Happy World Book Day! 10 English book-related expressions

The 23rd of April sees the celebration of World Book Day, a festival organised by UNESCO to promote reading and publishing. The date was linked with books long before World Book Day came into existence (in 1995) however, with ‘La diada de Sant Jordi’, a special day for romance and literature in Catalonia. The 23rd April marks the death of both Cervantes and Shakespeare.

Apart from exchanging a rose and a book to celebrate, how about checking out these 10 book-related expressions in English, complete with examples?

  1. To take a leaf out of someone’s book.

Meaning – to follow someone’s good example.

‘I’m going to take a leaf out of your book and do 30 minutes of exercise before work every day’


  1. You can read him /her like a book.  

Meaning – you can read someone’s thoughts / motives merely by looking at them.

‘James is the perfect poker opponent: you can read him like a book!’


  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Meaning – don’t be fooled by appearances.

‘Sven the skinhead may be 7 feet tall and nearly as wide, but don’t judge a book by its cover – he’s a gentle, kind-hearted soul.’


  1. To do it by the book.

Meaning – to follow the rules / official protocol.

‘Passions were running high when they finally caught the thief and some were ready to take the law into their own hands, but they decided to do it by the book and called the Police.’


  1. To throw the book at somebody.  

Meaning – to hand down a severe punishment.

‘He was found to have robbed half the houses in the neighbourhood and the judge decided to throw the book at him by giving him a long jail sentence.’


  1. To know / try every trick in the book.

Meaning – to try everything possible to get what you want.

‘When it comes to selling used cars, Mr Wormwood knows every trick in the book.’


  1. To be in someone’s good books.

Meaning: To be in someone’s favour.

‘Mark forgot Valentine’s day, but he bought Sara a beautiful red rose for Sant Jordi, so he’s back in her good books!’


  1. To be a bookworm / to be bookish.

Meaning: Devoting a lot of team to reading / study, to be academic.

‘John is a quite bookish and always scores highly on his tests.’


  1. To cook the books.

Meaning: change the facts or figures dishonestly.

‘Harry cooked the books to hide how many cars he’d sold so that he wouldn’t have to pay the government as much tax.’


  1. In my book.

Meaning: from my perspective, in my opinion.

‘In my book, World Book Day should be a public holiday to give everyone more time to read!’


Using these idioms in class

Students match up meanings to definitions, teacher removes expressions from examples and has students put them back in.

Mime race: after learning the idioms, split the class into two teams. Put the idioms on cards. A representative from each team comes up to the front of the class, chooses a card from the pile and has to mime the idiom, eliciting it from their team. Once the team gets it, another representative comes up and chooses another card to mime. The first team to get five right wins.

Write a short story in 100 words in teams. How many of the idioms can you include?

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