Our Most Difficult Common Phrases Test


By: Jonnathan Chadwick

7 Min Quiz

Image: Hill Street Studios / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

You can do anything, but not everything. Do you know who said that? Do you know what it means? It means that you can do anything you put your mind to, but there isn't enough time in the world to do everything. If you already knew that, this quiz might be a breeze for you. 

There's an endless number of words in rotation today, and some date back to humankind's earliest recorded days. With all the words in the world, it's only fitting that we have an endless number of popular phrases. They're used for everything. Latin phrases are found all over government buildings around the world. You likely had at least one teacher who had an arsenal of phrases, ready for every moment. The sports world has its own lexicon of phrases, idioms and mantras, and it's the same with every industry from banking to Hollywood.

Your favorite musical artists have used a ton of common phrases, and you probably use them in your everyday life without even realizing it. This quiz isn't supposed to be a piece of cake, but it's not as hard as nailing jello to a tree, either. It is a bunch of common phrases. Let's see what you know about the English language and how well you can identify these common phrases.

If you're paying a 95% interest rate on your mortgage, you could say you're paying what?

Paying 95% interest on a mortgage is unheard of and illegal, and it's high enough to legitimately consider giving up an arm and a leg instead. Something that costs an arm and a leg is ridiculously expensive or taxing.


What do you need to do if your life is falling apart?

There is only one thing to do when everything around you is unraveling, and that is to pull yourself together. You definitely don't want to break a leg or bark at anything. This phrase has been around since man first needed to pull himself together.


"Would you rather drink spoiled milk or eat moldy cheese?" is an example of what?

Being between a rock and a hard place means you have to choose between two awful options. It's the same as being in a dilemma or a lose-lose situation. "Would you rather" questions usually ask people whether they'd rather choose the rock or the hard place.


What's another way to say, "I came, I saw, I conquered"?

"Veni, vidi, vici" is one of the most popular Latin phrases in modern times and is used in pop culture all over the world. The phrase is commonly attributed to military legend Julius Caesar, who used it while writing home about one of his battles.


When both students blamed the fistfight on each other, the teacher interjected and said ________.

It takes two to tango, not tangle. The tango is a popular ballroom dance that you can't dance by yourself. The phrase implies that some activity – in this case, a physical fight – requires at least two people.


Although individuals were barred from buying the property, Jake found a way to ________ by creating a business to make the purchase.

To "toe the line" is to stay within the boundaries of conformity and law. The phrase was inspired by the starting line of a footrace. To "tow the line" is an incorrect way to write the phrase and means nothing.


Why is it that people who think alike tend to hang out with each other?

This phrase isn't usually used in flattering circumstances, and it just means that people who think and look alike tend to hang out with each other. If you ask a friend why all evil people hang out together, they may reply by saying, "Birds of a feather flock together."


Even if Jess doesn't feel like going to a party, it usually just takes her favorite song to ________.

To "whet your appetite" means to sharpen your interest, and it's commonly mixed up with "wet your appetite," which means nothing. The word "whet" is pretty outdated, but it is a verb meaning to sharpen a blade.


If you calculate 18,273 x 7,463 in your head and are close to the right answer, your teacher will likely respond by saying what?

"Close, but no cigar" is a phrase that technically means "close, but not close enough," or "nice try." It is unknown exactly how the phrase originated, but one theory says that it stems from carnival stalls that used to give out cigars as prizes.


How does a journey of a thousand miles begin?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The phrase is often attributed to Confucius but was most likely penned by Lao Tzu, another Chinese philosopher. The phrase means that the longest, most complex journeys in the world begin in the simplest ways.


Today is, ________, the most important day of your life.

This is a common eggcorn that people mix up, but the correct phrase is "for all intents and purposes." An intent is a goal and a purpose is a reason – and all of these words are essentially synonyms. The phrase ultimately translates to "virtually." Today is virtually the most important day of your life.


Where is beauty found?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This phrase just means that beauty is subjective, and what one person considers ugly, another person might consider beautiful and vice versa. There is no universal definition of beauty – only what you define as beautiful.


James and Mike were able to finish one last round of golf before darkness. They made their last putts as what fell?

James and Mike played golf as dusk fell. If dust is falling from the sky, you should probably evacuate the area. Dusk is the darkest part of twilight. It occurs right after sunset but before nighttime officially begins.


In what kind of world do Wall Street bankers live?

A dog-eat-dog world is a very competitive atmosphere, where people will do anything and everything to succeed. It is sometimes mistakenly described as a doggie-dog world, which isn't a thing. Wall Street is a competitive industry, but it is not the only dog-eat-dog industry in the world.


What might you say to a friend who is way too excited to do something that is not that exciting?

Before "Curb Your Enthusiasm" became a hit show on HBO, it was a popular phrase that pretty much meant "Calm down, it's not that exciting." If someone is really excited to do something that isn't that exciting, they may need to curb their enthusiasm before being let down.


You can lead a horse to water, but what can't you do?

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. This proverb has been around forever, and it means that you can give someone all the opportunity in the world, but you can't make them seize the opportunity. They need to do it on their own.


Your colleague that likes theater might tell you to "break a leg" before your big presentation. What would your colleague that likes baseball say?

"Knock it out of the park" is the athlete's version of "break a leg," which simply means "good luck and do your best." The phrase stems from baseball, where players try to hit home runs, which are hits that sometimes go out of the park.


What phrase best describes a sarcastic statement?

A sarcastic statement is a tongue-in-cheek statement, and it stems from the facial gesture of putting one's tongue in their cheek. The facial expression resembles someone who is saying a joke in a mock serious manner.


Ashley arrived in the parking lot with a sewing needle, a coil of thread and two spare buttons in a ________ to fix Jen's prom dress.

Ashley attempted to fix Jen's prom dress in a "last-ditch" effort, not a "last-stitch" effort. A last-ditch effort is a final attempt. It stems from the military, where a last ditch would be the unit's last line of defense against oncoming forces.


Before the classroom situation could digress into utter mayhem, Mr. Johnson ________.

When a plant begins to bloom, it first sprouts buds that will develop into flowers. If you nip something in the bud, you stop it in the developmental stage, before it blooms into something bigger. To nip something in the butt means something else.


How do most people describe their first ever public speaking experience?

"Nerve-racking" can also be spelled "nerve-wracking," but it is never "nerve-wrecking." To "rack" means to cause pain, while to "wrack" means to cause damage. Most people don't like public speaking and would describe their first speaking experience as very stressful.


Why was the liquor store owner mad at the justice system after his store was robbed?

Someone who isn't punished for their bad behavior is someone who gets off scot-free, not scotch-free. Several centuries ago "scot" was a word used for tax, and people who got away without paying any taxes were people who got away scot-free.


After Jason survived the car crash and got a second chance at life, he promised not do what with it?

To "take something for granted" means you're not fully appreciating its value and have become too comfortable with it. A lot of people mistake the word "granite" for "granted," but granite is a type of stone and has nothing to do with the phrase.


What did curiosity do to the cat?

Curiosity killed the cat. If you own a cat or have ever seen a cat, you've surely noticed its curiosity. Cats are notorious for sticking their nose in everything. The phrase means that sticking your nose into places it doesn't belong could be very dangerous.


If you post a social media message asking for friends to help you move, you will only get a few, if any, responses. What can be said about those friends who respond?

The exact wording of this phrase has been under debate for a while, but "A friend in need is a friend indeed" usually means that the friend that helps you in your time of need is a true friend. Depending on the speaker's intent, however, this phrase can have a few different meanings.


How does bread always fall?

Bread always falls buttered side down. This might be a scientific fact, simply because the weight of the butter is likely to pull the bread, but as a phrase it means that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong, and it will go as wrong as possible. It is a rather pessimistic view of the world.


Benjamin Franklin was a master at killing his enemies with kindness because he knew what?

Benjamin Franklin was a master of social skills, and he was an avid believer in treating enemies with kindness. The phrase simply means it is better to lure your enemies with kindness than to attack them with anger. Franklin's original words were: "A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar."


How much is a bird in the hand worth?

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. This is one of the most popular proverbs in English, and it means that it is better to appreciate what you have instead of risking it all for something bigger. If you don't catch the two birds in the bush, you will end up with nothing.


A woman needs ________ like a fish needs a bicycle.

"A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" is a humorous feminist slogan coined in the 1970s. The phrase clearly means that women don't need men in their lives because they can do anything on their own.


When you're in Rome, how should you act?

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. This phrase holds true for whatever foreign country or city you're in, and it means that when visiting a country, it's best to follow the local rules and customs. Don't act like a visitor or do things the locals would find offensive.


According to poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, it is better to have loved and lost than to what?

It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The phrase is attributed to Tennyson and has a straightforward meaning. It is similar to the phrase "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened," which also means that experience trumps all.


If you start work at 6 a.m. every morning and party until 2 a.m. every morning, it can be said that you're living life in what manner?

To "burn the candle at both ends" means to live a hectic, unsustainable lifestyle. If you party all night and work all day, you're living an unsustainable life and will burn out quickly, just like a candle burning from both ends.


When Jessica met Jose during her semester abroad, she had no idea it would be the beginning of a _________, and the two continued traveling together.

Jessica and Jose began a whirlwind romance. "Worldwide romance" isn't a popular phrase, but it could figuratively describe people in a long-distance romance. A whirlwind romance is love that grows quickly and moves fast.


Early to bed and early to rise makes a man what, what and what?

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. Benjamin Franklin coined this phrase, and it implies that a good night's sleep (going to sleep early and waking up early) is the key to a happy life.


Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% what?

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. The quote has credibility because it is attributed to a genius, Thomas Edison, who apparently uttered the phrase.


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