English Phrases to speak about ability and progress

We must equip ourselves with the right vocabulary for speaking in English about skills and abilities because in today’s world performance is what counts. Thus leading to frequent discussions related to skills and abilities.

  1. When you are attending a training session in your office you may have to refer to it during your team meeting etc.
  2. When you are preparing for a performance appraisal you will need words and phrases that highlight your abilities.
  3. When you are appearing for any interview you may be asked about your abilities.

Not be up to much

Meaning:  Not be very good.

Usage:  She is talented but from her project report it appears that she is not up to much.

Go from bad to worse

Meaning:  (of a bad condition or situation) become even worse.

Usage: You really have to take your exams seriously, otherwise your performance could go from bad to worse.

Be better of doing something.

Meaning:  Used to suggest that somebody should do something differently.

Usage:  Looking at your score and your aptitude for counselling, I think you will be better off as a school counselor than as a lecturer.

Drop out of something.

Meaning:  Leave school or college without finishing your studies.

Usage:  It is true that some people who made it to the top, had dropped out of school or college, but those are exceptions. To do well academically, you have to work hard.

By comparison

Meaning:  Used for talking about ways in which two people or things are different.

Usage:  John and George are equally good at mathematics, but by comparison George also has the ability to analyse a problem instead of just following the book.

In your element.

Meaning:   Doing what you are good at and enjoy.

Usage:  Mary is at last happy with her new role in her office. She is in her element.

Think on your feet.

Meaning:  To be able to think and react to things very quickly.

Usage:  To be good at chess you  need many hours of practice and also be able to think on your feet.

Go far.

Meaning:  Be successful in the future.

Usage:  Hardwork, dedication, passion and above all, patience are the key ingredients that help you go far.

It's early days.

Meaning:  It’s too soon to know how something or somebody will develop.

Usage:  I think John will be the next football coach but as for how well the team will perform, it’s early days.

Sit back

Meaning:  Relax, especially by not doing anything or not getting involved.

Usage:  In team work, you have to be an active participant. You can’t just sit back.

Come up with something.

Meaning:  Produce ideas or a solution to something.

Usage:  The teacher encouraged the students to express their ideas about the project and come up with something innovative.

Know your stuff.

Meaning:  Know a lot about a particular subject

Usage:  As a professional musician he knows his stuff.

Do your best.

Meaning:  Try as hard as possible to achieve something.

Usage:  She wanted to be the topper in the class and  did her best in the exams.

Get on.

Meaning:  Make progress.

Usage:  At first I was apprehensive about the course, but I’m getting on well now.

Thanks to somebody/something.

Meaning:  Used to say that somebody or something is responsible for something.

Usage:  Thanks to the revision exercises held over the last two weeks, I’ve done so well in my exams.

Bring out the best/worst in somebody.

Meaning:  Make somebody behave in the best or worst way that they can.


(1) A person who is good with people management skills will be able to bring out the best in others.

(2) Sometimes, a bad situation can bring out the worst in people.

Be out of touch with something.

Meaning:  Not  know or understand recent ideas in a particular subject or area.

Usage: I was always passionate about technology but with age I find myself out of touch with it.

Get/start off on the wrong foot.

Meaning:  Make a bad start at a relationship.

Usage:  I remember how we got on the wrong foot with each other during early college days. We are now great friends.

Pull your weight.

Meaning:  Work as hard as everyone else in a job or activity.

Usage: Being an introvert usually leaves other people assuming that you don’t pull your weight.

Don't think much of.

Meaning:  Have a low opinion of somebody/something.

Usage: Our neighbours across the street tend to gossip a lot. We don’t think much of them.

Think the world of.

Meaning:  Feel great love or affection for someone.

Usage: My brother has been such an inspiration that I think the world of him.

Think a lot of.

Meaning:  Have a high opinion of someone.

Usage:  Our school principal is a very kind and wise man. All the teachers and students alike, think a lot of him.


Exercise 1

Cross out the wrong word

  1. Think on your foot/feet  and you will do well.
  2. By compare/comparison  she is a more able candidate.
  3. If in this term, you don’t fare well, your performance can go from bad to worse/worst.
  4. You will definitely be better/best of doing the physics experiment for the competition.
  5. It’s early/earlier days as far as the new team is concerned.
  6. You are not On/In your element today and I can tell that from your performance.

Exercise 2

Organize these words into a sentence and add only one (missing) word.


his|on feet|can|he

Answer: He can think on his feet.

  1. she|her|far|career|in|will| {go}
  2. was|element|I|at|my|university| {in}.
  3. came|good|she|ideas|with|some|{up}.
  4. sat|did|and|he|nothing| {back}.
  5. college|drop|did|why|she|of|{out}?
  6. to|went|from|worse|it| {bad}.

Exercise 3

Complete the sentences. Then underline the full idioms and verbal phrases.

  1. Most of the group are making good progress. By {comparison}, Sam is quite slow.
  2. The new waiter is doing quite well at the moment, but it’s {early}days.
  3. It used to be quite a good school, but it’s not {up} to much now.
  4. I hated university, so I {dropped} out at the end of the first year and got a job.
  5. Oscar’s not very good at{thinking} on his feet; he needs time to organize his ideas.
  6. I think she’d be {better}  off living at home at her age.

Exercise 4

Complete the idioms with suitable verbs.

Example: {Be}out of touch.

  1. {Get} on the wrong foot.
  2. {Know} your stuff.
  3. {Do} your best.
  4. {Think} the world of someone.
  5. {Bring out} the best in someone.
  6. Not {think} much of someone.
  7. {Pull} your weight.

Exercise 5

Complete the dialogues.

  1. How are you {getting} on? ~ Quite well, actually I got good marks last term.
  2. Is she good at her subject? ~ Not really. She’s a bit {out} of touch.
  3. Did she like the course? ~ No, she didn’t think {much} of it.
  4. What’s the problem with Eric? ~ He’s just not {pulling} his weight.
  5.  Is Mr. Hall a good teacher? ~ Oh yes, he knows his {stuff}.
  6. Did Nadia pass the exam? ~ Yes, {thanks} to her uncle, he helped her a lot.
  7. What went wrong between you and the teacher? ~ We started off on the wrong {foot}.
  8. Good luck. ~ Thanks. I’ll {do} my best.

Speaking activity @ WhatsApp Group

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