Everyday English Phrases

When you say someone has got ‘a second wind’ it means they have a new vigour or determination to do something some time after starting it.

For example:

I usually feel a bit tired after lunch but get a second wind around 4pm.

Observers said Barack Obama was judged to have lost the first presidential debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, but got a second wind in the second and third debates.

If you’re up against it, you’re extremely busy with a tight deadline to meet.

For example:

I’m sorry I’ll call you later. I’m really up against it today.He’s got lots to do today. He’s really up against it.I was up against it last week. Sorry I didn’t have time to see you.

If somebody ‘steps out of line’ it means they don’t follow the rules or what is expected of them; behave out of step with his peers. It’s also used figuratively to refer to someone behaving badly.

For example:

Teachers in my school are very keen on discipline. They severely punish anyone who steps out of line.Some tribal societies are very conservative. Anyone stepping out of line could be cut off from the rest of the group.

The expression ‘to give someone a leg up’ means to help someone improve their situation.

For example:

I have a great job in a posh restaurant. My mother gave me a leg up when she taught me to cook French dishes.Mary had an uncle well connected to the business world. It gave her a leg up.

If you take to something like a duck to water, it means that you discover when you start doing a new activity for the first time, you are very good at it.

For example:

He took to golf like a duck to water. He’d never played before but hit a hole in one!

Kate never seemed like the mothering type but when her daughter was born she took to it like a duck to water. She was a real natural!

The phrase ‘a taste of your own medicine’ means someone should have the same unpleasant experience that they themselves have given to someone, to show them how bad it is.

For example:

Now you see how it feels to have someone call you names! You are getting a taste of your own medicine!He got a taste of his own medicine when she decided to turn up late.

When something is ‘a shoo-in’ it means it is certain to win or succeed. Note: the pronunciation is the same, but the spelling different to a ‘shoe’, which is worn on the feet.

For example:

Rachel thought she’d be a shoo-in for a promotion within the company.After such a successful role, the actor was a shoo-in for an award nomination.He’s a shoo-in to win the next election. He’ll win easily.

One meaning of the phrase ‘to give someone a lift’ is to boost their spirits.

For example:

My colleagues came to see me when I was in hospital — it really gave me a lift. Let’s take some flowers when we go to visit Grandma, to give her a lift. I think Dad needs to be cheered up. Perhaps going out for lunch will give him a lift? 

If someone is green with envy, they are jealous about something.

For example:

My sister has just bought a brand new car – I’m green with envy.Sophie was green with envy when she heard that Alice had won the lottery.Take a look at my engagement ring, it’s beautiful – I bet you’ll be green with envy!

If someone is ‘in the eye of the storm’ it means that they are in the centre of a disagreement.

For example:

Greece is in the eye of the storm which has gathered over the world economy and is threatening to tear the eurozone apart. Our teacher is making us sit our exams again. Johnny was caught in the eye of the storm after he boasted about cheating. 

When things go ‘swimmingly’, they go well and smoothly.

For example:

I organised a dinner party and it all went swimmingly. The guests enjoyed themselves and chatted until the early hours of the morning.

Things are going swimmingly this year; we’ve made a significant profit and employed two more people.

Today isn’t exactly going swimmingly. I arrived at work late and now I can’t find my mobile phone!

If something is ‘up for grabs’, it is available.

For example:

Is this last biscuit up for grabs? I’m starving.

There are some great prizes up for grabs in tonight’s pub quiz.

There are three scholarships up for grabs. I’m definitely going to apply.

If you bite off more than you can chew, you try to do more than you are able to do.

For example:

I have bitten off more than I can chew by taking on this extra work – I don’t think I’ll get it finished on time.David and Sarah planned to completely renovate their house by themselves. In the end, they bit off more than they could chew and had to pay builders to finish it.Thanks for offering to babysit and cook dinner for us, but don’t bite off more than you can chew.

The phrase «May the best man win» is used before a competition to say that you hope the most deserving person wins.

For example:

My best friend and I are both going for the same job interview. All I can say is, «May the best man win».

I’ve got tickets for the Wimbledon final! I don’t have a favourite player, so may the best man win.

You’ve both worked very hard for this race, so I know you’ll do your best. May the best man win!

f two things are poles apart, they are very different from each other.

For example:

Even though Sarah and Kate are identical twins, their personalities are poles apart.Our new manager is poles apart from the old one – she has completely different ideas.We would like to offer you the job! Your interview was excellent and you were poles apart from the other candidates.

If you turn over a new leaf, you make a new start or change your behaviour.

For example:

I’m turning over a new leaf after Christmas – I’m going to stop smoking.Matt used to get in trouble with the police regularly, but he’s turned over a new leaf now.You’re always eating unhealthy snacks. Why don’t you turn over a new leaf and buy some fruit instead?