English three-word phrases

Three word expressions are common in English. Practising them and using them when you speak will help you sound more natural.

Here are ten common English expressions, along with an explanation and example sentence.

Black and white
Dos and don’ts
Haves and have nots
Ins and outs
Kiss and tell
Odds and ends
P’s and Q’s
Pros and cons
Rights and wrongs
Tried and tested

black and white = something which is extremely clear: “He told her in black and white that she couldn’t leave the house while he was out.”

dos and don’ts = the rules: “There are various do’s and don’ts about driving in the UK.”

haves and have nots = people who are rich and those who are not: “In London you can find the haves and have nots of the population.”

ins and outs = the details: “I don’t know the ins and outs of the situation, so I can’t really advise you.”

kiss and tell = when someone sells a story of themselves and a famous person: “The British tabloids are famous for publishing kiss and tell stories.”

odds and ends = small pieces of various items: “She made a stew with the odds and ends she found in the fridge.”

P’s and Q’s = manners (such as please and thank you): “Mind your P’s and Q’s when you visit them!”

pros and cons = advantages and disadvantages: “There are a few pros and cons that we should consider before buying a new house.”

rights and wrongs = all the good points and bad points of a situation: “Regardless of the rights and wrongs of company policy, you need to give a month’s notice.”

tried and tested = something which has been well tested: “Using salt is a tried and tested way of getting red wine out of a carpet.”

Here are ten more expressions:

Ups and downs
Come and go
Back and forth
Dribs and drabs
Said and done
Cat and mouse
Trial and error
Flesh and blood
Down and out
By and large

ups and downs = very good times and very bad times: “They have a lot of ups and downs in their relationship.”

come and go = use somewhere as your base: “Feel free to come and go as you please!”

back and forth = not to stay still, but to keep travelling between two places: “I’m so glad I’m moving. I was getting sick of going back and forth every day. Now my journey to work will be a lot quicker.”

dribs and drabs = not a steady amount of something: “The marathon runners finished in dribs and drabs.”

said and done = to have the final word on something: “When it’s all said and done, the new reception area is going to be a credit to the company.”

cat and mouse = doing something in the same way that a cat plays with a mouse: “The guerillas played a cat and mouse game with the much better-equipped army.”

trial and error = to do something new by making experiments and occasionally failing: “The new computer system has been installed. But it’s a bit trial and error at the moment – nobody really knows how to use it.”

flesh and blood = your family: “I have to help him if I can – he’s my flesh and blood.”

down and out = someone who has no money at all who has to live on the street: “There are too many young down and outs in London.”

by and large = generally: “By and large, our customers prefer good service to low prices.”

And a further ten expressions:

Up and running = in operation: “The new company is now up and running.”

Noughts and crosses = a game where you take it in turns to put your symbol (either a nought or a cross) into one of nine spaces. The idea is to have a row of either three noughts or three crosses, but your opponent tries to block you. The game looks like this:


Bring and buy = a fair where people try to raise money for a cause by bringing something that other people might want to buy: “I’m making a cake for the school’s bring and buy next week.”

Hide and seek = a children’s game where one child hides and the others try to find him / her: “Someone’s been playing hide and seek with the TV remote control again!”

Around and about = a vague phrase to avoid saying where you have been exactly: “Where have you been – I’ve been worried!”
“Oh, around and about, you know.”

To and fro = another way of saying “back and forth”: “I’m exhausted – I’ve been going to and fro all week!”

Over and out = something you say to show you have come to the end of your message: “The last thing they heard from the pilot was ‘over and out’.”

Done and dusted = properly finished: “Well, that’s this project done and dusted. We need a holiday now.”

Dead and buried = something that will not happen: “That idea is now dead and buried – the Executive Committee decided some time ago to go with another proposal.”

Wine and dine = to entertain someone lavishly: “He’s well-known for wining and dining his business partners.”

Bread and butter = your main source of income, or the most important issue: “Health and education are the bread and butter issues facing the UK government.”

Spick and span = very tidy and clean: “Her house is spick and span at all times.”

Wheel and deal = to make deals when buying and selling things: “If you need a new car, try speaking to John. He’s a bit of a wheeler and dealer!”