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Idiom List - A Comprehensive Guide to English Idioms and Their Usage

Idiom: Definition, Types, and Examples

An idiom is a phrase that, when taken as a whole, has a meaning you wouldnt be able to deduce from the meanings of the individual words. Its essentially the verbal equivalent of using the wrong math formula but still getting the correct answer. The phrase kill two birds with one stone is an example of an idiom. Fluent and native English speakers understand that this doesnt refer to harming birds or using stones, but that someone is completing two tasks at once.


Idioms are everywhere in the English language. Yet, there are teachers, especially those teaching English as a foreign language, who are reluctant to dedicate time to teaching them. They claim that even for upper-intermediate students idioms are difficult to retain and use correctly. It is true. We all know how little space, if any at all, is dedicated to teaching idioms in low-level textbooks. Even at more proficiency levels, more often than not, idioms are presented out of context and grouped in ways such as idioms containing colours or idioms with the verb take, which doesnt really help students incorporate these expressions in their everyday speech.

But, on the other hand, idioms are part of the language students are trying to learn. They are an essential part of the general vocabulary of English and for this reason, if we choose not to teach them, we will be depriving our students of a very important cultural element of the language. Most of us, teachers and students alike, are constantly exposed to music, films and series in English and idioms are just there. My students might not have a real necessity to actively use idioms, but surely they do need to understand what they mean if they want to follow a normal conversation. They might not have to actively use a lot of them, but they will need to have the most common ones in their passive knowledge if they want to maximize their understanding of the language.

What is an idiom?

An idiom is a type of phrase or expression that has a meaning that cant be deciphered by defining the individual words. Appropriately, the word idiom is derived from the ancient Greek word idioma, which means peculiar phraseology. And thats exactly what it isa phrase thats normal to fluent speakers (every language has its idioms) but strange to others.

The origin and history of the word "idiom"

The word "idiom" comes from the ancient Greek word "idioma," which means "peculiar phraseology The benefits and challenges of using idioms

Using idioms can make your language more colorful and creative. Idioms can also help you express your thoughts and feelings in a concise and vivid way. For example, instead of saying "I'm very happy", you can say "I'm over the moon". Instead of saying "She's very angry", you can say "She's blowing her top". Idioms can also make your communication more engaging and interesting, as they can add humor, irony, or sarcasm to your speech or writing.

However, using idioms can also be challenging, especially for non-native speakers of English. Idioms are often culture-specific, meaning that they reflect the beliefs, values, and traditions of a certain group of people. For example, the idiom "kick the bucket" means "to die" in English, but it might not make sense to someone from a different culture. Idioms are also context-dependent, meaning that they are appropriate for some situations but not for others. For example, the idiom "break a leg" means "good luck" in English, but it might not be suitable for a formal or serious occasion. Idioms are also fixed or semi-fixed expressions, meaning that they have a standard form that cannot be changed or modified easily. For example, the idiom "a piece of cake" means "something very easy", but you cannot say "a slice of cake" or "a piece of pie" with the same meaning.

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Therefore, using idioms requires a lot of knowledge and skill. You need to know the meaning and usage of idioms, as well as their origin and history. You also need to know when and how to use idioms appropriately and effectively in different contexts and for different purposes. You need to be aware of the tone and style of your communication, as well as the expectations and preferences of your audience. You need to be careful not to overuse or misuse idioms, as this might confuse or offend your listeners or readers. Types of idioms

Generally speaking, there are four types of idioms: pure idioms, binomial idioms, partial idioms, and prepositional idioms. Some people may consider clichés, proverbs, and euphemisms to be types of idioms as well, but they are different from idioms in some ways. Let's take a look at each type of idiom and some examples.

Pure idioms

Pure idioms are idioms whose original meaning is lost to the extent that there is no possible way to analyze the phrase logically to come to an understanding of its meaning. Unlike some of the other types of idioms listed below, these idioms tend not to have significant overlap with figures of speech like metaphors and similes, because there is no comparison or meaning that could possibly be derived from it. Examples of pure idioms include:

  • It's raining cats and dogs (it is raining heavily).

  • A chip on one's shoulder (to have a grievance or a sense of inferiority).

  • Wrap one's head around (to understand something).

  • Fit as a fiddle (to be healthy).

  • Make no bones about it (to be certain or straightforward).

Binomial idioms

Binomial idioms are idioms that involve two parts that work together or in contrast to construct an expression. The order of the words is usually fixed and cannot be changed without losing the meaning or sounding unnatural. Examples of binomial idioms include:

  • Black and white (there are clear differences).

  • Night and day (there has been a distinct and remarkable change).

  • More or less (something is close enough to correct).

  • Give or take (there is some room for error).

  • Heart-to-heart (a candid conversation between two people).

Partial idioms

A partial idiom contains a literal part and a non-literal part. The non-literal part can be modified or changed without affecting the meaning of the idiom. An example is "storm brewing in his eyes." The literal part is "in his eyes" and the non-literal part is "storm brewing," which means "anger or trouble is about to happen." Other examples of partial idioms are:

  • Bite the dust (to die or fail).

  • Cut someone some slack (to treat someone leniently or generously).

  • Lose one's cool (to become angry or agitated).

  • Pull someone's leg (to tease or joke with someone).

  • Spill the beans (to reveal a secret or information).

Prepositional idioms

Prepositional idioms are idioms that consist of a verb followed by a preposition or an adverb. The meaning of the idiom is usually different from the meaning of the verb alone. Examples of prepositional idioms are:

  • Break down (to stop working or functioning).

  • Call off (to cancel something).

  • Look after (to take care of someone or something).

  • Run into (to meet someone by chance).

  • Turn up (to arrive or appear unexpectedly).

Other types of idioms (proverbs, euphemisms, clichés)

Some people may consider proverbs, euphemisms, and clichés to be types of idioms as well, but they are different from idioms in some ways. Proverbs are short and wise sayings that express a general truth or advice. Euphemisms are mild or indirect expressions that replace harsh or unpleasant ones. Clichés are overused expressions that have lost their originality and impact. Examples of each type are:

  • Proverb: The early bird catches the worm (someone who is diligent and proactive will achieve success).

  • Euphemism: Passed away (died).

  • Cliché: Time flies when you're having fun (something enjoyable seems to go by quickly).


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