Idioms exist in every language. An idiom is a word or phrase that is not taken literally, like “bought the farm” has nothing to do with purchasing real estate, but refers to dying. Idiom also refers to a dialect or jargon of a group of people, either in a certain region or a group with common interests, like in science, music, art, or business.
Some idioms are used by most people that speak English; others are used by a more select group.
Common idioms that refer to people include:
- A chip on your shoulder - means you are holding a grudge
- High as a kite - means you are drunk or on drugs
- Sick as a dog - means you are very ill
Idioms that refer to your actions would be:
- Rub someone the wrong way - meaning to annoy or bother
- Jump the gun - would mean to be doing something early
- Pay the piper - means you need to face the consequences of your actions
Some idioms use color words to convey other meanings. For example, there are several that use the word “blue:”
- “The blues” can refer to both a style of music and feeling sad.
- If something occurs rarely, it is said to happen “once in a blue moon”, because a blue moon is two full moons in one month, which doesn’t happen often.
- “Out of the blue” means something happens that was unexpected.
Learning a Language with Idioms
Because of idioms, learning a language can be complicated. After you can conjugate verbs, and know a lot of words, you may still have difficulty speaking the language with native users.
This is partly due to the use of idioms and would also depend of which region of a country you were in. Idiom usage is not just regional, but also varies according to people’s interests and social groups.
The best way to pick up on the meaning of certain idioms would be to converse with people and ask them for a clarification of the idiom if you are not clear about the idiom they used. There are also sites on the Internet which will help explain the meaning of idioms.
Idioms Around the Globe
There are certain things that happen in every culture and there are idioms to deal with them.
- In Norwegian and Czech, “walking around hot porridge” refers to beating around the bush, which is also an idiom meaning not getting to the point.
- If you are in Italy or Turkey and you say you are “as hungry as a wolf” then you are starving.
If it is raining in large amounts, most cultures have an interesting way of saying that:
- In English, it would be “raining cats and dogs”
- In Africa, they might say “it's raining old women with clubs”
- Many languages refer to heavy rain as coming in buckets or as rain coming out of a bucket.
- In Norway they say “it's raining female trolls”
- The Irish say “it's throwing cobblers knives”
Comparing idioms between countries can also be interesting:
- In Finnish, “with long teeth” means you are doing something that you really don’t want to do
- In French, “to have long teeth” means you are ambitious.
The key to understanding the local idioms is to listen carefully and to ask questions of local speakers.
Idioms In the Arts
There are many idioms in the field of music.
- If you “fine tune” something, you make small improvements to it.
- “Changing your tune” means changing your mind.
- If you are “whistling Dixie” or “whistling in the dark” you are overly positive about something.
- If you try and make a decision too early without knowing all the facts, people may tell you that “it’s not over ‘till the fat lady sings.”
Drama and dance have idioms, too, like:
- “Break a leg” means good luck.
- If you are a “ham” you overact.
- If you say, “it takes two to tango” you mean that more than one person is at fault or involved.
- If you “tap dance” your way out of a sticky situation, then that implies that you get out of it in a clever way.
- Being “in the spotlight” means you are the center of attention.
Remember, a group of people with shared interests such as the arts or business will have their own idioms. As with all idioms it will be easier to understand the idioms if you concentrate on what is being said and ask questions about the meanings of the idioms.
For even more idioms browse our idioms dictionary at http://idioms.yourdictionary.com/
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By YourDictionaryIdioms exist in every language. An idiom is a word or phrase that is not taken literally, like “bought the farm” has nothing to do with purchasing real estate, but refers to dying. Idiom also refers to a dialect or jargon of a group of people, either in a certain region or a group with common interests, like in science, music, art, or business.
An idiom is a phrase, saying or a group of words that has a metaphorical (not literal) meaning, which has become accepted in common usage.
An idiom’s symbolic sense is quite different from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made. There are a large number of Idioms and they are used very commonly in all languages. There are estimated to be at least 25,000 idiomatic expressions in the English language.
Idioms in fact, evolve the language; they are the building blocks of a language and civilization. They also have great intensity to make a language interesting and dynamic. Idioms bring a spectacular illustration to everyday speech. They provide interesting insights into the use of words, languages and the thought processes of their speakers. They have a sense of mystery and fun about them.
So what makes idioms difficult?
The answer is their “meaning”. Idioms are not easy to understand – especially for non-native speakers, because their meanings are usually metaphorical. This characteristic of idioms makes them strange and difficult to understand for English learners.
Top 10 Common Idioms
List of top 10 most common English idioms and phrases, with their meaning and examples for students and teachers. They are also frequently asked in competitive exams. Though the popularity of the idioms may vary from region to region, still the list is rather popular around the globe.
- piece of cake
- Meaning: something that is easy to do.
Example: Making spaghetti Bolognese is a piece of cake.
- a hot potato
- Meaning: a controversial issue or situation that is awkward or unpleasant to deal with.
Example: The subject of bullying and fighting in my school is a hot potato.
- once in a blue moon
- Meaning: very rarely.
Example: I go to visit my grandfather only once in a blue moon; he lives in a remote farm house.
- a bed of roses
- Meaning: easy option.
Example: Taking care of my younger sister is no bed of roses; she is very silly.
- raining cats and dogs
- Meaning: raining very heavily.
Example: I wanted to go to play outside, but it was raining cats and dogs yesterday.
- when pigs fly
- Meaning: something that will never happen or is impossible.
Example: William will keep quiet only when pigs fly.
- devil’s advocate
- Meaning: one who presents a counter argument.
Example: Hey Jack! You’re always playing devil’s advocate! Give it a rest and mind your own business.
- miss the boat
- Meaning: miss the chance.
Example: Peter wanted to enter the drawing competition, but he was too late to enter, and he missed the boat.
- apple of eye
- Meaning: someone very precious or dear.
Example: Every kid in the world is the apple of their parents’ eye(s).
- zip your lip
- Meaning: to stop talking.
Example: I don’t want to hear another sound out of you. Now do as you’re told and zip your lip.
Download this idioms list as PDF file
- end of the day
- end of the day Meaning to look at all the possibilities and then to make a final decision something that is said before the final facts are supplied ... Read on
- never mind
- never mind Meaning to urge somebody not to worry about something when someone gets tired trying to explain something to someone that they believe is not smart enough ... Read on
- fall out
- fall out Meaning to disagree with someone about something the result of an action when someone moves out of line to lose one’s position on something to come ... Read on
- in touch
- in touch Variants keep in touch be in touch stay in touch get in touch Meaning to remain in contact with someone, especially when separated by time or ... Read on
- eager beaver
- eager beaver Meaning someone who is very eager to perform tasks and is always offering to do more a person who does more than what is expected of ... Read on
- View All Idioms
- View the complete list of all idioms we've on our website.