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English Language Institute Blog

Celebrate Labor Day with 5 Work-Related Idioms

This Monday (September 2) is a national public holiday in the United States that honors working people and their hard work. Labor Day is always observed on the first Monday of September. Americans consider it the unofficial end of summer. After this weekend, public pools and beaches close, students go back to school and most summer events come to an end. It is normally celebrated with barbecues, parades and great discounts at furniture stores. While it’s a little sad to say goodbye to summer, having a long weekend helps ease the blow.

Let’s commemorate this holiday by learning 5 new work-related idioms. Idioms that will help us express how we are feeling during a long semester of studying hard, perhaps in New York at Pace University’s English Language Institute.


Blood, sweat and tears

Blood, sweat and tears means a lot of effort and suffering. blood-sweat-and-tears-idiom-person-runningWe use it to talk about things that are very difficult to do. Blood, sweat and tears are what we give when doing hard work. It expresses our passion for the project and how we tried our best to accomplish it. It can be used for something that we have been working on for years like a college degree or a short project like a final presentation. While we do not literally bleed, we may sweat or cry while trying to finish a project.

Example sentence: I put my blood, sweat, and tears into writing that research paper and my professor only gave me a C.


Keep (your) nose to the grindstone

Keep (your) nose to the grindstone means to continue to work very nose to grindstone idiom picturehard without stopping. It originated from the practice of grinding knives on stone. People who did this would bend over the stone or sometimes lie on their front close to the stone and spin the stone until the knives were sharpened. Being so close to the stone is dangerous but the people continued to work until the job was done.

Example sentence: To succeed in law school the first year, you really need to keep your nose to the grindstone.


Burn the candle at both ends

Burn the candle at both ends means to get little sleep burn the candle at both ends idiom picturebecause you are busy. It means you are working late into the night and getting up early in the morning to work again. We usually encourage people who are burning the candle at both ends to take a break and relax to avoid getting sick or burned out.

Example sentence: With the deadline only one week away, he has to burn the candles at both ends to finish his essay draft.


Give it 110%

Give it 110% means to make the maximum possible effort. give it 100 percent picture of busy personIt is not possible to do something more than 100%. Saying that you did something at 110% is an exaggeration and expresses how hard you worked.

Example sentence: She gave 110% every day until her boss noticed and gave her a $10,000 raise.


(To be) ahead of the game

Ahead of the game means to gain or maintain an advantage in a situation ahead of the game picture of people running and one person winningoften by completing a task before its given deadline or knowing the latest about an industry’s trends.

Example sentence: I think if I get half of the assignment done by tomorrow, I am ahead of the game.


I hope you enjoyed learning new expressions and will use them often, especially during your studies. learn more idioms in NYC!  Come to New York to study English: visit the ELI website, contact the ELI or apply here.


Word List:

  • ease the blow (v. idiom): to make something easier or less painful
  • commemorate (v.): celebrate
  • burn out (v. idiom): to get very tired after working for many years doing the same job

WRITTEN BY LISA KRAFT