Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Idiomatic pairs of adjectives

There are many idioms formed by two words joined by the conjunction and. You can have:
  • adjective and adjective: high and dry
  • noun and noun: body and soul
  • verb and verb: wait and see
  • adverb and adverb: here and there
  • preposition and preposition (usually identical pairs): on and on.
  • two words of different categories joined by "and": by and large (preposition and adjective), home and dry (noun and adjective).
Today, we are going to deal with "adjective and adjective" idioms. They are usually two adjectives with similar meanings that reinforce the idea given by each of them. As in other idioms, the order of the elements cannot be changed: You can say "alive and kicking", but "kicking and alive" is not possible.

Let's see some of them:
  • Alive and kicking (also alive and well): Well and healthy, active. It is disappointing to see that racism is still alive and kicking.
  • Safe and sound: unharmed and healthy after going through a difficult situation: We drove along a narrow, winding road, but we arrived home safe and sound. 
  • Cut and dried: decided and determined beforehand, lacking freshness and spontaneity, decided in a way that cannot be changed: When it comes to the music industry, there is no cut and dried formula for success.
Cut and dried

  • Hale and hearty: healthy and strong: He didn't look as hale and hearty as his wife, but for a man in his late fifties, he looked good.
  • Bright and breezy: cheerful and full of energy: Maggy is always bright and breezy in the mornings. 
  • Fair and square: honestly and according to the rules: The Socialist Party won the election fair and square. In a direct way that is easy to understand: I told him fair and square to go away.
  • spick and span: neat and clean: Mary's house is always spick and span. She's so houseproud!

  • Free and easy: relaxed: Life is never going to be as free and easy as it used to be when we were young.
  • Sick and tired: annoyed or fed up with someone or something to the point of losing one's temper: I'm sick and tired of wasting my time at long, poinless meetings.
  • Meek and mild: quiet, gentle, and always ready to do what other people want them to do, without expressing their own opinions. "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild" is a christian hymn
  • Short and sweet: dealt with very quickly, to the point: We haven't got much time, so I'll keep it short and sweet.
  • First and foremost: most important. First and foremost, I would like to thank you all for coming. (Sometimes we leave the most important thing till the end, in which case, we use "last but not least")
  • Black and white: having no colours except black, white and shades of grey: A black and white film / photograph / television. The expression "in black ad white" means "in writing" or "in print": I never thought they'd put it in black and white on the front page.
  • High and dry: stranded, in a difficult situation, without help or money: When we were about to catch the bus, the driver set off and left us high and dry.
Now you can check what you have learned by doing this exercise:

Many of these idioms can be heard in songs. Here are a few:
Alive and kicking by Simple Minds

Sick and tired by Anastacia
High and dry by The Rolling Stones or Radiohead, and also in the song "Water of love", by Dire Straights.

Safe and sound by Capital Cities or by Taylor Swift:

Do you know any other song in which any of these idioms can be heard? 

Edit: an anonymous reader suggested "That's me", by Abba, in which you can hear the idiom mild and meek.


  1. Hi this is really nice blog thanks for posting it...
    It is really very helpful....

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  2. You can hear "meek and mild" in a song by Abba called "That's me".

    1. Thank you very much! I'll add it to the list! Cheers!


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