The most Common Idioms to Boost Your IELTS Score – Topic : Success and failure
- 1 Success and failure
- 1.1 Back to the drawing board
- 1.2 Bring the house down
- 1.3 Come up in the world
- 1.4 Fall flat on your face
- 1.5 Be fighting a losing battle
- 1.6 Go belly-up
- 1.7 Go pear-shaped
- 1.8 Hit the nail on the head
- 1.9 Plain sailing
- 1.10 Save the day
- 1.11 Touch and go
- 1.12 Win hands down
- 1.13 With flying colours
- 1.14 Work like a charm
- 1.15 EXERCISE
- 1.16 ANSWER KEY
Success and failure
Back to the drawing board
If you have to go back to the drawing board, something you have done has not been successful and you have to try another idea.
NOTE: Drawing boards are large flat boards, on which designers or architects place their paper when drawing plans.
His government should go back to the drawing board to rethink their programme.
Bring the house down
If a person or their performance brings the house down, the audience claps and cheers loudly for a long time because they liked the performance so much.
NOTE: In this expression, the ‘house’ means a theatre.
We had just one rehearsal and I was very nervous but the show brought the house down.
Come up in the world
If someone has come up in the world, they are richer or more powerful than they used to be and have a higher social status.
A polite and pleasant young man, he was an ordinary worker who had come up in the world.
NOTE: You can also say that someone has gone up in the world or moved up in the world.
Fall flat on your face
If someone falls flat on their face when they try to do something, they fail or make an embarrassing mistake.
He was trying to introduce changes in the prison system but he fell flat on his face.
Be fighting a losing battle
If you are fighting a losing battle, you are trying to achieve something, but you are very unlikely to succeed.
The theatre has to compete with the movies and DVDs and it’s fighting a losing battle.
If a company goes belly-up, it fails and does not have enough money to pay its debts. [INFORMAL]
NOTE: This expression may refer to dead fish floating upside down near the surface of the water.
Factories and farms went belly-up because of the debt crisis.
If a situation or activity goes pear-shaped, it starts to fail or have problems. [BRITISH, INFORMAL]
He is always asked to comment when the global economy goes pear-shaped.
Hit the nail on the head
If you hit the nail on the head, you describe a situation or problem very precisely.
Smith hit the nail on the head when he said that the Prime Minister promised so much and yet changed so little.
If an activity or task is plain sailing, it is easy to do or achieve. [BRITISH]
NOTE: ‘Plain sailing’ is sailing in good conditions, without any difficulties. However, the expression may have come from ‘plane sailing’, a method of working out the position of a ship and planning its route using calculations based on the earth being flat rather than round. This is a simple and easy method which is fairly accurate over short distances, especially near the equator.
Once I got used to the diet it was plain sailing and I lost six kilos over four months.
Save the day
If someone or something saves the day in a situation which seems likely to fail, they manage to make it successful.
After a disastrous first night for the show, it was Biggs who stepped in to save the day.
Touch and go
If it is touch and go whether something will happen, you cannot be certain whether it will happen or not.
I thought I was going to win the race, but it was still touch and go.
Win hands down
If you win a contest hands down, you win it easily.
NOTE: This expression was originally used in horse racing to describe jockeys who won their races very easily and could cross the winning line with their hands lowered and the reins (=thin leather straps attached around a horse’s neck) loose.
We have been beaten in some games which we should have won hands down.
NOTE: You can also say that you beat someone else hands down.
When he said he would beat me hands down, I didn’t know he could run that fast!
With flying colours
If you achieve something, such as passing an examination, with flying colours, you achieve it easily and are very successful.
NOTE: The image here is of a ship that has won a battle, sailing back into port with its colours (= a military flag) flying.
She passed the entrance exam with flying colours.
Work like a charm
If something works like a charm, it is very successful or effective.
Our little arrangement worked like a charm.
1 I’m sure you’ll pass your final exam with flying ____________.
2 She guessed – and hit the ____________ on the head first time.
3 It seemed like a good idea but I fell ____________ on my face.
4 I’m trying to learn Japanese but I think I’m fighting a losing ____________
5 That nail varnish remover you gave me worked like a ____________
6 We’ve done the hard work – it’ll be ____________ sailing from now on.
7 The plan went ____________-shaped almost from the very start.
8 All my work over the last year has just gone ____________!
Decide if the sentences are true (T) or false (F).
1 If a performance brings the house down, it is a complete failure.
2 If someone saves the day, they make it a success.
3 If something goes belly-up, it fails.
4 If something goes pear-shaped, it goes according to plan.
5 If you have to go back to the drawing board, you have to start again.
6 If something works like a charm, it doesn’t have the desired results.
7 If you hit the nail on the head, you are wrong about something.
8 If something is touch and go, the outcome is certain.
Re-order the phrases to make sentences. Add punctuation where necessary.
- will win the final / we’re hoping / hands down / that our team
- to go belly-up / the exporters / it looks like / are likely
- for the launch of / all our arrangements / the new products / have gone pear-shaped
- move up in the world / can expect to / a keen young politician / who knows the right people
- be prepared to go / we have to / to fix these serious problems / back to the drawing board
- would be / it was touch and go / finished in time / whether my manuscript
Correct the idioms in these sentences.
1 Our presentation started off well, but then it all went flat-shaped at the end.
2 That’s it! You’ve really hit the head on the nail.
3 Being a student is not all plain playing – there’s a lot of hard work to do.
4 He’s really come up in the face since his humble beginnings.
5 Our team was far better than the competition and we won hands up.
6 It was start and go as to whether he would survive the accident – but he’s made a full recovery.
Complete the sentences with idioms from this unit, changing the verb forms if necessary.
1 Once I’ve done the research, writing the report will be ______________ .
2 I agree with you entirely. I think you’ve ______________
3 We started well, but it all ______________ and we lost five matches in a row.
4 The medicine ______________and my life has greatly improved.
5 I told myself I was going to try even harder and I would not __________again.
6 The newspapers ______________ to maintain their sales figures.
7 Mr Cheng’s secretary finally found the missing documents and ______________
8 The audience loved her dancing and her performance ______________
Complete the table with idioms from this unit.
|neither success nor failure||1 _______________________________|
Use the idioms in this unit to describe any experiences of success or failure that you’ve had recently. For example:
I didn’t exactly pass my exam with flying colours but I did okay.
My flatmate beat me hands down at tennis yesterday.
1 F 5 T
2 T 6 F
3 T 7 F
4 F 8 F
1 We’re hoping that our team will win the final hands down.
2 It looks like the exporters are likely to go belly-up.
3 All our arrangements for the launch of the new products have gone pear-shaped.
4 A keen young politician who knows the right people can expect to move up in the world.
5 We have to be prepared to go back to the drawing board to fix these serious problems.
6 It was touch and go whether my manuscript would be finished in time.
1 went pear-shaped
2 hit the nail on the head
3 plain sailing
4 come up in the world
5 hands down
6 touch and go
1 plain sailing
2 hit the nail on the head
3 went pear-shaped
4 worked like a charm
5 fall flat on my face
6 are fighting a losing battle
7 saved the day
8 brought the house down
|success||come up in the world
hit the nail on the head
win hands down
with flying colours
work like a charm
bring the house down
save the day
|failure||back to the drawing board
be fighting a losing battle
fall flat on your face
|Neither success nor failure||touch and go|
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