10+Useful English Idioms for Problems and Difficulties

Learn useful Idioms for Problems and Difficulties in English with meaning and examples.

List of common idioms for problems and difficulties.

(An) Uphill Climb

  • Meaning: A difficult process
  • Example: Winning back our trust after stealing is going to be an uphill climb, but we think you can do it if you’re careful to act with honesty.

(The) Last Straw

  • Meaning: A problem or insult that finally demands a response
  • Example: It’s always annoying when Rudy brings food to his office, but today he brought a durian. That’s the last straw – I’m going to complain to the boss.

Above Water

  • Meaning: Not in extreme difficulty. Especially said of finances.
  • Example: We’re not rich, but we’re keeping our heads above water.

Come Out in the Wash

  • Meaning: To be resolved with no lasting negative effect
  • Example: Right now it seems as though you have a lot of problems, but don’t worry – it will all come out in the wash.

Note: This is used most often in the construction “it will all come out in the wash.”

Cut Corners

  • Meaning: Economize by reducing quality; take shortcuts
  • Example: Let’s not cut corners on the roofing materials – with the rainstorms around here, we’d regret it later.

Cut the Gordian Knot

  • Meaning: To solve a complex problem in a simple way.
  • Example: William often sees simple solutions when the rest of us are struggling with details. He has a talent for cutting the Gordian knot.

Note: This rather uncommon idiom refers to a legend about Alexander the Great, who cut a knot with his sword when he could not untie it

Useful Idioms for Problems and Difficulties in English

Idioms for Problems and Difficulties

Get To Grips With

  • Meaning: To begin to understand and deal with something
  • Example: I think it’s time we got to grips with the problem of increasing competition.

Note: In the USA one says “come to grips with.”

Head (Go) South

  • Meaning: Decline, get worse
  • Example: The markets all headed south after the bad economic news.

In a Jam

  • Meaning: In need of help, in a difficult spot
  • Example: My roommate said he was in a jam and needed to borrow twenty dollars, so I lent it to him.

Note: Unlike “in a jam” or “in a pickle,” this may be used with the word “with” to denote being in trouble with someone.

In Hot Water

  • Meaning: In need of help; in trouble
  • Example: Cathy is in hot water with her department manager after she blew that sales presentation.

Red Tape

  • Meaning: Bureaucracy; difficult bureaucratic or governmental requirements
  • Example: The amount of red tape involved in building something in this city is unbelievable.

Start with a Clean Slate

  • Meaning: To start (something) again with a fresh beginning; to work on a problem without thinking about what has been done before
  • Example: We’ve reached a dead end with this project. I think it’s best to wait until next week and start with a clean slate.

Stumbling Block

  • Meaning: An obstacle, physical or abstract
  • Example: I enjoy this job, but the social aspects of it are hard – shyness has always been a stumbling block for me.

Think Outside the Box

  • Meaning: Try to solve a problem in an original way; think creatively
  • Example: Our product line is getting stale. We need to think outside the box and come up with creative new products.

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