10 English Idioms for Problems & Difficulties

#1 – at your wits’ end

= when you are at the limit of your mental resources, desperate and without additional options

“I’ve been trying to download the file all day and I keep getting an error message – I’m at my wits’ end!”

#2 – catch-22

= a situation in which it’s impossible to succeed because of conflicting rules or conditions

“Getting your first job is a catch-22 because companies want to hire someone with experience, but how can I get experience unless someone gives me a job?”

#3 – dodged a bullet

= barely escaped from a dangerous/disastrous situation

“One of my ex-boyfriends later became a drug dealer! I’m glad I broke up with him – I definitely dodged a bullet.”

#4 – the crux of the matter

= the most essential or main part of the problem

“Of course there are a number of things that the country needs to improve, but the crux of the matter is that the politicians are corrupt.”

#5 – grasping at straws

= when you’re desperate and you’re pursuing even the slightest hope or possibility (even if it probably won’t work)

“The police are grasping at straws because there’s virtually no evidence at the crime scene.”

#6 – in dire straits

= in a very serious, very bad situation

“Harry has been unemployed for the past three years – he’s really in dire straits.”

#7 – you’ve got your work cut out for you

= when you have a large and difficult task to do in the future

“You want to finish a four-year college degree in just two years? Well, you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

#8 – last resort

= an option you use as a “last chance” when there are no other options available

“If we can’t stay with any of our friends in London, then we can always book a hotel as a last resort.”

#9 – the tip of the iceberg

= only a small part of the problem; the biggest part of the problem is hidden

“My parents’ arguing about where to go on vacation was only the tip of the iceberg; they treated each other horribly throughout their marriage.”

#10 – a vicious cycle

= when one problem causes another problem, which then causes the first problem again

“When I gain weight, I have less energy to exercise… and when I do less exercise, I gain even more weight. It’s a vicious cycle.”

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