Back Idioms

Body Idioms Course Idioms | Vocabulary | English in Use


I am determined to make idioms as accessible for all students as any other part of the English language. Reading and memorising lists of vocabulary is not the most productive, interesting, or useful exercise in English language learning. I created these Activities to encourage you to not only learn and remember many English idioms, but also to have fun with them, as having fun is a great aid to learning and remembering. It is important that you know as many idioms as possible as native English speakers use them with alarming regularity. I hope that as you work your way through the Idiom Activities you will make some of the idioms your own and use them regularly like a native.


Did you know that there are over 600,000 words in English? That's a lot of words, and far more than any human being could ever manage to learn. Even Shakespeare only used around 55,000 different words in all of his works. Mind you, he did actually invent quite a few of them. To get a good mastery of English, you do need to expand your vocabulary as much as possible. The more words you know, the better your English will be. The Activities here will help you to quickly develop your vocabulary.

English in Use

The Activities categorised as English in Use look at the way we use English in everyday life. The Activities cover the actual use of English and examine grammar, punctuation, and functionality of the language. For any student studying English as a second language or English as a foreign language, English in Use Activities are particularly useful for improving speaking, writing, reading, and listening skills. These Activities will help you to develop your confidence in using different types of text such as fiction, newspapers and magazines, as well as learning to speak and write about things such as the weather and travel, as well as preparing you for typical situations such as ordering in a restaurant or buying a train ticket.

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This lesson will help to you learn, remember, and use 20 common British English idiomatic expressions. The idioms are, behind your back, break the back of something, watch your back, back to back, fell off the back of a lorry, scratch back, like water off a duck's back, turn your back on, get someone's back up, watch someone's back, put your back into something, back out of, on someone's back, a pat on the back, give the shirt off your back, back against the wall, stabbed in the back, back someone up, have or take the shirt off your back, when your back is turned, and bend over backwards.

Body Idioms Course



When someone criticises you, or tries to cause trouble for you, without your being aware of it, they are doing it behind your back.

“She has been saying awful things about you behind your back.”


When you have finished the most difficult or longest part of a job, we say that we have broken the back of it.

“After writing 450 idiom definitions and examples, I knew I’d broken the back of writing this book.”


To watch your back is to be very cautious of what is happening around you, especially when others are out to cause problems for you.

“You made him look stupid in the meeting, so I’d watch my back if I were you.”


Things which happen one after the other, or consecutively, occur back to back.

“There is nothing worse for a teacher than having six classes back to back in the afternoon.”


Something which has fallen off the back of a lorry has been obtained through dubious means, often illegally.

“At such a low price, it was obvious the phones had fallen off the back of a lorry.”


If you do a favour for someone in return for them doing a favour for you, we say you’ll scratch their back.

“I’ll drive you there, and you pay the petrol. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”


Like water off a duck’s back means happening without any apparent effect.

“They can slag me off all they like, but their scorn is like water off a duck´s back to me.”


To turn your back on someone or something is to walk away and stop being involved or stop trying to help.

“You can’t just turn your back on your responsibilities.”


To get someone’s back up is to infuriate them.

“She’s really getting my back up this morning with her constant orders.”


To watch someone’s back is to willingly defend someone else when they are in jeopardy.

“Whatever happens, it’s nice to know that you’re watching my back. 


To put your back into something is to make a great deal of physical or mental effort to achieve something.

“I really had to put my back into getting this book finished.”


If you refuse to continue with an agreement, negotiation, or an argument, you are backing out of it.

“I don’t trust him to go through with the sale. I’m sure he’s going to back out of it.”


When you are on someone’s back you are constantly criticising them in an annoying and oppressing way.

“The boss has been on my back all week about the new prototype, but I keep telling her I need more time.”


When you have done something well and someone else praises you for your efforts, you receive a pat on the back.

“You all deserve a pat on the back for making this dream come true.”


If you are willing to give the shirt off your back, you are willing to sacrifice anything and everything that is required to help someone.

“Louis would give the shirt off his back to help his father with his business.”


When you are in a difficult or dangerous situation and have very few choices of how to act, we say you have your back against the wall.

“Before they were able to get new investors onboard, the company had its back to the wall.”


When we are stabbed in the back by someone, we have been betrayed by a person we trusted.

“I’ve treated him like my son for the last 20 years and now he stabs me in the back to try and take over the company.”


To back someone up is to support them by confirming that what they are saying is the truth.

“I was nowhere near the building when the fire started, and I’m sure the CCTV footage will back me up.”


To take the shirt off someone’s back is to take the last things of value that they own.

“That debt collection agency will take the shirt off your back if you let them.”


When someone does something when they are no longer being watched by you, they do it when your back is turned.

“As soon as my father’s back was turned, my mother would give me sweets.”


When you go out of your way to get something done, often with a view to helping someone else, you bend over backwards.

“I always bend over backwards to ensure my students quickly improve their English.”

Body Idioms

I originally thought that I would find 100 to 200 idioms related to the body, but as I continued gathering the idioms for each part of the body, I realised there were going to be considerably more. With an ever-growing list of idioms before me, I despaired of ever being able to complete the definitions and examples that would be required for each one. However, with a bit of elbow grease, I put my back into it, and managed to complete all 522 of them. In this course, you will find many of the idiomatic expressions related to the body.

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Idioms Activation Pack - Arms

There are 13 arms idioms in this Idiom Activation Pack. To be up in arms, Have one arm tied behind your back, Cost an arm and a leg, Lay down your arms, Strong-arm tactics, Keep somebody at arm’s length, Have a list as long as your arm, To give your right arm, Welcome someone with open arms, The long arm of the law, Twist someone’s arm, Chance your arm, and To bear arms. After you have seen, heard, and read the idioms and their meanings, you can activate them and make them part of your active vocabulary. You can do this by using the Idioms Activator which I have designed to give you plenty of practice in listening, reading, and writing the idioms you have learnt in this Idiom Activation Pack. These Idiom Activation Packs are designed to help you activate your English skills. I have been helping students learn, remember, and use the all-important idiomatic expressions for many years and now I want to reach many more students by using the latest technology. I have designed this Idiom Activation Pack to make learning British English idioms as easy and enjoyable as possible. Idioms Activation Pack - Arms

Categories: Idioms | Vocabulary

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Leg Idioms

Learn some common British English idioms in this video English lesson from Britlish. The idioms are: Tail between your legs, On its last legs, Get a leg up, Pulling your leg, Shake a leg, Break a leg, Not have a leg to stand on, Stretch your legs, Legwork, and Sea legs. This lesson is part of the Body Idioms series of idioms lessons.

Categories: Idioms | Vocabulary

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Lip Idioms

Learn some common British English idioms with this lesson from Britlish. The idioms are: Pay lip service, Lick your lips, Bite your lip, Give someone lip, My lips are sealed, Smack lips, Slip of the lip, Tight-lipped, Lock lips, Pass my lips, Stiff upper lip, A bit lippy, Read my lips, Loose lips, Button your lip, and On everyone’s lips. This lesson is part of the Body Idioms series at

Categories: Idioms | Vocabulary

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