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The order of idiom entries

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The order of idiom entries <

Idioms are arranged in alphabetical order under each dictionary headword. Note that if the first word in an idiom is 'a' or 'the', it is not taken into account in the idiom sequence. Note also that only the principal forms of idioms are alphabetized. This means that any variant forms given at the beginning of an entry for an individual idiom may appear to be out of alphabetical order. For example, clay feet, a variation given at the idiom have feet of clay, appears out of alphabetical position.


Guide to the Dictionary Entries




the grass is always greener on the\ other side of the fence .>






the other man's grass is always-^ greener

If someone says 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence', they are pointing out that other people may appear to be in a better or more attractive situation than you, but in reality their situation may not be as good as it seems. You can also say 'the other man's grass is always greener'.

0 The old saying goes that, to many people, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and the majority of Britain's young people are no exception. D A lot of players who have left in the past have found that the grass isn 't always greener elsewhere. H He had learned the other man's grass was indeed greener.

This expression is often varied: for example, you can use another word instead of 'fence'. O Diana should beware. The grass may not be greener on the other side of the Atlantic.

0 the grass roots

The grass roots of an organization or movementi are the ordinary people who form the main part ofi it, rather than its leaders.

0 No decision had been taken because the matter/ had been referred back to the party's grass roots/ inside South Africa. H The revolution is actually/ coming from the grass roots and I think eventually the authorities will follow. /

Crass-roots can be used before a noun. O It was a grass-roots campaign and that's how the country's newest president won the election. D The leadership has become detached from what's going on at grassroots level.

kick something into the long grass

If someone kicks an idea, suggestion or plan into the long grass, they refuse to deal with it immediately, often because it will create problems for them. You can use other verbs such as 'push' or 'put' instead of 'kick'. Compare kick something into touch; see touch. [BRITISH, JOURNALISM] -H There were suggestions this week that the Government intends to kick the proposals into the long grass.

put someone out to grass

If someone is put out to grass, they are made to retire from their job, or they are moved to an unimportant job, usually because people think that they are too old to be useful. Put someone out -to pasture means the same. D Members of the House of Lords are either political time-servers who have been put out to grass or the heirs of aristocrats rewarded for some long-forgotten favour. H The Prime Minister refused to be put out to grass. Asked if he would quit, he replied 'The answer is no.'

[:NOTEj When horses have reached the end of their working lives, they are sometimes released into fields to graze.





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Guide to the Dictionary Entries Idiom headwords, forms, and variations

At the beginning of each idiom entry in the dictionary, we give a headword form for the idiom. Idioms are arranged in alphabetical order of these forms. We use 'someone', 'something', and 'somewhere' in idiom headwords to indicate that the idiom has to be completed with a word referring to respectively a person, a thing, or a place. Similarly, we use words such as 'you', 'your', 'yourself, and 'their' to indicate that an appropriate pronoun or possessive adjective should be supplied.

Where an idiom has variations, we give the commonest form as the idiom headword. If a variation is very common, or substantially different from the idiom headword, or reflects a British/American usage distinction, we give the variation as a second idiom headword. We also mention these variations in the explanations:

When children fly the nest or leave the nest, they leave their parents' home to live on their own.

If you say that it is possible to do something at a pinch or in a pinch, you mean that it can just be done if it is absolutely necessary. 'At a pinch' is used in British English, and 'in a pinch' is used in American English.

Where the variations are minor, we mention them in a sentence at the end of the explanation:

If you pick holes in something such as an argument or theory, you find weak points in it which disprove it or show that it is wrong. Verbs such as 'poke' and 'shoot' can be used instead of 'pick'.

Occasionally, variations are dealt with in a follow-on paragraph, if they need special comment. For example, the entry for the idiom a wolf in sheep's clothing has the follow-on paragraph:

• People sometimes describe someone as a sheep in wolfs clothing to mean that the person seems dangerous or powerful, but is really harmless or ordinary.

and the entry for have feet of clay has:

You can also say that someone has clay feet. [mainly american]

More information about variations can be found in the examples, which are chosen to reflect the range of forms occurring in the Bank of English.

Explanations and meanings

The explanations or definitions in this dictionary, as in other COBUILD dictionaries, are written in full sentences. This enables us to define idioms in a natural way, by explaining them in context with their most typical structures and collocations. The language of the explanations is kept as simple as possible, and just over 2000 different words are used.

In addition to describing the meanings of idioms, explanations often give information about the contexts in which they are used. For example, the explanation for neck and neck:

In a race or contest, if two competitors are neck and neck, they are exactly level with each other, so that it is impossible to say who will win.

This explanation shows that the idiom is typically used in the context of races and contests - and is also used to describe competitors in the race or competition.

Idioms sometimes have two or more different meanings. We indicate this by giving a number in brackets after the idiom headword. There are often different variations associated with the different meanings. Similarly, they often have different usages or frequencies, and we give this information in the individual numbered entries.

Sometimes follow-on paragraphs are used to deal with slight changes in meaning or usage. For example, the main explanation of change hands is:

If something changes hands, one person or organization gets it from another, usually by buying it.

and the follow-on paragraph is:

• When something is sold for a particular amount of money, you say that amount of money changes hands.

Inflections and grammar

We do not give explicit information about the inflection and syntactic behaviour of idioms. Instead, we give the information implicitly, by showing in the explanations and examples which words inflect and which structure or structures are typically associated with an idiom. By using these as guidelines, learners will be able to produce their own sentences with idioms.

For example, the following explanation shows that there are two verbs in the idiom which both inflect:

If someone dots the i's and crosses the t's, they add the final minor details to a piece of work, plan, or arrangement.

Explanations give other information about structures. The explanation for the first meaning of marching orders begins:

If you are given your marching orders, you are made to leave something such as a job or relationship.

It shows that the idiom is typically used after the verb 'give', typically in the passive, and also after a possessive adjective. This is supported by the structures shown in the examples.

Changes in syntax are sometimes shown in follow-on paragraphs. For example, at neck and neck, the main explanation shows that the idiom is used after a verb:

In a race or contest, if two competitors are neck and neck, they are exactly level with each other, so that it is impossible to say who will win.

The follow-on paragraph shows a syntax change:

• You can use neck and neck before a noun. xi

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This is reinforced by the example:

Philippe jeantot of France and the South African John Martin are involved in a neck and neck race to finish second across the line.

Changes in syntax sometimes involve changes in spelling or form. For example, the follow-on paragraph for the idiom break the ice deals with a related noun:

An ice-breaker is something that you say or do to break the ice.


Explanations give information about collocations as well as about syntax. For example, the explanation for the idiom pick holes in something is:

If you pick holes in something such as an argument or theory, you find weak points in it which disprove it or show that it is wrong.

This explanation shows that the idiom is typically used with a human subject and that the 'something' in the idiom headword is typically expressed by a word which means 'argument' or 'theory'.

Examples also give information about collocations. The examples for neck and neck show that this idiom is often used in political or sports contexts:

The latest opinion polls show both parties running neck and neck. Leeds are currently neck-and-neck with Manchester United for the Championship.

They also show that the idiom is typically used after a verb such as 'run' or 'be', as well as showing that the competitors can be mentioned together as the subject of the verb, or one can be mentioned as the subject of the verb and the other after the preposition 'with'.


The dictionary explanations for idioms show where they have some special pragmatic function. For example, here is the explanation of hit the nail on the head:

If someone makes a comment and you say that they have hit the nail on the head, you mean that they have described a situation or problem exactly.

The formula 'If you say that... you mean that...' shows that this idiom is used to convey an opinion or evaluation, and that it is something speakers or writers use about someone else, rather than about themselves. More precisely in this case, the idiom is used to convey an opinion about the accuracy of another person's comment.

The wording of the following explanation shows that the idiom is used to convey attitude as well as criticism or disapproval:

If you accuse someone of feathering their nest, you are accusing them of taking advantage of their position in order to get a lot of money, so that they can lead a comfortable life.


r^.^^^&.&J&^^&^B^^^^^^ ^^% ^ ^

Finally, a few of the idioms in this dictionary are speech acts: that is, a speaker uses them to express good wishes or thanks, an acceptance or refusal, and so on. For example:

People say 'break a leg' to a performer who is about to go on stage as a way of wishing them good luck.

A more complicated example:

You say 'be my guest" to someone when you are giving them permission to do something, or inviting them to do something. This expression is sometimes used in a sarcastic way. For example, you might use it to invite someone to do something difficult or unpleasant.

Style, register, and usage

The dictionary explanations give information about the likely contexts in which idioms are used, in particular where there are restrictions.

One kind of restriction relates to geographical variety: that is, an idiom is used only or mainly by one group of English speakers. Another kind of restriction relates to genre:

some idioms are used only or mainly in a particular kind of writing, such as journalism, novels, or other literary writing. A third kind of restriction relates to date and currency:

some idioms in the dictionary are described as old-fashioned, which means that they are generally used nowadays by older people rather than young people. The final kind of restriction relates to levels of formality. In most cases this is because an idiom is only used in informal situations, or may cause offence as it is considered rude - these idioms should be used very cautiously. In some cases, we describe an idiom as formal which means that it is mainly used in formal contexts, such as serious journalism and other kinds of formal writing. Unless an idiom is explicitly labelled as 'formal' or 'literary', learners should generally avoid using them in formal contexts and formal writing.

We show all of the above information in the dictionary by adding a label in small capital letters and square brackets to the end of the definition describing the restriction that applies. These labels are listed on page xiv.


Individual words in idioms may have two or more spellings: for example, they may be spelled differently in British and American English. We give this information at the end of the idiom entry. All the alternative spellings are listed in the index. We also give information about cases where variant spellings or forms result from misunderstandings of one of the words: for example, 'tow' is sometimes used instead of 'toe' in toe the line.

Note that when idioms are used adjectivally in front of nouns, they are often spelled with hyphens.


Cross-references are occasionally given at the end of an explanation for idioms. Some cross-references draw attention to other idioms which are very similar in form or which may be confused. For example:

When children fly the nest or leave the nest, they leave their parents' home to live on their own. Compare fly the coop; see coop.


We have given this cross-reference because fly the coop seems similar in form to fly the nest, although it has a different meaning. Fly the coop can be found under the dictionary headword coop.

We also give cross-references where idioms are restricted to British (or American) English and have close counterparts in American (or British) English.

If you say that someone has a green thumb, you mean that they are very good at gardening. This expression is used in American English; the British expression is have green fingers.

Frequency bands

The dictionary also labels the most frequent idioms and meanings of idioms, as they are found in the Bank of English. These key idioms are marked with the symbol 0 and represent around a third of the idioms in the dictionary. It is these idioms which should have priority for teachers and learners, as they are the idioms most likely to be encountered in English. Examples include the acid test, hot air, up in arms, not take no for an answer, and up the ante.

The Collins COBUILD English Dictionary for Advanced Learners also gives frequency information for its headwords. In this case, there are five frequency bands, indicated by black diamonds in the Extra Column. Note that these bands do not correspond to the labelling of key idioms in the Collins COBUILD Dictionary of Idioms. In fact, only a few high-frequency idioms in this dictionary are as common as the items in the Collins COBUILD English Dictionary for Advanced Learners which are marked with a single black diamond.

Origins and explanations

Many of the idioms in the Collins COBUILD Dictionary of Idioms contain additional information relating to their origin, or have a further note to explain the idiom, or part of it, in more detail. This information is preceded by the sign [note] . When it is shown immediately under the headword, the information it gives applies to all the idioms in the entry. When it comes at the bottom of an idiom entry, the information it gives applies only to the idiom in that entry, unless otherwise specified.

Regional and Style Labels






used mainly in the USA used mainly in Australia used mainly in Britain

used mainly in official situations used mainly in informal situations, conversations, and personal letters

used mainly in newspapers, television, and radio

LITERARY used mainly in novels, poetry,

and other literature OFFENSIVE likely to offend people OLD-FASHIONED no longer in general common use RUDE used mainly to describe words

which some people consider taboo SPOKEN used mainly in speech VERY RUDE used mainly to describe words

which some people consider taboo WRITTEN used mainly in writing





tMOTBI In many card games, the ace is the card with the highest score.

the ace in your hand

If you have the ace in your hand, you have something which you can use to gain an advantage when you need it. [BRITISH] 0

1- You have to convince your opponent that you have the ace in your hand..

عليك أن تقنع خصمك أن الورقة الرابحة بين يديك.
2- The Guardian newspaper concludes that the President's adoption of special powers to tackle the economic crisis and maintain public order is a last throw. The paper says he now needs five aces in hand.

تخلص صحيفة الغارديان إلى أن تبني الرئيس لبعض السلطات الخاصة لمعالجة الأزمة الاقتصادية والمحافظة على النظام العام هي آخر بطاقة من بطاقاته الرابحة. وعقبت الصحيفة قائلة إنه الآن بحاجة إلى خمس بطاقات رابحة.
If you are caught in the act, someone sees you

doing something secret or wrong.

3- The men were caught in the act of digging up

buried explosives.

ضبط الرجال متلبسين باستخراج المتفرجات المدفونة.

4- The local authority has set

aside £500 to spend on security cameras, hoping

the residents will be able to catch vandals in the act

on film.

خصصت السلطات المحلية مبلغ 500 جنيه استرليني لشراء كاميرات المراقبة الأمنية على أمل أن يساعد ذلك المواطنين على الإيقاع بالمخربين متلبسين بالجرم المشهود.

If you get in on the act, you start doing something which was first done by someone else, usually so that you can have the same success as them, or get some advantage for yourself. You can also say that you are in on the act, or use other verbs instead of 'get'.

5- Its reputation has reached the United States and American investors have been trying to get in on the act.

لقد طالت سمعتها الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية، ويحاول المستثمرون الأمريكيون السير على خطاها نحو تحقيق النجاح.

6- It's not enough to read the books, I want to be in on the act.

لن أكتفي بقراءة الكتب، بل سأتابع ما نجح فيه الآخرون وأستفيد من خبراتهم.

If you have a passing acquaintance or a nodding acquaintance with someone, you know them slightly.

7- And of course, he can now claim - after his first summit as head of government-more than a nodding acquaintance with his fellow leaders.

وبالطبع، يمكنه الآن بعد لقاء القمة الأول له بصفته رئيساً للحكومة، أن يدعي أن معرفته بالزعماء الآخرين ليست مجرد معرفة سطحية.

8- After a while a man came in who was evidently a passing acquaintance of the family and stopped at their table to chat.

بعد فترة وجيزة، دخل رجل وجلس إلى طاولة العائلة ليتحدث إليهم، ومن الواضح أن معرفته بهم كانت معرفة سطحية.

If you refer to something as the acid test, you

mean that it will show or prove how effective or useful something is. You can also say that something is an acid test. 0 The acid test for the vaccine will be its performance in African countries where malaria is raging more fiercely than in Colombia. 0 5o far, I don't feel too bad but I'm waiting for my first really stressful day when things go wrong. That will be the real acid test. 0 The case, as a whole, is an acid test of the justice system.

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