Idiom Sunday #3: Work

I love idioms. They may just be my favourite thing about language. I love them so much that I created Idiom Sunday, where I write about five of my favourite idioms. These may be extremely useful in your IELTS Speaking exam, but only if you use them at the appropriate time. To help you to understand when that appropriate time is, Idiom Sunday is in the form of a quiz. Can you get all the answers right?

1. Learn the ropes

Learn the ropes

What does it mean to ‘learn the ropes’?

A)To learn your way around a new place of work (e.g. “Sorry, can you tell me where the bathroom is? I’m still learning the ropes.”)

B)To learn how things are done at a new job or hobby (e.g. “It took me a while to learn the ropes at my last job. There were lots of safety procedures and complicated processes.”)

C)To get to know all the people at your new job (e.g. “I don’t know many people at my new job, but I’m still learning the ropes.”)

Scroll down for the answer!

Answer: B) To start a new job or hobby and learn how to do the things you need to do.

I found my last job very hard to begin with. It took me a really long time to learn the ropes.

In interviews, interviewers always ask me what my strengths are. I tell them that my biggest strength is that I’m a quick learner. It never takes me that long to learn the ropes.

It took me over a month to learn the ropes at my first job.

2. Call it a day

When would you ‘call it a day’?

A) When you want to stop doing something and go home. (e.g.  “It’s 9 o’clock and we’re all exhausted. Let’s call it a day and continue again tomorrow.”)

B) When you feel like time has gone really quickly. (e.g. “Wow, 6 o’clock already? I’ll call that a day.”)

C) When you begin work and want to be productive (e.g. “Come on everybody, we have work to do. Let’s call it a day”)

Scroll down for the answer!

Answer: A) When you want to stop doing something and go home.

We’ve done all we can do today. Let’s call it a day and get some sleep.

I know it’s early, but let’s call it a day. We’ll be more productive tomorrow morning.

I get to choose my own hours at my new job, but I usually call it a day around 6.30. I never get much work done after that.

3. (Don’t) bite the hand that feeds.

Bite the hand that feeds.

What do you think it means to “bite the hand that feeds”?

A) To work so hard that you are too exhausted to do anything (e.g. “I overworked today. I bit the hand that feeds and now I’m paying for it”)

B) To eat when you should be working (e.g. “Dan’s going to get in trouble for munching on the job; you should never bite the hand that feeds!”)

C)  To deliberately offend your boss/employer (e.g. “I got fired from my last job for shouting at my boss. I guess I learned my lesson: don’t bite the hand that feeds.”)

Scroll down for the answer!

Answer: C) To deliberately offend your boss/employer.

I didn’t last long in my first job. I bit the hand that feeds and I had to face the consequences.

To gain security in your job you have to learn one thing: never bite the hand that feeds.

I think the problem with young people in work today is that they don’t have enough respect. They bite the hand that feeds and are surprised when they end up getting the sack.

4. To go the extra mile

What do we ‘go the extra mile’?

A) When we put in a special amount of effort when doing something (e.g. “Tom really went the extra mile in finishing that report on time, working through lunch and staying late.”)

B) When we do more work than is necessary without realising (e.g. “Thanks for the report, Tom, but there’s too much here. You went the extra mile.”)

C)When we go too far in an office corridor (e.g. “Sorry I’m late. I went the extra mile and got a bit lost.”)

Scroll down for the answer!

Answer: A) When we put in a special amount of effort when doing something.

If you want to progress in your career, you need to consistently go the extra mile. Success requires putting in more effort than those around you.

I didn’t get very far up the career ladder in my last job, but then I didn’t deserve to; I never went the extra mile.

Doctors who always go the extra mile inspire confidence in their patients. 

5. To burn the midnight oil

Burn the midnight oil.

Last up, what do you think it means to ‘burn the midnight oil’?

A) To wake up later than you should and become late for work (e.g. “I’m a very heavy sleeper, so I often end up burning the midnight oil and rushing into work.”)

B) To work or read very late into the night (e.g. “Steve looks really tired today, but then he was in the office all night burning the midnight oil.”)

C) To burn calories after eating a business meal (e.g. “I took some clients out for lunch last week, but I ate far too much. It took me a good few hours at the gym to burn the midnight oil.”)

Scroll down for the answer!

Answer: B) To work or read very late into the night.

I used to work as a research assistant at a university, and because of my heavy workload I would often have to burn the midnight oil, so to speak.

I don’t mind working nights, personally. I’ve never shied away from burning the midnight oil.

I think it’s important not to do too much overtime in your job. If you frequently end up burning the midnight oil, it won’t be long before you burn out.

So, how did you do? Let us know in the comments section below. Hopefully this article has added some idioms to your vocabulary and you feel a bit more confident about using them in the Speaking exam. If you have any more work idioms you want to share with me and my students, add them to the comments below! Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Sunday!