Meaning: to see someone doing something they shouldn’t be doing
Use it: Bobby promised he wouldn’t eat any more biscuits, but when I went into the kitchen, I caught him red-handed opening a new packet.
Meaning: official rules that seem unnecessary, and make things take longer than necessary
Use it: The project would have been finished weeks ago if we didn’t have to deal with the department’s red tape.
Meaning: to become very angry very suddenly
Use it: When Jenny told me she’d broken Mum’s glasses, I saw red and screamed at her.
Meaning: to be in debt/owe people money; the opposite to “in the black”
Use it: Uncle Tam is always in the red because he borrows money from relatives for his bad business ideas.
Meaning: a warning
Use it: Her reaction when she lost the chess match raised a red flag as to how she deals with conflict.
Meaning: have a night out with lots of fun
Use it: When the pop star finished his concert, he headed out to paint the town red.
Meaning: give someone a very warm welcome, with very special treatment
Use it: When the Chief Executive came to our school, we really rolled out the red carpet, and showed him how great our students are.
Meaning: to have some money; the opposite to “in the red”
Use it: Ever since I started my part-time job, my bank account is always in the black.
Meaning: the odd one out; someone who doesn’t fit in with others
Use it: The Wong family are all very talented debaters, but Dora is the black sheep – she hates public speaking.
Meaning: when you accuse another person of doing things that the you are guilty of doing
Use it: John telling Tom to smile more is a case of the pot calling the kettle black – I don’t think I’ve ever seen John smile!
Meaning: to faint
Use it: Donald blacked out after scoring that goal. We were really worried he might have been injured, but it turns out he just hadn’t eaten all day.
Meaning: very clear what is right and what is wrong
Use it: War is not a black and white issue.
Meaning: record something in a written or printed form, to make it more official
Use it: I’m not quitting my job until I get the offer for the new position down in black and white
Meaning: when news comes unexpectedly
Use it: My grandparents’ divorce was a bolt from the blue. I always thought they were so happy.
Once in a blue moon
Meaning: very, very rarely
Use it: I don’t really like sweet food. I only eat cake once in a blue moon.
Meaning: feeling unhappy
Use it: Whenever my holidays end I get the blues.
Meaning: used especially about arguments; for a very long time, usually with no solution
Use it: Mum and Aunty Joan argued until they were blue in the face about what to do for Grandpa’s birthday, and didn’t plan anything. In the end, he threw his own party!
Meaning: other people’s lives always seem better than your own – but they’re probably not
Use it: June was so jealous of Eric’s new job at Google despite being quite senior at Facebook. The grass is always greener on the other side, after all.
To have a green thumb/ to be green-fingered
Meaning: to be good at growing plants
Use it: Don’t leave your plants with Jerry when you go on holiday – he doesn’t have green fingers like you.
Use it: Barry’s been feeling like the green-eyed monster since his ex-girlfriend started dating a pop star.
Meaning: let someone do something
Use it: Mum and Dad have given us the green light to go to the music festival in Tokyo!
Meaning: try too hard to please someone, in a way that annoys other people
Use: Terry was brown-nosing Mr Chan, trying to get the “most helpful” prize, but the other teachers told him Terry never helps other students on class projects.
See/look through rose-coloured glasses
Meaning: only see the good things about the situation, and not notice the bad things
Use: Tim looks through rose-coloured glasses at everything, even last night’s disaster at the concert. He said it was cute! It was terrible!
Meaning: to be very pleased about something
Use: Mr Kwong was tickled pink when I showed him my exam results.
Meaning: to reveal your true character
Use: She thought he was her friend, but he showed his true colours when he told everyone her secrets.
Meaning: to do extremely well
Use: I’m so proud of Tania. She was so worried about her HKDSE, but she passed with flying colours, and won a scholarship to university!
Meaning: describes someone who is a coward
Use: I wanted Jamie to come on Space Mountain with me, but he’s such a yellow-bellied baby.
To be off-colour
Meaning: to not feel very well
Use: Ever since I ate those prawns, I’ve been feeling a bit off-colour.
Meaning: let someone have something without their having to work for it
Use: The maths test was so easy; they gave us top grades on a silver platter!
Meaning: to be very kind and generous
Use: The charity committee have hearts of gold: they’re all volunteering at an orphanage in Suzhou for the whole summer holiday.
Meaning: a situation that is not clear, or where the rules are not known
Use: The new school rules on hair are a bit of a grey area. It’s not clear if you’re allowed to dye it if it’s a natural colour.
Meaning: born into a rich family
Use: Charlotte was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her grandparents bought her a Ferrari for her 18th birthday!
Meaning: a lie that is told to stop someone being upset or affected by the truth
Use: I told Grandma a little white lie about what I’m doing at the weekend – I don’t want her guessing about the surprise dinner!