Common Idioms to Boost Your IELTS Score – Topic: Health, illness, and death

Advanced Vocabulary for IELTS 7.0 8.0 9.0 THE WORLD OF POLITICS Practice Exercises and Answer Key Part 1

Health, illness, and death

alive and kicking

If someone or something is alive and kicking they are still active or still exist.

Romance is still alive and kicking for a couple who will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this week.

The twins want to let everyone know who has written to them that they are alive and kicking.

at death’s door

If someone is at death’s door they are seriously ill and likely to die.

He has won five golf competitions in three months, a year after being at death’s door.

NOTE: You can also say that someone is near death’s door.

The singer said he was ‘active and feeling very well’ as he responded to reports that he was near death’s door.

NOTE: You can say that someone comes back from death’s door or is brought back from death’s door when they have recovered from a very serious illness.

The patient has been brought back from death’s door by the new treatment, say his doctors.

a clean bill of health

If someone is given or gets a clean bill of health they are told that they are completely fit and healthy.

NOTE: A bill of health was a certificate which was given to a ship’s captain to present at the next port the ship arrived at. It stated whether or not there was an infectious disease aboard the ship or in the port it was departing from.

He had a full medical examination late last year and was given a clean bill of health.

be dropping like flies

If people are dropping like flies, large numbers of them are falling ill or dying within a short period of time.

Actors his age – many of them friends – were dropping like flies.

end it all

If someone ends it all they kill themselves.

Boring, grey stage lighting can be ideal if your heroine is just about to end it all.

NOTE:  This expression is usually used in a humorous way.

be fighting for your life

If someone is fighting for their life they are seriously ill or injured and are in danger of dying.

A boy aged 15 was fighting for his life last night but two younger children were said to be out of danger.

NOTE: You can also talk about a fight for life.

Mary won a desperate fight for life and went on to make a full recovery.

kick the bucket

If someone kicks the bucket they die. [INFORMAL]

NOTE: The origins of this expression are uncertain. One suggestion is that the ‘bucket’ was a wooden frame which was used when killing livestock. The animals were hung from the bucket by their back legs. After they had been killed their legs often continued to twitch and kick against the bucket. Ironically, this expression is now used in a humorous way.

Our neighbor is about to kick the bucket – he has some sort of kidney infection.

knock someone for six

  1. If something knocks you for six it shocks or upsets you so much that you have difficulty recovering. [BRITISH, INFORMAL]

The emotional shock of losing a parent can knock you for six.

  1. If an illness knocks you for six it causes you to be very ill and weak for a long time.

I picked up a virus that knocked me for six. I lost a stone in weight in two weeks.

NOTE: In cricket, six runs are scored when a batsman hits the ball so that it lands outside the playing area without bouncing. When this happens you can say the bowler has been hit for six.

a shadow of your former self

If someone is a shadow of their former self they are very much thinner than they used to be.

I couldn’t believe how much weight she’d lost – she’s a shadow of her former self.

skin and bone or skin and bones

If you describe someone as skin and bone or skin and bones you mean that they are very thin, usually because they are ill.

A man like me can’t live on beans – I’ll soon be skin and bone.

By the end of her life she was nothing but skin and bones.

under the weather

If you are under the weather you are feeling ill.

I’d been feeling a bit under the weather for a couple of weeks.

a wake-up call

A wake-up call is something which shocks people, making them understand how serious a problem is and causing them to take action in order to solve that problem.

NOTE: If you have a wake-up call, you arrange for someone to telephone you at a certain time in the morning so that you are sure to wake up at that time.

The report should be a wake-up call for governments around the world to take action to improve healthcare resources for young people.

the worse for wear

If someone is the worse for wear they are tired or injured.

In the fourth round both fighters suffered cuts over the eyes, and the champion was beginning to look the worse for wear.


Exercise 1

Complete the sentences with the words in the box.

death | health | life | wear | alive  | end  | kick  | knock

1          He lay at ____________ ‘s door for months but made a miraculous recovery.

2          After a year of illness I finally have a clean bill of ____________

3          My father is still ____________ and kicking at 85.

4          She told me that she wasn’t ready to____________  the bucket yet.

5          The man involved in the accident is fighting for his  ____________ in the local hospital.

6          A minor infection can ____________ you for six if you don’t look after yourself.

7          It’s been a heavy week and now I’m feeling a bit the worse for ____________

8          She went through some bad times but never felt she wanted to ____________ it all.

Exercise 2

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

1          the members of / were dropping like flies / the golf club / with food poisoning

2          was delighted / the manager /a clean bill of health / to receive / for his team

3          her music career / in spite of / is alive and kicking / her problems

4          terribly / was a wake-up call / the heart attack / that scared him

5          from stress and / was generally / she was suffering / under the weather

6          to see / had become / that Bill / I was shocked / a shadow of his former self

Exercise 3

Choose the best answer to complete the sentences.

  1. They all thought he would die but he’s still____________ .

a          alive and kicking         b kicking the bucket                c knocking himself for six

  1. The woman was 71, living on a small pension and she was nothing but____________

a          under the weather       b          skin and bones            c          alive and kicking

  1. For one brief moment he considered ____________ , but he knew everything would

eventually get better.

a          ending it all                 b          kicking the bucket       c          living and kicking

  1. I suffered from a virus that ____________

a          kicked my bucket        b          fought for my life       c          knocked me for six

  1. The illness has reduced him to ____________

a a shadow of his former self              b a clean bill of health             c a wake-up call

  1. You might be ____________ but you should still turn up if you can.

a          fighting for your life               b under the weather                c alive and kicking

Exercise 4


Replace the underlined words with words and phrases in the box with the same meaning.

it knocked him for a six |  under the weather | wake-up call | fighting for his life | skin and bone |given a clean bill of health
  1. After the accident, he was in hospital, in a critical condition.
  2. I’ve been declared completely well by my doctor.
  3. Are you feeling alright? You look a bit unwell.
  4. Has she been ill? She’s so thin!
  5. Having that heart attack was a warning signal – he now takes his health much more seriously.
  6. The news really upset him – he hasn’t fully recovered from the shock vet. 

Exercise 5

Correct the idioms in these sentences.

1          The old folk around here have been fighting like flies recently.

2          He really changed after his wife’s death. He’s a shade of his former self.

3          I’ll have to take the day off work – I’m a bit worse for health today.

4          Apparently she was really ill – at death’s knock, in fact – but she’s fine now.

5          You’ll be pleased to know that all the new-born puppies are alive and living!

6          Two people were killed in the accident, and one is still fighting for his health.

Exercise 6

Arrange the idioms in pairs to complete the table.

a shadow of your former self | alive and kicking | under the weather | skin and bone/s | be fighting for your life | end it all | the worse for wear | a clean bill of heath | at death’s door | kick the bucket
being well 1 ___________________________________

2  ___________________________________

being unwell 1 ___________________________________

2  ___________________________________

being thin 1 ___________________________________

2  ___________________________________

almost dying 1 ___________________________________

2  ___________________________________

dying 1 ___________________________________

2  ___________________________________


Your turn!

Have health issues affected you recently? Use the idioms in this unit to describe any of your experiences. For example:

I felt like I was at death’s door when I had the flu last month.

I often feel the worse for wear in the morning if I don’t go to bed early enough.


Exercise 1

1 death             5 life

2 health           6 knock

3 alive              7 wear

4 kick              8 end

Exercise 2

1          The members of the golf club were dropping like flies with food poisoning.

2          The manager was delighted to receive a clean bill of health for his team.

3          In spite of her problems, her music career is alive and kicking.

4          The heart attack was a wake-up call that scared him terribly.

5          She was suffering from stress and was generally under the weather.

6          I was shocked to see that Bill had become a shadow of his former self.

Exercise 3

1a        3 a       5 a

2 b       4 c       6 b

Exercise 4

1          fighting for his life

2          given a clean bill of health

3          under the weather

4          skin and bone

5          wake-up call

6          it knocked him for a six

Exercise 5

1          dropping like flies

2          shadow of his former self

3          worse for wear

4          at death’s door

5          alive and kicking

6          fighting for his life

Exercise 6      

being well alive and kicking

a clean bill of health

being unwell under the weather

the worse for wear

being thin a shadow of your former self

skin and bone/s

almost dying be fighting for your life

at death’s door

dying end it all

kick the bucket


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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