Meaning: to be listening carefully
Use: Billy was all ears when I was telling him about the new school principal.
Meaning: be very expensive
Use: I love my new camera, but it cost me an arm and a leg – I spent all my lai see.
Meaning: you want something very much
Use: It’s so hot, I would give my right arm for a vanilla ice cream.
break a leg
Meaning: good luck, especially said to people in theatre\
Use: You must be so excited for the first night of your play! Break a leg!
Meaning: to tell someone if they help you, you will help them
Use: If you want me to help out at the school fair, I need you to sell flags with me next weekend. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
Meaning: stop being involved in something
Use: Jessica turned her back on Eric after she learned that he had been spreading gossip about her at school.
Use: Uncle Tom came over from Macau to give my parents a hand with their new shop.
have your head in the clouds
Meaning: always daydreaming, and/or not paying attention to what’s going on around you
Use: Ben has his head in the clouds most of the time: the other day, I saw him walk into a lamppost because he just wasn’t paying attention.
Meaning: ask for information on a particular subject from someone who knows more about it than you do
Use: Helen wants to pick your brain on things to do in Cambodia, where she’s hoping to go at Christmas.
Meaning: barely, only just; often used to talk about escapes or meeting deadlines
Use: I passed the history mock exam, but only by the skin of my teeth.
Meaning: physical effort
Use: We’ve got a lot to do if we want the school hall to be ready for the fair, but if we all put in some elbow grease, we can do it.
Meaning: it makes no difference to me
Use: I don’t mind if you go to the concert tomorrow. It’s no skin off my nose; I don’t even like the singer.
Meaning: to not like something because you think it’s not good enough for you
Use: Russell turned his nose up at the restaurant, but it serves the best dan dan mian in Hong Kong.
Meaning: say or do something that you shouldn’t have, especially something that embarrasses another person
Use: I really put my foot in my mouth when I asked my sister if her boyfriend was coming to dinner – he had just dumped her!
tongue in cheek
Meaning: meant in a joking way
Use: Hilda said she is a big fan of C. Y. Leung, but seeing as she was at Occupy Central for a month, I think that was tongue in cheek.
Meaning: to talk about something that has been worrying you, or making you feel guilty for a long time
Use: Danni was obviously stressed about something, so I told her to get it off her chest. I think she was relieved to share her secret.
Meaning: said to encourage someone to be cheerful and brave in a difficult situation
Use: I know you’re worried about the election results, but keep your chin up, and think positive.
Meaning: easily forgotten
Use: I try to understand what’s going on in my history classes, but all those dates just go in one ear and out the other
see eye to eye
Meaning: agree with someone
Use: Susan and Boris don’t see eye to eye on a lot of issues, but they both agree Russia is the best place for a holiday.
Meaning: watch very carefully
Use: I’m trying to find a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Keep your eyes peeled when we go to the library!
Meaning: to be practical and sensible
Use: Kenny is quite well known after selling his app to Google, but the teenager has got his feet on the ground: he says he’ll use part of the money for his university tuition and give the rest to his parents.
Meaning: do something slowly because you don’t want to do it
Use: Gina promised to do the PowerPoint for our project, but she is dragging her feet so much, Ellen might have to take over.