. Skilled in Copywriting, Web Content writing, Management, IELTS and Research. Strong professional with a Diploma focused in Computer Science... Currently helping aspirants to crack IELTS, with tips and tricks to score a bandwidth of 8 and more. Handles the ideation and creation of compelling content including content for IELTS website, writing e-books and solving previous IELTS question papers…

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