21 water idioms (and two sayings) to freshen up your English writing

  • If you want to avoid getting in deep water with your next homework assignment, try some of these to make it more interesting
  • Adding one or two of these phrases will blow other people’s work out of the water!
Karly Cox |

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Your comments are like water off a duck's back. Move on

This World Water Day, we look at some idioms about the wet stuff to help make your writing smoother and more interesting.

1 In hot water

Meaning: in trouble because you have done something wrong

Use: If you don’t finish your history project, you’re going to land in hot water with Mrs Chui.

2 In deep water

Meaning: to be in a difficult or serious situation

Use: The football team is in deep water; there’s no way they can come back from a 3-1 score to win.

3 Take to (an activity) like a duck to water

Meaning: to learn or adapt to something new very quickly

Use: Even though she’d never played guitar before, Louise took to it like a duck to water, and was soon playing with a rock band.

4 Feel like a fish out of water

Meaning: to feel uncomfortable because you feel like you don’t belong in a place or situation

Use: Robert felt like a fish out of water surrounded by the girls who had been doing judo for years.

5 Blood is thicker than water

Meaning: family relationships are more important than all others

Use: Even though I know my brother is annoying, blood is thicker than water, and I will always defend him when people tell him to shut up.

6 To muddy the waters

Meaning: to make a situation more confusing than it was before

Use: The latest statement on the new subject has just muddied the waters, and teachers have no idea what to cover in class.

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7 Keep your head above the water

Meaning: to just manage to survive in a difficult situation, especially concerning money

Use: Thanks to a donation from the charity after Mrs Lam lost her job, the family are keeping their heads above water.

8 Pour cold water on something

Meaning: to criticise someone’s idea or plan so much they no longer feel excited about it

Use: I know you don’t think the camping trip is exciting, but there was no need to pour cold water over Billy’s suggestion. He planned it all himself!

9 Pour oil on troubled waters

Meaning: to try to stop an argument by calming people down

Use: Mum always manages to pour oil on troubled waters when my siblings and I get into a fight.

10 Doesn’t hold water

Meaning: if a statement, theory or argument doesn’t hold water, you can’t believe it

Use: Dan told Claire he missed her concert because didn’t know what time it was, but that doesn’t hold water. We all saw him put it in his calendar!

11 It’s (like) water off a duck’s back

Meaning: when criticisms or warnings etc have no effect on the person you are saying them to

Use: My aunt told me my T-shirt was stupid, but her comments on fashion are like water off a duck’s back – she has no idea about what’s cool and what’s not.

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12 It’s water under the bridge

Meaning: what happened in the past should be forgotten

Use: Forget all about what you said at the party, it’s water under the bridge.

13 Dead in the water

Meaning: describes a plan or idea that is unlikely to be successful

Use: I reckon Donald Trump’s plan to run for president again is dead in the water.

14 Uncharted waters

Meaning: a situation or activity you’ve never tried or experienced before

Use: Writing books for teens is uncharted waters for Stephen King, but this new novel is excellent.

15 To blow something/someone out of the water

Meaning: be so much better than something or someone else

Use: We thought that last year’s Grammy performances were good, but this year’s blew them out of the water.

16 To be like oil and water

Meaning: describes things that do not work well together

Use: The party was a flop because my friends from football and my classmates were like oil and water.

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17 Dip your toe in the water

Meaning: try an activity for a short time to see if you like it, or if it will be successful

Use: The great thing about summer camp is you can dip your toe in the water with a lot of different sports and pastimes, and find a new hobby you love.

18 Test the water (or waters)

Meaning: judge what people think about something before acting on it

Use: Before deciding on the school play, the drama club tested the water by doing extracts from a range of shows.

19 Dull as dishwater (or ditchwater)

Meaning: very boring

Use: I was so excited about the new superhero movie, but it was as dull as dishwater. What a waste of time.

20 Water something down

Meaning: make a statement or plan less forceful by changing it or removing parts that may offend or upset people

Use: The lawmakers watered down the proposed new law, hoping to appeal to voters.

21 Spend money like water

Meaning: spend lots of money (especially if you should be saving it)

Use: She got a summer job, so now she’s spending money like water.

22 You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink

Meaning: you can give somebody an opportunity to do something, but you can’t force them to do it

Use: I offered to help Russ revise for biology, but he said no. It’s like the saying goes: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

23 Still waters run deep

Meaning: someone who is quiet may have very strong feelings or know a lot

Use: Sue never speaks in class, so when she gave that amazing talk about DNA, it just showed that still waters run deep.

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