Relationship idioms

A very common topic in IELTS speaking is to describe someone you know. These relationship idioms should help you do this better. There are quite a lot here and you certainly don’t need to know them all and I suggest you simply choose the ones that you like and feel confident using. Do look at the examples and exercises I have given you, as it is important that you can use these phrases for yourself.

Good relationships

get on like a house on fire

Have an extremely good relationship/ be very close friends

As soon as we met each other we got on like a house on fire and just took an instant liking to each other.

have a soft spot for

To like someone .We often use this when it’s slightly surprising that we like the person.

I always had a soft spot for Maria despite the fact that she often let me down. [to let someone down is to disappoint them]

get along with

To have a good relationship with. This is a fairly neutral phrase. You can get along with someone even though you may not like them that much.

I suppose I always got along quite well with my sister when we were growing up.

look up to 

To admire or respect. We normally use this of someone who is older or more senior than us. Note that its opposite is look down on.

When I was a child I always looked up to my father. He was a real role model for me.

speak the same language

If you  speak the same language as someone, you have similar ideas and thoughts as them

I think one reason we get on so well is that we really speak the same language as each other. There’s almost nothing we disagree about.

be on the same wavelength

This is another idiom meaning to have similar thoughts and ideas as someone else.

We’re almost exactly on the same wavelength as each other and agree about almost everything.

Check your knowledge

Bad relationships

fall out 

To have a serious disagreement. Note that you fall out with someone over or about something. Note too that there is a noun phrase have a falling out

We used to get on pretty well but then we fell out with each other when we went to university.

a rocky relationship

To have a relationship that is unsteady and perhaps sometimes fails completely. It is quite similar to a love-hate relationship.

It was quite a rocky relationship as we used to argue with each other all the time and we sometimes went days without speaking to each other.

can’t stand

If you can’t stand someone. you hate them.

I couldn’t stand my brother when we were younger. I guess it was an extreme case of sibling rivalry.

turn sour

When a relationship turns sour it becomes bad.

I think our relationship turned sour when she refused to help me.

get off on the wrong foot with

This is to start a relationship in the wrong way.

Although we are now good friends, our relationship got off on the wrong foot and initially we couldn’t stand each other.

clear the air

You clear the air after an argument to settle differences with someone.

There are times when we have serious disagreements, but we always manage to clear the air afterwards.

get on someone’s nerves

If someone gets on your nerves, they irritate you greatly.

Despite the fact that she is a nice person and has many good qualities, she still gets on my nerves and I find it hard to like her.

let someone down

If someone lets you down, they disappoint you in some way. They are unreliable. Note that you need to put the person before  the preposition down.

I do like her, but there was one occasion when she let me down quite badly.

look down on

To think that you are more important than someone else. This is really the opposite of look up to.

One thing I don’t like about him is that he looks down on people who are less intelligent than him.

Check your knowledge again

Closeness of relations

move in the same circles

If you move in the same circles, you have the same friends. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are friends.

Although we are not particularly good friends, we see each other quite a lot as we move in the same circles.

be on nodding terms

To know each other only slightly. We use this for acquaintances and not friends.

While we are on nodding terms and say hello to each other every day, I wouldn’t call him a friend.

know someone inside out

This is to know someone very well. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you like them!

I guess you could say I know him inside out by now – all his good points and all his bad points.

keep in touch with

To stay in contact with someone.

Sadly, we didn’t stay in touch with each other after we left school and I don’t know what he’s doing now.

see eye to eye with someone

To agree with someone.

We see eye to eye about most things but we can never agree about what film to watch.

keep yourself to yourself 

Not to mix socially with other people. This is normally used in a positive sense.

He wasn’t very outgoing and sociable and preferred to keep himself to himself. For all that, he was perfectly friendly.

wear the trousers

To be the more important person in the relationship

Although David earns more money, it is Sylvia who really wears the trousers in the relationship. David will also do what she says,

a fair-weather friend

This is someone who is only your friend when things are easy. They may let you down when things go wrong.

She was something of a fair-weather friend though and I couldn’t rely on her for help when times were bad.

Romantic relationships

go out with

Have a romantic relationship with someone.

They’ve been going out with each other for around two years now.

be an item

Have a romantic relationship with someone – normally for a long period of time.

They were an item for quite some time before they got married

get together

Start a relationship

We first got together when we were in high school

tie the knot

Get married to someone

They’d been living together for a few years before they decided to tie the knot.

Check your knowledge a final time

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11 Responses to Relationship idioms

  1. rania April 24, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    I’m very delighted to follow your page but I need to improve my speaking

    • Anonymous February 10, 2015 at 10:50 am #

      More you Listen More You Speak work on this Fundamental

  2. Idiomatic Ruth April 24, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    This is wonderful software, great explanation and fun with learning idioms. I just love it… It made my day. Thanks.

  3. Annie October 13, 2014 at 7:37 am #

    So, I saw all your advices and firstly I’d like to thank you as I’m sure they’ll all prove to be very useful to me. Secondly, I saw this quite a lot on this site and I thought it would be best to ask. Is it to “look down on”(someone) or to “look down upon”?

    Thanking you in advance. 😀

    • Dominic Cole October 15, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

      The much more common form is look down on

  4. Alex November 15, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Sorry, but is it “went days” or “spent days” in “It was quite a rocky relationship as we used to argue with each other all the time and we sometimes went days without speaking to each other.”?

    • Dominic Cole November 15, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

      “went” is the answer. It is a fairly fixed idiom.

      • Alex November 15, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

        Good to know. Thank you.

  5. divya January 30, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    This is really amazing and I really enjoyed a lot while reading all idioms ….and I must say it’s very useful in realistic life

  6. Amin July 23, 2016 at 7:07 am #

    I gained more when I got through reading all these idioms. These could be really helpful, for the first time I read these as I didn’t attend any English language course before. Should we memories these sentences? I think it is not easy & need more time for practicing .

    • Dominic Cole September 18, 2016 at 10:58 am #

      Not to be memorised certainly – you need to be able to use the idioms/phrases for yourself

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