Idioms – C

Here are some idiomatic expressions formed around words beginning with letter C.

Castles in the air

Dreams or plans that will never be achieved

The cat’s whiskers

This is an informal expression used to refer to an excellent person or thing.

Let the cat out of the bag

To let the cat out of the bag is to reveal a secret by mistake.

Put / set the cat among the pigeons

To set the cat among the pigeons is to do something that will most probably cause trouble.

Stand on ceremony

To stand on ceremony is to insist on formal behavior.

Separate the wheat from the chaff

To separate the wheat from the chaff is to pick out what is valuable from what is worthless.

Cheer someone up

To cheer someone up is to make them less miserable.

A chequered career

To have a chequered career is to have successful and unsuccessful periods in one’s career.

Keep your chin up

To keep your chin up is to remain cheerful in difficult circumstances.

Take it on the chin

To take it on the chin is to accept a difficult situation without complaining.

A chip off the old block

This is an informal expression used to refer to someone who resembles their father or mother in character.

When the chips are down

This is an informal expression used to mean that a very serious situation has arisen.

Chuck something away

To chuck something away is to throw something away.

Churn something out

To churn something out is to produce something in large quantities without worrying too much about their quality.

Come full circle

When something comes to a full circle, they return to a previous position.

Clean someone out

To clean someone out is to take all someone’s money.

Clean up

To clean up is to make a large profit.

Come clean / make a clean breast of it

To make a clean breast of it is to fully confess something.

Clear the air

To clear the air is to improve a tense situation by frank discussion.

In the clear

When someone is in the clear, they are no longer under suspicion or in danger.

At close quarters

Very near


This expression is used to refer to a contest won or lost by a very small margin.

Close shave / close call

An expression used to refer to a narrow escape from danger or disaster.

Behind closed doors

If something happens behind closed doors, it happens in private.

In the closet

When someone is in the closet, they are not open about being homosexual. And when someone is out of the closet, they are open about being homosexual.

Have your heads in the clouds

When you have your heads in the clouds, you are full of unrealistic ideas.

On cloud nine

When you are on cloud nine, you are very happy.

Under a cloud

When you are under a cloud, you are under suspicion of having done something wrong.

Haul someone over the coals

To haul someone over the coals is to reprimand them severely.

The coast is clear

When the coast is clear, there is no danger of being caught or seen.

On someone’s coat-tails

When you are on someone’s coat-tails, you benefit from another person’s success.

Warm the cockles of someone’s heart

To warm the cockles of someone’s heart is to give them a feeling of contentment or happiness.

Get cold feet

When you get cold feet, you lose your nerve.

Give someone the cold shoulder

To give someone the cold shoulder is to treat them with deliberate unfriendliness.

In cold blood

When someone is killed in cold blood, they are killed in deliberately cruel ways.

Collect yourself

To collect yourself is to regain your self control.

Keep someone company

To keep someone company is to spend time with them so that they wouldn’t feel lonely or bored.

Conduct yourself well

To conduct yourself well is to behave well.

In contention

When you are in contention, you have a good chance of success in a contest.

Out of contention

When you are out of contention, you have little chance of success in a contest.

Keep your cool

To keep your cool is to stay calm and controlled. To lose your cool is to become angry and agitated.

Have the courage of your convictions

To have the courage of your convictions is to act on your beliefs in spite of disapproval or danger.

Crack down on something

To crack down on something is to take strong action against it.

At cross purposes

When two people are at cross purposes, they misunderstand each other.

Cross something off

To cross something off is to delete an item from a list.

Cross swords

To cross swords is to have an argument or dispute.

Take up the cudgels

To take up the cudgels is to defend someone or something strongly.

On cue

If something happens on cue, it happens at the right moment.

Not someone’s cup of tea

If something is not your cup of tea, it is not what you like or enjoy.

It is curtains

When it is curtains for something, it reaches a disastrous end.

Be cut out for

When you are cut out for something, you have the exact qualities required for a role.

A cut above

When you are a cut above, you are better than others.

Cut and dried

If something is cut and dried, it is decided in advance.

Cut and run

To cut and run is to make a quick departure from a difficult or dangerous situation.

Cut both ways

If a point cuts both ways, it serves both sides of an argument or it has both good and bad effects.

Cut corners

To cut corners is to compromise on quality with the objective of saving time or money.

Cut a dash

If something cuts a dash, it is stylish or impressive.

Cut someone dead

To cut someone dead is to ignore them completely.

Cut in

To cut in is to interrupt someone.

Cut the mustard

To cut the mustard is to reach the required standard.

Cut no ice

If something cuts no ice, it has no effect or influence.

Cut someone out

To cut someone out is to exclude them.

Cut up rough

To cut up rough is to behave in an aggressive or awkward way.

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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