How much risk do you take? Or do you prefer to play it safe? Here’s a list of the most common risk and safety idioms in English.
You can use these to talk about your personal situation and decisions, your career and business, and also risk of physical danger.
You can use many of these risk idioms to talk about general or business risk.
take a (calculated) risk = if you take a “calculated” risk, you think that it isn’t a very big risk at all
“I’ve taken a calculated risk and decided to put some money into shares.”
take a gamble / a chance = this is more risky, because you don’t have much information about your choice of action
“Lets take a gamble and go to the new restaurant in town.”
play with fire = take a big risk
“You’re playing with fire if you join a street gang.”
put all your eggs in one basket = only keep one option open (so not “spreading the risk”)
“You’re putting all your eggs in one basket if you only serve one market. What happens if the market disappears?”
skate on thin ice = do something that could cause you a lot of trouble
“He’s skating on thin ice by leaving all his exam revision to the last minute.”
be high-stakes = to risk a lot of money
“Property development can be a high-stakes venture.”
have a lot to lose = when you can lose everything if you aren’t successful
“We have a lot to lose if they don’t accept our proposal.”
stick your neck out = be willing to take a risk – often for other people
“I’m going to stick my neck out for you and tell the boss that the mistake wasn’t your fault.”
throw caution to the wind = not care that you’re doing something risky
“He threw caution to the wind and spent all his money on a boat.”
Physical Risk Idioms
These idioms suggest physical danger or even loss of life.
dice with death = take a big risk that could kill you
“You’re dicing with death if you overtake on this stretch of the road.”
risk life and limb = risk your life
“The coastguards risk life and limb when they go out in stormy conditions.”
take your life in your hands = do something very dangerous
“Every time I drive here, it feels as if I’m taking my life in my hands.”
These idioms are all about safety:
play it safe = don’t take any chances
“She’s always played it safe in her career choices.”
stay / be on the safe side = not take any risks
“We decided to leave an hour early to be on the safe side.”
have nothing to lose = when you won’t risk anything
“You should accept the promotion – you have nothing to lose.”
keep your head down = not draw attention to yourself (opposite of “sticking your neck out”)
“I’m just going to keep my head down at work for the next few weeks, until everything settles down.”
watch your step = be especially careful
“He needs to watch his step for the next month after making such a huge mistake.”
be wrapped up in cotton wool = keep yourself (or someone else) very safe
“I’m not taking any health risks at the moment. I’m wrapping myself up in cotton wool!”
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