IELTS reading practice – idioms

Read the following passage and then answer the questions given below it.

Famine has taken a heavy toll of thousands of lives in Somalia. At the same time a civil war is going on. Those engaged in it have an axe to grind and are least concerned about the starvation deaths around them. They are trying to fish in troubled waters. Unless the warlords cooperate, the yeoman’s service will end in smoke and in spite of going through fire and water those engaged in this noble task will not be able to reach the needy to alleviate their miseries.

1. What does the phrase ‘an axe to grind’ mean?

a) do an arduous task

b) take revenge

c) have a selfish motive

d) motivate people

2. What does the idiom ‘to fish in troubled waters’ mean?

a) to exploit a situation for personal gains

b) to go about helping people in trouble

c) to enjoy taking risks

d) to salvage as much as possible in a bad situation

3. What does the phrase ‘yeoman’s service’ mean?

a) difficult service

b) a good deed requiring considerable effort

c) good service

d) ploughing the field

4. What does the idiom ‘will end in smoke’ mean?

a) will create confusion

b) will burn away

c) will bring darkness

d) will end in nothing

5. What does the idiom ‘going through fire and water’ mean?

a) have a varied experience

b) take all sorts of risks

c) pass through difficult times

d) risk natural calamities


1. Have a selfish motive

2. To exploit a situation for personal gain

3. A good deed requiring considerable effort

4. Will end in nothing

5. Taking all sorts of risks

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I'm Manjusha. This is my blog where I give IELTS preparation tips.

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