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Idioms with 'up' and 'down'

Helen and the cat with Alice and Tim in the sitting room


Idioms use language metaphorically. This means that the meaning of an idiom is not the same as the meanings of the individual words in the idiom. For example, if you 'go down memory lane', it means you think about the past (the metaphorical meaning), not that you walk down a street called 'Memory Lane' (the literal meaning).

Idioms are fixed groups of words. This means that the wording of an idiom can not be changed. For example, you can say 'go down memory lane', but you can't say 'go down memory street'

Idioms with 'up'

To be up: 'What's up?' means: 'What's the matter or problem?' This is often used when someone is upset or behaving strangely.
What's up
with Helen at the moment? She seems really upset.

This idiom is also used as an informal greeting.
Hi, David. What's up man?' 'Just the usual. How're you doing?

To be up someone's street: to be ideal for someone, or be related to something which someone knows a lot about.
Ask Sarah that question about football. It's right up her street: she's been a fan for ages.

To be up to my/the ears: to be really busy or occupied with something, so that you have little free time.
Tim can't help her because he is up to his ears in/with work.

To be on the up and up: to be getting increasingly successful.
His life has been on the up and up since he published his first book. Now, he's making a film in Hollywood.

To be up-to-the-minute: to be the most recent or latest; to be very fashionable.
These are up-to-the-minute statistics, and they show that the rush hour starts at 4.30, not 5.

Idioms with 'down'

To be down in the dumps: to be sad or miserable.
This idiom refers to an old use of the word ‘dumps', which was used to refer to a sad piece of music.
Helen has been down in the dumps since Michal returned to Poland.

To be/look down in the mouth: to be or look sad and unhappy.
To be down in the mouth means that someone's expression is sad; they are definitely not smiling.
Helen looks really down in the mouth at the moment, doesn't she? -Yes, she does. I think she's missing Michal.

To be down-to-earth: to be realistic or practical; to not be a dream.
In some ways, this idiom is the opposite of 'to have your head in the clouds' (to be unrealistic).
My sister's very down-to-earth. She always buys me useful presents, like kettles and tools. She never buys me anything silly and fun.

To be/look down at heel: to be or look untidy and uncared for.
This is an idiomatic reference to the condition of someone's shoes, when they are very worn and need replacing or repairing.
He seemed well-educated, but looked so down at heel. His clothes were scruffy and he needed a haircut.

To be down on one's uppers: to be very poor.
This is another idiomatic reference to the condition of someone's shoes. It means that their shoes have lost the sole and heel, only the top (upper) part of the shoe remains.
David's really down on his uppers at the moment. He lost his job, and he can't pay the rent for his house anymore.

To go down memory lane: to look back into the past, in a nostalgic and warm way.
I love school reunions. They're a lovely chance to go down memory lane.


a vet
a shortened version of 'a veterinary surgeon' (an animal doctor)

an expression of surprise or annoyance, used mainly in British English

a bloke
an informal term for 'a man'

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