Common Idioms to Improve your IELTS Score – Topic : Relationships (Social – Personal – Working)

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Relationships (Social – Personal – Working)

break the ice

If a person, event or activity breaks the ice, they make people feel more relaxed and comfortable in a social situation.

NOTE: This refers to the need to break the ice around a ship before it is able to sail.

This exercise is usually good fun and can help break the ice for a new, and perhaps rather anxious, group.

NOTE: An ice-breaker is something that you say or do to break the ice.

This presentation, with a few additional jokes, was a good ice-breaker.

Know someone inside out 

Know somebody well

My boyfriend knows me inside out. Whenever I forget to bring my earphone, he always gives me one.

get off on the wrong foot

If you get off on the wrong foot, you start a relationship or an activity badly.

NOTE: The ‘wrong foot’ refers to the left foot. There is an ancient superstition that the left side of the body is connected with bad luck and evil.

We got off on the wrong foot the first time I met him, but that’s all forgotten now.

NOTE: You can also say start off on the wrong foot.

Their relationship had started off on the wrong foot.

See eye to eye (on) something/ with someone 

agree (upon something) with someone

My parents see eye to eye on letting me moving out so that I can be more independent.

get on like a house on fire

If two people get on like a house on fire, they quickly become close friends.

NOTE: This expression uses the image of an old wooden house burning suddenly and strongly.

I went over and struck up a conversation, and we got on like a house on fire.

get on someone’s nerves

If someone or something gets on your nerves, they irritate you.

She talks all the time and it gets on my nerves.

give someone the cold shoulder

If someone gives you the cold shoulder, they deliberately stop being friendly to you and ignore you.

NOTE: In the Middle Ages, important guests were given roast meat. Less important people were only given cold meat – perhaps a shoulder – left over from previous meals.

He was upset to find his previously friendly colleagues giving him the cold shoulder.

NOTE: You can also say that you get the cold shoulder from someone.

Nancy found she was getting the cold shoulder from a lot of people she’d thought were her friends.

On the same page/wavelength 

to understand and agree with what is being done or suggested

NOTE: You cannot hear a radio broadcast unless you tune to the correct wavelength.

We rarely argue.  We’re generally on the same page.

go back a long way

If two or more people go back a long way, they have been friends for a very long time, [mainly BRITISH]

We go back a long way, and she’s always kept in touch, always been there for me.

speak the same language

to have the same ideas and attitudes as someone else

We have to be sure we’re speaking the same language.

hit it off

If two people hit it off when they first meet, they like each other and get on well together.

I had to leave because my manager was awful. We never really hit it off.

leave someone in the lurch

If someone leaves you in the lurch, they put you in a difficult situation by suddenly going away or stopping helping you.

NOTE: ‘The lurch’ is a position of disadvantage in a card game called cribbage.

My secretary left me In the lurch last month and I haven’t found a replacement yet.

head over heels in love with (someone)

to be very much in love with someone, to be completely in love with someone

My friend fell head over heels in love with his colleague. 

on the rocks

If a relationship is on the rocks, it is experiencing many difficulties and is likely to end.

NOTE: The image here is of a ship that is stuck on some rocks.

It’s rumoured that their ten-year relationship is on the rocks.

a match made in heaven

a couple who get along perfectly

Their marriage wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven.

save face

If you save face, you do something so that people continue to respect you and your reputation is not damaged.

NOTE: This comes from a Chinese expression which refers to keeping a calm expression and managing to avoid the disgrace of showing one’s emotions.

Most children have a need to save face in front of their friends.

Steal one’s heart

to cause someone to fall in love with you

The woman stole the heart of the man who she was working with.

tie the knot

to get married

After dating for 7 years, the couple decided to tie the knot.

sparks fly

If sparks fly between two people, they get angry with each other and argue.

The group leader is not afraid to raise difficult issues or let the sparks fly when necessary.

treat someone like dirt

If a person treats someone like dirt, they treat them very badly.

As long as unemployment is rising, the bosses can keep treating you like dirt.

Like cat and dog 

argue or fight often with someone

We can’t see eye to eye on any matters, like cat and dog.

your own flesh and blood

If someone is your own flesh and blood, they are a member of your family.

You can’t just let your own flesh and blood go to prison if there’s any way you can help. 


Exercise 1

Look at the sentences below. Which three idioms have the same meaning? Which idiom has the opposite meaning to these three?

A Everyone around the table remained silent and I tried to think of a way of breaking the ice.

B It’s strange that her two ex-husbands get on like a house on fire!

C Oh yes, we go back a long way –  we went to nursery school together.

D I’m afraid we got off on the wrong foot because I got her name wrong.

E They are definitely on the same wavelength – both passionate about green politics.

F We didn’t really hit it off– we just aren’t interested in the same things.

Exercise 2

Match sentence halves 1-8 with A-H to make complete sentences.

1 Whenever his mother was in the room,

2 It’s his stupid loud voice

3 Their business partnership was now

4 She took his keys and his coat

5 They left because the manager

6 He was rude to her so she’s decided that in future

7 We care about you because you are

8 We pretended not to notice them leave,

A definitely on the rocks.

B I was aware of sparks flying.

C treated them like dirt.

D our own flesh and blood.

E and left him in the lurch.

F that gets on my nerves.

G to help them save face.

H she’ll give him the cold shoulder.

Exercise 3

Choose the best answer to complete the sentences.

  1. You have started _________________ by arriving late for our appointment.

a to save face                          b on the same wavelength       c off on the wrong foot

  1. He’s highly educated and she’s got no qualifications at all, but they managed to _________________

a get off on the wrong foot    b hit it off                                c go back a long way

  1. Mr Sen invited them all to dinner at his house to _________________.

a get off on the wrong foot    b get on like a house on fire    c break the ice

  1. As soon as the prisoners arrive, the guards begin to _________________.

a treat them like dirt                b get off on the wrong foot    c leave them in the lurch

  1. Luca’s personal assistant quit suddenly and _________________ so I’m doing some typing for him.

a left him in the lurch              b treated him like dirt             c got the cold shoulder

  1. They argue all the time now. There’s no doubt that their marriage is _________________ .

a on fire                                   b on the rocks                          c their own flesh and blood

Exercise 4

Correct the idioms in these sentences.

1          When I saw her at the party, she just gave me the cold hands.

2          We used to argue a lot, but now we’re getting on like a house in the lurch.

3          We go back on the rocks. We met when we were just children.

4          As soon as they met, they hit it on.

5          I find him a bit irritating. He really gets on my sparks.

6          We understand each other well. We’re on the same foot.

Exercise 5

Replace the underlined words with idioms from this unit in the correct form.

  1. We get on well, but we have different views on politics. As soon as we start talking about politics, we have an argument – so we tend to avoid the subject.
  2. Don’t worry – I promised I would help you, and I won’t abandon you.
  3. Unfortunately when we first met, we had a disagreement which ruined our relationship. But I’m sure that next time we meet, we can become friends.
  4. I tried to say something funny just to ease the tension – but I don’t think she found it very amusing.
  5. Jenny and your brother seem to have enjoyed each other’s company right from the start ֊ they’ve been talking together for ages.
  6. I think he should resign. His boss shows no respect for him and he deserves better.
  7. Most of the time I was terrified, but trying to appear unaffected. I did my best to stay cool.
  8. I was shocked to hear her speaking to a member of her family like that.

Exercise 6

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

treat someone like dirt

go back a long way

get off on the wrong foot

sparks fly

give someone the cold shoulder

get on like a house on fire

get on someone’s nerves

hit it off

on the same wavelength

leave someone in the lurch

on the rocks

successful relationships 1 __________________________________

2 __________________________________

3 __________________________________

4 __________________________________

bad relationships 1 __________________________________

2 __________________________________

3 __________________________________

4 __________________________________

5 __________________________________

6 __________________________________

7 __________________________________

Your turn!    

Use the idioms in this unit to describe your relationships with friends, classmates, colleagues and family. For example:

Ramesh and I go back a long way – we went to school together.

My sister left me in the lurch when she borrowed my last £5 and didn’t pay it back.

Answer Key

Exercise 1

1          B, E, F

2          D

Exercise 2

1          B         5          C

2          F          6          H

3          A         7          D

4          E          8          G

Exercise 3

1          c

2          b

3          c

4          a

5          a

6          b

 Exercise 4

1          gave me the cold shoulder

2          we’re getting on like a house on fire

3          go back a long wav

4          hit it off

5          gets on my nerves

6          on the same wavelength

Exercise 5

1          sparks fly

2          leave you in the lurch

3          got off on the  wrong foot

4          break the ice

5          hit it off

6          treats him like  dirt

7          save face

8          her own flesh  and blood

Exercise 6

Successful relationships go back a long way

get on like a house on fire

hit it off

on the same wavelength

bad relationships get off on the wrong foot

sparks fly

give someone the cold shoulder

get on someone’s nerves

leave someone in the lurch

on the rocks

treat someone like dirt

Also check :

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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