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 English Vocabulary for ESL learners 


Fixed expressions where two words are joined by a conjunction or a preposition

Binomials, or binomial expressions, are frequently used by native speakers of English. The word order of a binomial pair is usually fixed, and to use them in a different order would sound strange to a native speaker.
Here are some common binomials:

Aches and pains Minor pains and a feeling of discomfort, especially in the muscles. After a hectic outing with the kids I had aches and pains all over!
Alive and well In good physical condition The search party found the stranded hiker alive and well.”
Back and forth Going to and from a place. He's tired of travelling back and forth to London.
Bits and pieces Small items or personal belongings. Here's a cupboard where you can put all your bits and pieces.
Bit by bit Gradually; little by little; a small amount at a time. They renovated the old house bit by bit.
Black and blue Sore and bruised The boy was black and blue after falling off his bike.
Black and white  Something clear to understand or something in writing  Climate change is not black-and-white issue for me. 
Born and bred Be born and grow up in a particular place. I was born and bred in Madrid.
Bright and early Early in the morning My dad goes off bright and early every Saturday morning to play golf.
By and large On the whole, generally. He can be difficult but by and large he's a good kid.
Cloak and dagger Refers to stories or situations that involve intrigue, secrecy, espionage or mystery. My young brother loves cloak-and dagger spy novels.
Comings and goings How people keep arriving at and leaving a place  She observed the comings and goings of guests at the party. 
Cut and dried  Clear and definite or unchangeable. There is no cut-and-dried solution to the problem.
Do's and don'ts A set of basic rules. There's a list of Dos and Don'ts on the wall for everyone who uses the kitchen.
Done and dusted Completely finished. We've finished the project. It's all done and dusted, so let's go and get a bite to eat!
Down and out  Without any money or means of support   After losing his job, car and home, he was completely down and out
Dribs and drabs Little by little; in small numbers or amounts Instead of the crowd expected, people arrived in dribs and drabs.
Fair and square In an honest and open manner Gavin won the competition fair and square - no doubt about it.
Far and wide Over a large geographical area. People came from far and wide to visit the exhibition.
First and foremost What is most important. She went into politics for a while, but first and foremost she was a writer.
Give and take Make mutual concessions or find a compromise. Most relationships require some give and take.”
Give or take More or less; plus or minus an amount or number. I'll be there at 9 a.m. give or take 5 minutes.
Hard and fast Fixed and strongly binding The administration established hard-and-fast rules for every procedure.
Haves and have-nots Rich and poor people Our aim is to reduce the gap between the haves and have-nots in our society.
Heart and soul Make a lot of effort to do something. Paul put his heart and soul into the project. Let's hope it will be a success.
Here and there In various different places We found some mushrooms here and there in the woods.
High and dry In a difficult situation without resources or assistance Those who lose their jobs may be left high and dry.
High and low Everywhere I searched high and low for my keys but couldn’t find them.
High and mighty Superior, haughty, full of self-importance She was too high and mighty to tidy up after herself.”
Hot and bothered Agitated, flustered or worried There's no need to get all hot and bothered. It's just an English test!
Hue and cry Loud opposition to something There will be a great hue and cry when the measures are announced.”
Hustle and bustle Noisy activity and surroundings. John moved to a small village to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Ins and outs The finer details of something. I heard he was arrested but I don't know the ins and outs of the story. 
Laughter and tears Joy and sorrow The family reunion was a blend of laughter and tears
Leaps and bounds Very quickly and greatly. Silvia's English has improved in leaps and bounds this year.
Loud and clear Easy to understand. The message was loud and clear; everyone understood.
Make or break Will lead to either success or failure This is a make-or-break collection. Our future depends on it.
Mix and match Put different things together e.g. clothes, furniture… In our house we like to mix and match different styles of furniture.
Neat and tidy With everything in good order. I don't know how you manage to keep your desk so neat and tidy.
Now and again
Now and then
Sometimes but not very often We don’t eat out often but now and again wo go to a local Italian restaurant.”
Now or never At the present moment because you may not get another chance Go on! Ask him for an autograph. It’s now or never!
Null and void Have no legal force or be invalid. The agreement was declared null and void.

Please note that British English spelling is used on this website.

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