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What Are Idioms? Definition and Examples


Idioms are a fascinating and integral part of the English language. They are informal expressions that convey meanings beyond their literal definitions, making them a challenge for non-native speakers to understand. Whether you are a native English speaker or someone learning the language, this post will help you deepen your understanding of idioms and improve your fluency.

What are Idioms?

Idioms are commonly used expressions or phrases whose meanings cannot be understood from the literal definition of the words used. They are figurative in nature and often involve the use of metaphorical or symbolic language to convey a specific message or idea.

For example, the idiom “kick the bucket” is used to mean “to die,” but it has nothing to do with actually kicking a bucket. Similarly, the idiom “let the cat out of the bag” means to reveal a secret, but it has nothing to do with cats or bags.

Idioms are an important part of everyday language and can vary from culture to culture, region to region, and even from generation to generation. Understanding idioms is essential for effective communication, particularly for non-native speakers or individuals learning a new language.

7 Types Of idioms

There are seven types of idioms: literal idioms, figurative idioms, colloquial idioms, regional idioms, historical idioms, sports idioms, and slang idioms.

1. Literal idioms

Literal idioms are idioms whose meanings can be understood from the literal definition of the words used. These idioms typically use words that have a straightforward, non-figurative meaning, and the meaning of the idiom can be deduced by interpreting the words in their usual sense. Here are some examples of literal idioms:

  1. Hold your horses: This means to wait or be patient and is derived from the literal meaning of holding the reins of a horse to control its speed and movement.
  2. Face the music: This means to accept the consequences of one’s actions and is derived from the literal act of a musician or performer facing the audience after a performance.

2. Figurative idioms

Figurative idioms are idioms that use words in a non-literal way, and their meanings cannot be understood from the literal definition of the words used. They often use metaphors, similes, or other figures of speech to convey a specific message or idea. Here are some examples of figurative idioms:

  1. It’s raining cats and dogs: This means it’s raining heavily, and is a metaphorical expression that has nothing to do with actual cats or dogs falling from the sky.
  2. Break a leg: This means good luck, particularly before a performance or presentation, and is a figurative expression that has nothing to do with actually breaking a leg.

3. Colloquial idioms

Colloquial idioms are idioms that are commonly used in informal or everyday language. These idioms may be specific to a particular region, group of people, or social context, and are often not used in formal situations. Here are some examples of colloquial idioms:

  1. Piece of cake: This means something is very easy, and is a common colloquial expression.
  2. Hang in there: This means to persevere or stay strong in a difficult situation and is a colloquial expression often used to offer encouragement.

4. Regional idioms

Regional idioms are idioms that are specific to a particular geographic region and are often influenced by the language, culture, and history of that region. They may be unfamiliar to people from other regions or countries, and this can sometimes lead to confusion or misunderstandings. Here are some examples of regional idioms:

  1. You’re fixin’ to” – This is a Southern American English idiom that means “you’re about to” or “you’re getting ready to.”
  2. Bob’s your uncle” – This is a British English idiom that means “everything will be alright” or “the solution is simple and easy.”

5. Historical idioms

Historical idioms are idiomatic expressions that have their roots in historical events, people, or customs. These idioms often reflect the language and culture of a particular period and can help us to better understand the historical context in which they originated. Here are some examples of historical idioms in English:

  1. Bite the bullet” – This idiom originated in the 19th century when soldiers would bite on a bullet during surgery to help endure the pain.
  2. The whole nine yards” – This idiom may have originated in World War II, where it was said to refer to the length of ammunition belts used in aircraft guns.

6. Sports idioms

Sports idioms are idiomatic expressions that are related to sports and athletic activities and are often used in everyday conversation. These idioms can be useful to express a point, provide a comparison or make an analogy in a way that is easily understood.

Here are some examples of sports idioms:

  1. Hit it out of the park” – This means to do something exceptionally well, and is a reference to a home run in baseball.
  2. Play ball” – This is an expression used to start a game or begin a task, and is often used figuratively.

7. Slang idioms

Slang idioms are idiomatic expressions that are commonly used in informal speech, and are often specific to a particular group or subculture. These idioms can be playful, humorous, and sometimes even vulgar, and are typically used to convey a sense of familiarity or intimacy with the listener.

Here are some examples of slang idioms:

  1. Chill out” – This means to relax or calm down.
  2. Bounce” – This means to leave or go away.
  3. Hang tight” – This means to wait or be patient.
  4. Sick” – This means that something is cool or impressive.
  5. Beat” – This means that something is boring or uninteresting.
  6. Lame” – This means that something is uncool or not exciting.

Slang idioms can be a fun and expressive way to communicate with friends or peers in informal situations, but it’s important to be aware of the context in which they are used and to avoid using them in more formal or professional settings.

Idioms and Conjunctions

A binomial idiom is a type of idiomatic expression that consists of two words that are joined by a conjunction, typically “and,” “or,” or “but.” Binomial idioms are often used to express a contrast or a comparison and are commonly used in English to create a more memorable and impactful expression.

Some examples of binomial idioms in English include:

  • “Hustle and bustle”
  • “Odds and ends”
  • “Ins and outs”
  • “Peace and quiet”
  • “Short and sweet”
  • “Slow but steady”
  • “Trial and error”
  • “To and fro”

Tips for Learning and Remembering Idioms

Learning and remembering idioms can be challenging because they often have figurative meanings that are different from the literal meanings of the individual words. However, there are several strategies that can be helpful for learning and remembering idioms:

  1. Read and listen to English-language media: Read books, magazines, newspapers, and websites, and listen to podcasts, radio programs, and TV shows in English to expose yourself to a variety of idiomatic expressions.
  2. Use flashcards: Write the idiom on one side of a flashcard and the meaning on the other side. Review the flashcards regularly to help you memorize the idioms.
  3. Practice using idioms in context: Try to use idioms in your own speaking and writing to help you remember them. You can also create sample sentences or dialogues to help you practice using idioms in context.
  4. Look up the meaning and origin of the idiom: Understanding the origin and history of an idiom can help you remember it more easily, as well as give you a better understanding of its meaning and usage.
  5. Pay attention to context: Idioms often have specific contexts in which they are used, so pay attention to the context in which you encounter an idiom to better understand its meaning.
  6. Group idioms by theme: Group idioms by theme, such as idioms related to food, animals, or weather, to help you remember them more easily.
  7. Use visual aids: Create images or drawings to help you remember the meaning of an idiom. For example, you might draw a picture of a “bull in a china shop” to help you remember the meaning of this idiom.

By using these strategies consistently, you can improve your understanding and recall of idiomatic expressions in English.