Idiomatic expressions – Back

Written by Nigina Dustova

An idiomatic expression is a phrase or a fixed expression that has a figurative, or sometimes literal, meaning. An idiomatic expression’s figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning. In this post, we are going to learn idiomatic expressions which use the word back.


Your back is often associated with hard work. If you put your back into something, you work very hard at it.
If you pat someone on the back, you are congratulating them.
If someone is on your back all the time, they may be checking up on you.
You want them to get off your back and leave you alone.
If you have your back to the wall, literally, you are about to be killed by a firing
squad. Metaphorically, it means you are in a desperate situation.
If you want to say that someone knows very little about something, you can say:
What James knows about finance could be written on the back of a postage stamp.


1. – Listen Ben, when are you going to get out of the house and start looking for a job?
– I’m trying my best. Now would you get off my back and give me a break!
2. – I rang the police when I saw something strange going on across the road and they caught a couple of burglars red-handed!
– You certainly deserve a pat on the back!
3. If you want to criticize me, tell me to my face. If there’s one thing I hate it’s people who talk behind my back.
4. – I’ll never be able to clear the garden by Friday. It’s impossible.
– You will if you put your back into it. You don’t know what hard work is.

Exercises: Use the following idiomatic expressions with back in the sentences below:
a. backs to the wall
b. in the back of beyond
c. like the back of my hand
d. like water off a duck’s back
e. take a back seat
1. My parents moved away from the city when they retired. Now they live ________, about two hours drive away.
2. If I want to pass my exams, I think my boyfriend will have to __________ for a few weeks.
3. I get criticized a lot at work but it’s part of the job. I’m used to it now. It’s _________.
4. A lot of export companies have their __________ at the moment. Interest rates must come down even further if things are to get any better.
5. I’ve been to Dublin lots of times. I know the place _____________.

1. b; miles from anywhere. 2. e; be less important. 3. d; it doesn’t affect me. 4. a; in a very difficult situation 5. c; in a very difficult situation

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