Food idioms

Do you know your onions (or which side your bread is buttered)?

Inspired by the shopping bags from a national supermarket, Joy decided to write a short exercise on English food idioms.

(This exercise first appeared in our Autumn 2018 newsletter. We publish our newsletter four times a years. Click here to subscribe.)


In English, we have lots of idioms related to food. Are you familiar with these? Try the exercise. The answers are at the bottom.

[Learning tip: You can find the meaning of all the idioms in this exercise in the Macmillan English Dictionary.]


First, read the examples. Can you identify the idiom?

‘If you’re not sure, just ask David – he really knows his onions when it comes to the new regulations.’

‘By the time we got home, I was exhausted, but the kids were full of beans.’

‘I don’t really like the design of that new office building – it’s just not my cup of tea.’

‘Emma’s ideas are often a bit crazy, but this latest one really takes the biscuit!’

‘Since he was made unemployed, I think Alan’s finding it hard to accept that it’s his wife who’s bringing home the bacon these days, not him.’

‘He spent much more time working on the Chairman’s latest project than ours – he knows which side his bread’s buttered!’


Now, match each idiom on the left with the correct meaning on the right.

1. know your onions a) to earn money to support the family
2. (be) full of beans b) to be the most silly or annoying thing in a series of things
3. not (be) someone’s cup of tea c) to know who to be nice to or what to do in order to gain advantages for yourself
4. take the biscuit d) not to like or consider interesting
5. bring home the bacon e) to have a very good knowledge of a specific subject
6. know which side your bread’s buttered f) to have lots of energy

How many do you think you got right? Check the answers below.



1e; 2f; 3d; 4b; 5a; 6c.


Did you find this useful? We have lots of other articles about English idioms. Click here to see a list.

If you have any questions or comments, leave a reply below.

Do you want to learn English idioms? Send us a message.


Telephone words – vocabulary mind map

Time for a new mind map. This one focuses on the vocabulary of phones and phoning.

The mind map has four sections. Three sections contain the nouns used to talk about and describe phones and phone numbers. The fourth section has a collection of verb collocations for talking about phone calls.

You can view the mind map on Popplet or click the button below to download the image file.


After you have done that, test your knowledge with this short quiz. The answers are at the end of the blog post.


Questions 1 – Verb collocations

Which of these verbs form collocations with the words ‘a call’?

    1. make
    2. miss
    3. do
    4. get
    5. take
    6. put
    7. hang up
    8. give

Question 2 – Common mistakes

Each of these sentences contains a common mistake. Identify and correct each mistake.

  1. I have to call to my colleagues in Italy.
  2. I’ll put you through my boss.
  3. Your client called earlier. Can you call back him?
  4. In my job, I do a lot of calls with customers.

Question 3 – part of a phone

Match these words to the parts of the phone.

  1. earpiece
  2. screen
  3. keypad
  4. handset
  5. call button



Now check the answers to see if you were right.


Question 1

make a call

miss a call

get a call

take a call

give someone a call

Question 2

  1. I have to call my colleagues in Italy.
  2. I’ll put you through to my boss.
  3. Can you call him back?
  4. In my job, I make a lot of calls to customers.

Question 3

  1. earpiece (b)
  2. screen (c)
  3. keypad (d)
  4. handset (a)
  5. call button (e)


Other telephone language

Here is some other blogs posts focusing on English for making phone calls.

Checking and clarifying on the phone – 1

Checking and clarifying on the phone – 2

Spellng words with the International Radio Alphabet


If you have any questions about the mind map, leave a comment below.

Do you need to practise speaking English on the telephone? Send us a message.


Story Writing Project – Travel Vocabulary – Part 9

In part 8, we asked you to look for verbs that are used with speech. We have highlighted them in yellow for you.

In part 9, look for words and phrases that create the dramatic atmosphere.

~ My trip to Paris ~

Part 8: The balloon

Hot air balloonThere was a hot air balloon hanging in the sky in front of me.

“Where did that come from?” I asked a woman next to me.

“Look,” she replied. “The pilot is waving at us.”

I looked at the pilot and waved back. He continued to wave.

“I don’t think he’s saying ‘Hello’,” said the woman. “I think the balloon is in trouble.”

She was right. The balloon was getting nearer to us. It was quite low.

“Will it hit the tower?” I asked the woman.

Before she could answer, the lift attendant shouted, “Evacuate now!”


Part 9: The film director

People started screaming and were ordered to evacuate. The tourists began running and shouting.

I was very confused and frightened. So, I quickly started running towards the stairs, crying out loudly, “Where’s the exit?”

Director's chairIn the midst of my fear, I noticed some people sitting calmly in chairs. One of the chairs was red and had some writing on the back. It said ‘Director’.

Surprised, I suddenly realised they were shooting a movie!

At that moment, I remembered where I had seen the man in balloon before. It was in a Jackie Chan film.

I stopped running, started laughing and relaxed. Things went back to normal. I could continue gazing at the sky from the most beautiful tower in the world, the Eiffel Tower.

But, I didn’t see the man who was coming towards me.

Many thanks again to Shehnaz for writing this part of the story.

Go to Leave a Reply at the bottom of this page and tell us what should happen in part 10.


Socialising and networking in English

Networking in English by Pete Sharma and Barney BarrettOne of the most common reasons people need to improve their English is so they can socialise and network with other people. In the business world, these other people are colleagues, customers and clients – both current and future.

Barney and his regular collaborator, Pete Sharma, wrote a book called Networking in English. It is full of language and advice about how to be a more effective networker.

In the introduction to the book, Pete and Barney list nine skills a language student needs to be a good socialiser and communicator in social situations.

  1. You are able to express yourself fairly fluently.
  2. You have the vocabulary to speak about a range of topics.
  3. You have reasonably accurate basic grammar.
  4. You have fairly good listening skills, and have strategies to deal with problems like listening to fast speech and catching the main message.
  5. You have a knowledge of the same kinds of communication strategies used by good native speaker communicators, such as an understanding of non-verbal communication.
  6. You know the typical forms of interaction in various social situations, such as in a restaurant, and can use a good range of appropriate and useful phrases.
  7. You speak with clear pronunciation.
  8. You are sensitive to cultural differences between you and people from other parts of the world.

(From Networking in English, Barrett and Sharma (Macmillan: 2010)

How would you rate yourself for each of these skills? Be honest. Many people speaking English for business can talk with confidence about their companies, products and services but do not have enough vocabulary to make small talk. Some people are able to talk and talk and talk but find it difficult to understand when other people are talking, especially at noisy social events. Other people find socialising with people from other countries and cultures stressful because they are unsure about differences in acceptable behaviour.

Here are a few videos and activities you can use to test or develop your knowledge and skills.

Making contact

Airport conversationListen to two conversations between people meeting each other in social situations. They use a lot of standard phrases. Notice the questions they ask and the answers they give. Think about the questions and answers you would give in the same situation.


The rules of small talk

The Rules of Making Small talk in English videoThe rules of small talk are simple and easy to remember but how do you apply them in English? Watch our video. Notice how the people in the video respond in the wrong way. Pause the video and think about how you would reply before seeing the answer we gave.


Stratford Teachers pub quiz

Everywhere you go in the world, the restaurants of France, the cafés of Italy, the diners of America, the hawker centres of Singapore and the pubs of Britain, there are rules and vocabulary unique to those places that are ‘natural’ to local people but confusing to visitors from other countries.

Try our short quiz about the vocabulary used in British pubs, what it means and how we use it. What vocabulary and advice would you give to a visitor to your country?


Of course, the best way to build up your socialising and networking in English skills is to practise with a teacher who can give you instant correction and advice.

Contact us to find out how we can help you become a better, more effective and more confident socialiser and communicator in social situations.



Story Writing Project – Travel Vocabulary – Part 8

Before we continue the story, have a look back at part 7. Notice how we used ‘could’ to talk about possibility. In part 8, look for verbs that are used with speech.

~ My trip to Paris ~

Part 7: The Eiffel Tower

I remembered I could use the internet and the navigation system on my phone. This was a very good idea. I only needed to walk for ten minutes to get to the hotel.

Eiffel Tower

It was a little hotel in an old house. It had lovely rooms in the French style. A few minutes later I was on my way to the Eiffel Tower, the most famous building in Paris. It has always been my dream to visit it.

It was easy to find because I could see it from the hotel. However, when I arrived there, all I could see were a lot of people standing in queues. I’d understood that you could go up the Eiffel Tower inside the four legs. There are elevators in two of the legs. The other two only have stairs. Unfortunately, one elevator had broken down and its entrance was closed.

I decided to take the stairs because the queue was not so long. When I arrived at the first platform, I was pleasantly surprised by the view over Paris. Then I looked again and I couldn’t believe what I saw.

Part 8: The balloon

Hot air balloonThere was a hot air balloon hanging in the sky in front of me.

“Where did that come from?” I asked a woman next to me.

“Look,” she replied. “The pilot is waving at us.”

I looked at the pilot and waved back. He continued to wave.

“I don’t think he’s saying ‘Hello’,” said the woman. “I think the balloon is in trouble.”

She was right. The balloon was getting nearer to us. It was quite low.

“Will it hit the tower?” I asked the woman.

Before she could answer, the lift attendant shouted, “Evacuate now!”

Go to Leave a Reply at the bottom of this page and tell us what should happen in part 9.

Homophones 2

Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but have different spellings and meanings.

The words but are easy to say but it’s important to know the spellings and meanings of the most common English homophones.

Our first homophones quiz was so popular that we decided to make another one. This one is more challenging than the first.

Test yourself now.


Homophones interactive quiz

Pronunciation is important when you speak another language. If you have good, clear pronunciation it is easier for people to understand what you say.

What aspects of English pronunciation do you find most challenging? Use the comment box at the bottom of this page to tell us.

Do you need to develop your spoken and written English? Contact us to talk about doing a course.


Words making the headlines – controversial

Yes - No

Here’s a word that doesn’t tend to appear in headlines. It’s a bit too long for that. However, it’s regularly used to describe anything that’s causing public disagreement and discussion. We’re talking about the word controversial.

It’s a word that’s frequently attached to the highly controversial figure of US President Donald Trump and every controversial action he takes. Unusually, the most common use in the last week or so has not been Mr Trump’s latest controversial statement or latest Tweet containing a controversial claim or a controversial opinion about a controversial topic such as immigration or US international relations. The word controversial has been used most to describe Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury which claims to tell the inside story of Mr Trump’s first year as President of the USA.

Let’s pause for a moment and examine the pronunciation of the word. Here’s the phonemics: /ˌkɒn.trəˈvɜː.ʃəl/  . We need to get the word stress in the correct place. It falls on the third syllable. That means you say the word like this: controVERsial. However, notice in the phonemics that in British English we don’t tend to pronounce the letter ‘r’ in that stressed syllable. However, North American speakers such as Mr Trump do include that sound.

There’s another transatlantic pronunciation difference. Controversial is an adjective that derives from the noun controversy. In Britain, we have a choice. We can pronounce it with the stress on the second syllable: conTROversy or on the first syllable: CONtroversy. Over in the US they usually use the second pronunciation.

Now let’s go back to other uses of controversial. We’ll stay in the United States where Mr Trump has a controversial proposal to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Californians recently voted to pass controversial legislation to allow people in that state to buy, sell and use marijuana. Finally, there’s the ongoing investigation into the Trump election campaign’s controversial relations with people in Russia. All of which gives Americans plenty to discuss and disagree about even after they’ve finished reading Michael Wolff’s book.

Practise your listening. Click on play to hear the text.


Find more Words making the headlines.

If you would like to suggest a word from the news for future blog posts, please use the comment box.

Do you need to expand your English vocabulary? Contact us to talk about it.