One way to become a better and more interesting English speaker is to use a variety of words and phrases.
Native speakers often use very descriptive phrases to add interest in conversations. In this lesson, there are ten English phrases to talk about extremes. You can use these expressions to talk about general life, but also work and business.
Feast or famine
We use this expression to talk about the amount of work or money we have – and the fact that we often have a lot of it – or none of it. For example:
“A freelancer’s life is often feast or famine.”
This means that a freelancer has more work than he / she can do (a feast) or no work at all (a famine).
(Feast = a huge amount of food; Famine = when you starve to death)
Life or death
A life or death situation or decision is when something is urgent. The situation is very important, because somebody could die (or be in a very difficult position). For example:
“Getting food supplies to the refugee camp is literally a matter of life or death.”
Black and white
When a situation is black and white, it’s very clearly defined. For example:
“Brexit was a black and white decision for many people – whichever way they chose.”
However, life is rarely one of two extremes, so you often hear something like this:
“It’s not just black and white – there are lots of shades of grey in-between.”
Now or never
If something is “now or never”, you need to do it now, because you won’t get another chance.
“It’s now or never. If you don’t take this job, you might never get such a good offer again!”
People say that our reaction to a dangerous situation is either to fight it, or to run away from it (flight). For example:
“Our fight-or-flight response is inherited from our ancestors.”
From top to bottom
If you do something from top to bottom, you do it completely – without missing anything. For example:
“I cleaned the house from top to bottom this weekend.”
Highs and lows
The highs and lows of something are the good points and the bad points. You can use it to talk about work and careers:
“He gave a funny talk about the highs and lows of his book publishing career.”
“You can expect highs and lows when you run your own business.”
Ups and downs
This is another expression which you can use to talk about the good times and the bad times. We often use it to talk about life in general.
“We spoke about the ups and downs of being a full-time parent.”
“What are the ups and downs of everyday life in the UK?”
Peaks and troughs
This also means the high points and the low points, and we often use it to talk about finance issues or the economy. (“Trough” is pronounced “troff”).
“We get lots of peaks and troughs in sales during the year.”
“This graph shows you the peaks and troughs of the company’s performance.”
This is a really useful expression to talk about possible results of something. We often use it with the word “scenario” (meaning “result”).
“In the best-case scenario, we’ll only lose a little business. But in the worst-case scenario, we won’t be able to pay our suppliers.”
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