Idioms about choices, options, and alternatives are perhaps not as well known among many native English speakers. In fact, while writing this article, I found some that I had never heard of and could not understand. That is because many of them are quite old and relate to things we don’t have or use today.
Therefore our list contains 25 idioms that are among the most used and understandable when speaking about choices, options, or alternatives.
Interestingly this expression is used by the military to order a soldier to turn around and face the opposite direction. The idea is that an about-face, or about-turn, describes someone who has, changed their mind and now thinks the opposite of what they did earlier.
We did a complete about-face when we saw the flood waters coming towards us.
Or, someone who has turned around from what they were doing earlier.
- Jack didn’t buy the car, in fact, he did an about-face when we told him how expensive it was!
Beggars can’t be choosers
A person who is in a position of poverty or has no power to bargain with others cannot choose what they will be given.
- I want the new iPhone, but it’s too expensive, so I will have to settle for the old one. Beggars can’t be choosers!
To be in a catch 22 is to find yourself in a situation that has no escape without unhappy or damaging consequences.
- Dad, can you help me? I am in a catch 22 at work.
Damned if I do, damned if I don’t
Similar to catch 22, this idiom describes a situation that offers two different options, both of which will have undesired consequences.
- I don’t know what to do! I am damned if I do, damned if I don’t!
Hedge your bets
If you hedge your bets, you are avoiding committing yourself entirely to something.
- Until they pay you for the first job, hedge your bets and wait for the payment.
In a quandary
When you are in a quandary, which means you are doubtful, you are unsure of what decision or action to take during a difficult situation.
- What are you going to do? Wow! You are definitely in a quandary!
In two minds
Two people have very different ways of thinking because they have two separate minds. So, to be in two minds describes how we feel when we cannot decide whether to do one thing or another.
- I am in two minds about ending my relationship with Kenny; he is adorable, but I don’t think he is my type.
It’s a no-brainer
When the decision is so obvious and requires little or no thought, it is said to be a no-brainer.
- My homework is a no-brainer today.
It’s a win, win.
A situation that will have beneficial results for everyone involved is called a win-win scenario.
- Alice is going to the movies and Mary is going shopping, it’s a win-win.
Keep my options open
A person who does not commit to any one thing because they like to be able to choose what they want to do at the last possible moment.
- I haven’t decided which University I am going to yet. I would like to keep my options open.
My way or the highway
A forceful statement said by one person to another. It means the listener must either do what that person says or go away; they have no choice or alternative.
- It’s my way or the highway; please do as I tell you.
On the fence
A fence divides two sides, so if we are on the fence, we are undecided. We are in the middle.
- I was on the fence about which company to work for because both had offered me great jobs.
Out of the frying pan into the fire
A frying pan is used to describe a bad situation because it is a hot and unfriendly place to be. However, a fire is even worse than a frying pan. Therefore to go out of the frying pan into the fire means to go from a bad situation to an even worse one.
- Susie went out of the frying pan into the fire when she screamed at the customers.
Path of least resistance
To take the path of least resistance, this is a scientific phrase is used to describe the decision that will be the easiest to carry out and have the least amount of opposition.
- I chose to take the path of least resistance during my career.
Spoilt for choice
A spoilt person has more than what they need, therefore to be spoilt for choice is to imply that you have many good decisions available to you.
- There were so many desserts at the restaurant that I was spoilt for choice.
- Stuck between a rock and a hard place
Have you ever found yourself in a challenging position and you didn’t know what to do, then you are stuck between a rock and a hard place?
- When I was made redundant at work, I found myself between a rock and a hard place. I was too old to get another job, but I had to work because I had no savings.
The lesser of two evils
When deciding between two things and both options are not very good, (or evil we could say), then you would most likely choose the least negative option, therefore the lesser of two evils.
- I decided to fly rather than go by ship; it was the lesser of two evils.
The luck of the draw
This idiom refers to a type of lottery or game, where winners are selected by chance. We use this phrase when speaking about something that has happened outside of our control.
- It was the luck of the draw when they gave me free tickets to the concert.
The point of no return
A literal or figurative point in time where reversing or undoing an action cannot be made. To pass the point of no return means that a person is committed to the course of action that he or she is taking.
- The contracts are signed now; we have passed the point of no return.
When your first option fails then Plan B is the backup option.
- If the restaurant isn’t open, then we will go to plan B.
If you have a decision to make that is difficult to make because both options are appealing, then you are torn between them.
- I am torn between visiting my family or going away with my friends.
In many sports, a toss-up decides who will begin the game. As a coin is thrown into the air, one team will choose Heads or Tails. Heads and Tails are assigned to the coin based on the picture on each side of the coin. Depending on the side of the coin facing up when it lands will determine who wins the toss.
As an idiom, toss-up refers to deciding something based on an even chance; there is no advantage of one thing over the other.
- We couldn’t decide which movie to see; it was a toss-up.
Turn the other cheek
When someone does something unkind to you, turning the other cheek means choosing not to do the same in turn to them.
- My workmate started yelling at me today, but I just turned the other cheek.
Up the creek (without a paddle)
To be in serious trouble and without any solution or alternatives.
- When the car broke down, we were really up the creek.
- After I saw the plane engine catch fire, I realized we were really up the creek without a paddle.
Weigh the pros and cons
Just like weighing something, this expression refers to weighing up the benefits and the disadvantages of a decision and deciding which is better.
- Before you decide which University you want to attend, please weigh up the pros and cons of each of them.
The ball is in your court
This idiom means that it is your turn to make a decision or take action.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too
This idiom means that you cannot have everything you want; you have to make a choice.
On the horns of a dilemma
This idiom means that you are faced with two difficult choices and you must choose one.
This idiom means that you have no real choice at all; you must take what is offered or nothing at all.
Between a rock and a hard place
This idiom means that you are faced with two equally difficult choices and must choose one.
Six of one, half a dozen of the other
This idiom means that there is no real difference between two choices.
Take it or leave it
This idiom means that you must accept what is offered or reject it completely.
The lesser of two evils
This idiom means that you must choose between two undesirable options, and you choose the one that is less bad.
To be at a crossroads
This idiom means that you are at a point in your life where you must make an important decision that will have a major impact on your future.
Since idioms exist based on their usage, (how often different people use the same words), some of these idioms are more commonly heard in one place than another. Do you know of any other idioms relating to choices, options, or alternatives? Please, leave it in a comment below!
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