(have) half a mind to (do something)
seriously thinking about doing something, usually something bad or confrontational (although haven’t fully decided)

– examples

After hearing that her child had been caught fighting at school again, Anne had half a mind to ground him.

“He said I was the worst employee in the office? I have half a mind to go over there and punch him in the face.”


half-baked idea
(also: half-baked scheme)
an idea that has not been properly thought through

– examples

Dave is filled with dreams and half-baked schemes.

“I can’t believe I agreed to follow you and another of your half-baked ideas.”


hang by a thread
surviving, but only just surviving

– examples

The car accident was awful, and for a while his life hung by a thread.

“Their marriage is hanging by a thread. In fact, I have heard she is thinking of moving back in with her parents.”


(a) happy medium
a compromise with which everyone is OK; a safe compromise that upsets nobody

– examples

The world needs to reach a happy medium of quality of life and care for the natural environment.

“If you want him to stay with you, you have to find a happy medium; you can’t get everything you want.”


a hard act to follow
a person or act that is of a very high standard; very difficult to replace, or repeat

– example

The last boss was much-loved, and while replacing him will be a hard act to follow, Mr Jones has started well.

“The 6-1 win over United was always going to be a hard act to follow, but I expected them to be better than that: they were rubbish!”


(my) hands are tied
nothing a person can do about a situation (even if they wanted to) because other factors or rules are in control

– examples

Although Dave knew Anne needed his help, he found that his hands were tied by the promise he had made to his wife.

“I know you want your money back, but I’m afraid my hands are tied: company policy is to not give refunds. I’m very sorry.”


(my) hands are full
to be so busy that cannot take any more projects (cannot carry anything else)

– examples

Their hand have been full since having the twins, but slowly they have been getting used to the new lifestyle.

“I’d love to help, but my hands are full covering Dave’s work while he is on holiday.”


hard on (somebody's) heels
(also: hot on (someone’s) heels)
to be chasing someone, and be very close to them

– examples

Last week we saw a pickpocket running down the street, the victim hard on his heels.

The league is a two-horse race: City leading, with United hot on their heels. The other teams are a long way behind.


hard up
to have little money at this time

– examples

Many elderly people in this country are hard up, with no income and a small state pension.

“I’m sorry to ask, but can I borrow $10? I’m a bit hard up at the moment.”


hard to come by
rare; difficult to find

– examples

Good Mexican food is hard to come by in this country.

“We can’t let Anne leave: loyal staff who are willing to put in extra hours are hard to come by, so we should do everything we can to keep her.”


(a) hatchet job
criticism (often in newspapers or on TV) that wildly destroys somebody’s reputation and does not care

– examples

The show’s audience numbers are down since the Times published a hatchet job on
opening night.

“I’m sorry, but this article is nothing more than a hatchet job on his reputation. There is no evidence, and no real argument, in anything it says.”


have (your) work cut out
it will be a very difficult job to do; a very difficult thing to achieve

– examples

He had his work cut out to finish it all before the boss returned, but somehow he managed.

“You know she is interested in Clive, right? You’ll have your work cut out against him trying to convince her that you are the man of her dreams.”


have (your) head in the clouds
to be a day-dreamer; to not understand reality

– examples:

Dave walked around the field, his head in the clouds, imaging life as a bird.

“If you think I’m going to give you a pay rise, I’m afraid you have your head in the clouds.”

“Would you stop take your head out of the clouds and concentrate for a minute?”


(my) heart isn't in it
to be unenthusiastic; to not believe in something you are doing; to not really feel like doing something

– examples:

Dave’s grades fell after he turned 16; his parents told him his exams were important, but his heart wasn’t really in his schoolwork after he discovered girls.

“I would rather have a worker who wanted to be here than someone whose heart isn’t in it. If you don’t want to be here, go home.”


(have a) heart-to-heart
to have a chat with someone about how you are feeling

– examples

They had always been friends, but after their heart-to-heart they understood each other so much more.

“I’m tired of being in this relationship. I don’t want to spend my evenings having silly heart-to-heart discussions; I want to be out doing things!”


Heaven knows
(also ‘Lord knows’, and ‘God knows’)
I don’t know; nobody knows (or only God knows)

– examples

“Heaven knows what I am going to do with my mum’s old clothes.”

“Why did she dump him?”
“Heaven knows. Perhaps she just needed a change. But I think they’ll be back together soon enough.”


heavy-handed
overly forceful; (too) strong action

– examples:

Many people believe the police would have been better with a softer approach, not the heavy-handed way they did do it.”

“He’s a good boss, but I think he’s a bit heavy-handed when it comes to discipline; Dave was 5 minutes late and was fined $100.”


hedge your bets
rather than risk losing everything on one choice, cover a few different choices

– examples:

The stock market is a risky business; rather than putting all your money in a single company an investor is probably better to hedge his bets and spread his money in a few different places.

“I’m not sure who will win, so I’m going to hedge my bets and be nice to both of them.” [/


(leave you) high and dry
other people abandon you when you need help, leaving you by yourself (and often with no way to fix the problem)

– examples

After he agreed to start the overseas office, the company then left him high and dry. It was no surprise that within 3 months he quit, and the office closed soon after.

“I always thought she was my friend, but after I said what I did she left me high and dry.”


highway robbery
when you are charged far too much money, but have no option but to pay

– examples

The recent rises in electricity prices have been, by many people, called nothing better than highway robbery.

“$5 for a bottle of water?! That is highway robbery!”


hit the books
to start studying very hard, usually to learn something quickly or for an important reason

– examples

Most people thought that Anne would struggle to pass the course, but instead she hit the books and passed in the top 5% of the class.

“I’m sorry, I can’t go out tonight: I’ve got my final on Friday and really need to hit the books if I am going to pass.”


hit the ground running
to start a new job or role with great enthusiasm, determination, or success

– examples

Dave hit the ground running at his new job: within his first week he had changed the accounts system, eliminated 20% of the wasted expenses, and hired two new members of staff.

“I’m afraid this company doesn’t give you much time to get your feet under the table; we expect you to hit the ground running.” [/


hit the sack
(usually spoken) to go to bed

– examples

Philip thought about going out to the party, but instead thought it a better idea to hit the sack; the next morning, however, he heard it was the best night out in a long time.

“Well everyone, I’m going to hit the sack: got a big meeting in the morning, so I had better get some rest.”


hold the fort
to look after running something when others are away

– examples:

While the rest of the office was in Vancouver at the conference, Anne was left to hold the fort. It was a mistake: over one week, the company lost $10 000.

“Don’t worry, go ahead. I can hold the fort for a couple of hours.”


hold (your) horses
(usually spoken) hold on; wait a minute

– example

“Hey, hold your horses. What is the rush?”


hold (your) own
to compete equally with others, usually when others think you will fail

– examples

Most people thought Dave would struggle to hold his own in a class filled with professors and mature students, but actually he did very well.

“City are playing well, and more than holding their own at the moment. I’m not sure if they can keep it up however.”


hold your tongue
(also ‘bite your tongue’)
to not say something (usually an opinion) despite really wanting to

– examples:

At the wedding Anne could hold her tongue no longer: she had to tell Philip how she felt.

“I wanted to say something, but thought it better to hold my tongue. There are some truths it is better not to know.”