What is an Idiom? Definition & Examples


The use of English idioms, proverbs, and phrases is a significant component of the English language and plays a vital role in day-to-day communication. They often appear in both written and spoken English and are quite common. To master the usage of idioms you will need to familiarise yourself with the meaning of idioms as well as the context in which it is used since idioms may not always make literal sense. Learning idioms may seem to be a lot of effort, but it's also a lot of fun, particularly when you compare idioms of the English language to the idioms of your own language.

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This tutorial will help you to take the first step in understanding what idioms are and their usage. Improving your command of popular idioms and expressions is one of the best ways to make your English appear more natural to native speakers.

An idiomatic expression is like figurative language; Figurative language refers to the practice of using words in an illustrative or unusual way.

In most cases, it’s frequently not clear what's being said if interpreted word by word. It is important to have a working knowledge of its application. You may use similes, metaphors, and idioms to compare or explain things in a unique manner.


An expression, phrase, or word which has a figurative meaning that is usually understood by native speakers is referred to as an idiom, also known as an idiomatic expression. The word "idiom" originates from the Greek word "idios," which literally means "personal." It is a term that is often used by a certain group of people.

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Idioms do not always imply the meaning that is implied by the words. However, there is a deeper significance behind them.

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In situations when we want to use a phrase that isn't clear we often use "idiom", like "kick the bucket," which means "die." Idioms are very important for the development of language. They provide a purpose that, in many instances, cannot be accomplished by literal meanings. We use them on a daily basis, and sometimes we do so without even being aware that what we say will make no sense if we remove the meaning that is generally attached to an idiom. If you are learning a new language, you may find that idioms are the most difficult to translate.


A comparison of two different things that are not alike, made using the words "like" or "as," is known as a simile.

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  • Idiom − As cool as a cucumber

  • Sentence − I was as cool as a cucumber when I went for my driving test.

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A figure of speech used to compare or clarify ideas. When someone compares one item to another, they are using a metaphor.

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  • Idiom − Walking dictionary

  • Sentence − Philip is a walking dictionary.

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Pull the plug

  • Meaning − To stop something from happening or continuing, quit, finish, wind up.

  • Sentence − The company pulled the plug on the deal.

Piece of cake

  • Meaning − Easy or simple

  • Sentence − I thought the exam would be difficult, but it was a piece of cake.

On the ball

  • Meaning − Be alert, prepared, and active

  • Sentence − The cops in this town are always on the ball.

Hit the hay

  • Meaning − To go to bed or go to sleep.

  • Sentence − Hey David! Hit the hay now or else I will hit your head.

Head in the clouds

  • Meaning − Be absentminded, impractical, or living in a fantasy.

  • Sentence − My sister’s head is in the clouds if she thinks she will become a singer.

Not the brightest bulb in the box

  • Meaning − Not able to learn things quickly, not very intelligent.

  • Sentence − Michel is not the brightest bulb in the box when it comes to maths.

Heart in your mouth

  • Meaning − Anxious, nervous, or extremely frightened

  • Sentence − My heart was in my mouth when I walked into her office.

Dead as a doornail

  • Meaning − Dead or no longer active or popular

  • Sentence − The cops found a guy in the alley nearby. He was dead as a doornail.

Go bananas

  • Meaning − To become extremely angry, to go crazy.

  • Sentence − Mom will go bananas if she sees this mess.

Cutting corners

  • Meaning − To discover a quick or affordable solution.

  • Sentence − He cut a few corners to get the project finished on time.

Disadvantage of Idioms

We should consider idioms more carefully for the following reasons −

  • Non-native speakers might not understand the idioms - It is a common observation that people who aren't fluent in English may "get the first meaning but not the intended meaning."

  • Idioms can be glossed over and disregarded if they are used too often, which means that any point you were trying to make will be missed.

  • A possibility that while translating idioms may translate improperly into other languages or can be perceived differently in other cultures, where the meaning is entirely different.

Advantage of Idioms

  • Using idioms in your writing is one way to make it more interesting. Idioms are very helpful since they provide you with a unique and different approach to convey your thoughts and feelings.

  • Though as a rule idioms don't help to clarify concepts, they may make your writing −

    • Less formal (idioms provide a sense of friendliness and informality).

    • Shorter (Idioms can be shorter than other ways of explaining the same thing).

  • Allows us to use fewer words and, on occasion, express something exactly while conveying an idea quickly. "Seeing him gave me butterflies."


The tutorial concludes by giving the following key points on how to use idioms effectively: - refrain from using them while writing for a global audience. If applicable, use idioms to provide a feeling of informality and cut down on wordiness.


Q1. Match the following idiom to its correct meaning?

a) Heart of gold i) Difficult situation
b) Kettle of fish ii) Raining heavily
c) Raining cats and dogsiii)To be abandoned or a controversial issue
d) A hot potatoiv) Kind





Q2. How does improving your command of popular idioms and expressions help you?

Ans. It makes your English appear more natural to native speakers.

Q3. What is an idiom?

Ans. An expression, phrase, or word which has a figurative meaning that is usually understood by native speakers is referred to as an idiom, also known as an idiomatic expression.

Q4. How does idiom help your writing?

Ans. Idioms make your writing less stuffy and more succinct.

Q5. What happens if idioms are used too commonly in your writing?

Ans. Idioms can be glossed over and disregarded if they are used too often, which means that any point you were trying to make will be missed.

Updated on: 04-Jan-2023


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