What Is an Idiom? (with Examples)
Idioms (with Examples)An idiom is a commonly used expression whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of its words.
Some Common Examples of IdiomsHere are some common idioms:
- He's been pushing up the daisies for a year. (He's been dead for a year.)
- Let's paint the town red. (Let's have a good time in town.)
- She has a bun in the oven (She is pregnant.)
An Idiom Is a Form of Figurative LanguageIdioms are classified as figurative language, which is the use of words in an unusual or imaginative manner.
Figurative language includes the use of metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, euphemisms, and pun.
More Examples of IdiomsHere are some more examples of idioms:
- He was just a flash in the pan. (The idiom a flash in the pan means something that shows potential at the start but fails thereafter.)
- He is trying to be a good Samaritan. ("A good Samaritan" is a person who helps someone in need with no thought of a reward.)
- Does he have an axe to grind? ("To have an axe to grind" means to have a dispute with someone. )
- We should let sleeping dogs lie. ("To let sleeping dogs lie" means to avoid restarting a conflict.)
Thirty More Examples of IdiomsHere are thirty more examples of idioms with links to the pages explaining their origins. (The links open new tabs.)
- as mad as a hatter
- back to square one
- bite the bullet
- bite off more than you can chew
- chance your arm
- a cock and bull story
- daylight robbery
- dead ringer
- feather in your cap
- flash in the pan
- hoisted by your own petard
- if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours
- make money from old rope
- there's not enough room to swing a cat
- once the balloon has gone up
- over the barrel
- push the boat out
- raining cats and dogs
- skeletons in the cupboard
- spill the beans
- strike while the iron is hot
- swing the lead
- taken aback
- to have someone over the barrel
- throw down the gauntlet
- use your loaf
- to weep crocodile tears
- whistle for it
- whole nine yards (full nine yards)
- wolf in sheep's clothing
Why Should I Care about Idioms?Here are two good reasons to think more carefully about idioms.
(Reason 1) Foreigners might not understand your idioms.It is a well-noted observation that non-native English speakers can "understand the first meaning but not the second."
Essentially, this is a warning that any foreigners among your readers might not understand the meanings of the idioms you use (which makes perfect sense given that idioms – by definition – don't mean what their words mean).
Here are some examples of how you might tune your words for a foreign audience:
|English-speaking Environment||Option for a Non-native-speaking Environment|
|The new project is money for old rope.|
Be ready at the drop of a hat.
Such an opportunity is once in a blue moon.
The new project pays us again for our previous work.|
Be ready starting from now.
This is a rare opportunity.
Read also about foreign audiences missing word connotation.
(Reason 2) Idioms can make your writing more engaging.Idioms are classified as figurative language (the use of words in an unusual or imaginative manner). Figurative language is typically used to express an idea more clearly or more interestingly.
As a rule, idioms do not help with expressing ideas more clearly, but they can sometimes help to ensure your writing is:
- Less stuffy (idioms give a sense of informality and familiarity).
- More succinct (idioms can be less wordy than a non-idiomatic explanation).