Common Idioms to Boost Your IELTS Score – Topic: Safety and risk


Safety and risk

by the skin of your teeth

If you do something by the skin of your teeth you just manage to do it but very nearly fail.

In the men’s First Division, the champions survived by the skin of their teeth.

a close shave

If someone has a close shave they very nearly have a bad accident or very nearly suffer a defeat.

NOTE: This is a reference to shaving with a dangerously sharp razor.

McGregor had a close shave when a seven foot polar bear ran at him while he was filming a documentary about the animals in Canada.

the coast is clear

If the coast is clear you are able to do something because nobody is there to see you doing it.

NOTE: This expression may refer to smugglers (= people who take things illegally into a country) sending messages that there were no coastguards near and it was safe to land or set sail.

‘You can come out now,’ he called. ‘The coast is clear. She’s gone!’

a good bet or a safe bet

If something is a good bet or a safe bet it is a sensible or useful thing to do or use.

If you want something smart to wear to a friend’s wedding, a dark suit is a good bet.

NOTE: You can also say that something would be a better bet or a safer bet, meaning that it would be more sensible or useful than another possibility.

I was going to buy an apartment but I’m now thinking a house might be a better bet.

NOTE: You can also say that something is someone’s best bet or safest bet, meaning that it is the most sensible or useful thing to do.

If you really want to keep your home safe from robbery, your best bet is still to buy a dog.

in safe hands

If someone or something is in safe hands they are being looked after by someone who will make sure they are not harmed or damaged.

They could get on with their own lives, knowing their girls were in safe hands.

NOTE: You can sometimes use other adjectives instead of safe.

Although I knew the children would be in good hands, I still felt anxious.

He was forced to give up his business, which is now in the capable hands of his only son.

play it safe

If you play safe or play it safe, you do not take any risks.

If you want to play safe, cut down on the amount of salt you eat.

The pilot decided that Christchurch was too far away and played it safe, landing at Wellington.

be playing with fire

If you are playing with fire you are doing something that has big risks and is likely to cause problems.

In this economic climate, union leaders who are thinking about strikes are playing with fire.

put all your eggs in one basket

If you put all your eggs in one basket you put all your efforts or resources into one course of action and will not be able to do anything else if this fails.

You could argue this is a risky strategy, putting all your eggs in one basket; if the firm goes bust you lose your job and your savings and everything.

NOTE: People sometimes put other words before eggs and basket to show a particular situation they are talking about.

Never put all your investment eggs in one basket.

These countries have put their development eggs in the tourism basket, spending millions of dollars from public funds to build the sorts of facilities that foreign tourists demand.

be skating on thin ice

If someone is skating on thin ice they are doing something which could have unpleasant consequences for them.

He told me I was skating on thin ice and should change my attitude.

NOTE: You can use verbs such as tread, walk, or stand instead of skate.

‘Watch it Max,’ Christopher thought to himself, ‘you’re treading on very thin ice.’

NOTE: You can also just say that someone is on thin ice.

I could see I was on thin ice. We’d had similar pointless arguments many times before.

stick your neck out

If you stick your neck out, you say something which other people are afraid to say, even though this may cause trouble for you.

NOTE: This expression may come from boxing, where fighters need to keep their necks and chins drawn in or protected in order to avoid being hit by their opponent.

At the risk of sticking my neck out, I doubt whether the attempt will be successful.

take your life in your hands or take your life into your hands

If you take your life in your hands or take your life into your hands when you do something, you take a lot of risks when you do it.

A rider who does not know the road takes his life in his hands by cycling in the dark.

You take your life into your hands just crossing the road in this city.

to be on the safe side

If you do something to be on the safe side you do it to protect yourself from harm or trouble, although it is unlikely to be necessary.

I didn’t think it was serious but I took her to the doctor’s just to be on the safe side.


 Exercise 1

Match idioms A – F with situations 1 – 3

1          taking a risk

2          only just avoiding danger or disappointment

3          being sure to avoid danger or disappointment

A It’s best to be on the safe side and take more money than you think you’ll really need.

B The vehicles just touched as they passed each other so it was a close shave.

C You take your life in your hands when you accept a lift from Jo!

D We’ve decided to play it safe and book a coach for 40 even though we’re really only expecting 30 students.

E You are playing with fire if you deal with these so-called ‘protection agents’.

F The train was just about to leave so I ran like mad and caught it by the skin of my teeth.

Exercise 2

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

1          You’re playing with fire if you do that.

2          You can come out of your hiding place.

3          I’d go to the doctor about that rash,

4          She’s a very experienced babysitter –

5          You passed by the skin of your teeth-

6          I’m not going to stick my neck out

A your children will be in safe hands, don’t worry.

B just to be on the safe side.

C The coast is clear.

D Why do you want to take such a risk?

E for someone who never takes a risk for me.

F you might not be so lucky next time.

Exercise 3

Choose the best answer to complete the sentences.

  1. I know I’m ____________ but I have to say that I don’t agree with any of you about this.

a sticking my neck out

b sticking my life into my hands

c sticking all my eggs in one basket

  1. They had left their child with their close friends so they knew she was ____________

a on the safe side

b a safe bet

c in safe hands

  1. The management is under a lot of financial pressure so you will be ____________ if you ask for a pay rise now.

a playing it safe

b putting all your eggs in one basket

c skating on thin ice

  1. They expect to sell all this stock by the end of the year, which is ____________ as business has been very good so far.

a a close shave

b a safe bet

c by the skin of their teeth

  1. When she was sure ____________ , she opened the letter.

a the coast was clear

b it was a close shave

c she was skating on thin ice

  1. That road is so dangerous that every time you cross it, you____________

a are skating on thin ice

b take your life in your hands

c put all your eggs in one basket

Exercise 4

Match situations 1-6 with sentences A-F with the same meaning.

1 You nearly missed your usual bus.

2 You decided not to specialize in just one subject yet.

3 You always carry an umbrella in your bag, even in summer.

4 You want to avoid your classmates.

5 You agree to do whatever the rest of the group wants to do.

6 You arrive late for a class with a very strict teacher.

A You don’t want to stick your neck out.

B You are treading on thin ice.

C You wait to get coffee until the coast is clear.

D You got it by the skin of your teeth.

E You prefer to play it safe.

F You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket.

Exercise 5

Complete the sentences with idioms from this unit.

  1. The export business is risky; if you try it you’ll be playing with ______________.
  2. I know you are an expert and I’m in safe ______________.
  3. The horse riders will be out in the park soon but for now the coast is __________.
  4. She was there when the fighting started and escaped by the skin of her __________.
  5. I managed to avoid that awful Mrs. Lee in the supermarket but it was a close __________.
  6. Let’s allow ourselves a bit more time than we’ll probably need, to be on the safe __________.
  7. They bought their tickets online in advance because they thought that was the safest __________.
  8. Study hard at school and always keep an alternative job in mind – to avoid putting your eggs in one __________.

Exercise 6

Correct the idioms in these sentences.

  1. It’s not a good idea to put all your life in one basket.
  2. She never sticks her hands out, even when she feels strongly that she should say something about a bad situation.
  3. Be careful. You’re standing on thin ice by being so direct with your boss.
  4. Phew! Coming face to face with that terrifying dog was a clean shave!
  5. The shed is quite hazardous, full of sharp tools and dangerous objects. You take your head in your hands when you go in there.
  6. You can get to the resort by coach, train or car, but if you want a quick journey, the plane is probably the best coast.
  7. He was playing with life by driving the car after it had been in the crash.
  8. It seemed like a good shave that the traffic warden wouldn’t come soon.

Your turn!

Use the idioms in this unit to talk about safety and/or risk in your life. For example:

I like to play It safe and take an umbrella with me when I go out.

I’m learning English at a good university so I know I’m in safe hands.


Exercise 1

1 C, E              3 A, D

2 B, F

Exercise 2

1 D      4 A

2 C      5 F

3 B      6 E

Exercise 3

1 a       4 b

2 c       5 a

3 c       6 b

Exercise 4

1 D      4 C

2 F       5 A

3 E       6 B

Exercise 5

1 fire                5 shave

2 hands            6 side

3 clear              7 bet

4 teeth             8 basket

Exercise 6

1          put all your eggs in one basket

2          sticks her neck out

3          skating on thin ice

4          a close shave

5          take your life in your hands

6          the best bet

7          playing with fire

8          a good bet

Written By

Nafia Zuhana is an experienced content writer and IELTS Trainer. Currently, she is guiding students who are appearing for IELTS General and Academic exams through With an 8.5 score herself, she trains and provides test takers with strategies, tips, and nuances on how to crack the IELTS Exam. She holds a degree in Master of Arts – Creative Writing, Oxford Brookes University, UK. She has worked with The Hindu for over a year as an English language trainer.

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