What Are Idioms?

Idioms are expressions which have a meaning that is not obvious from the individual words. For example, the idiom drive somebody round the bend means make somebody angry or frustrated, but we cannot know this just by looking at the words. The best way to understand an idiom is to see it in context. If someone says: “This tin opener’s driving me round the bend! I think I’ll throw it away and get a new one next time I’m in town.” then the context and common sense tells us that drive round the bend means something different from driving a car round a curve in the road. The context tells us the tin opener is not working properly and that it’s having an effect on the person using it.

Types of Idioms

verb + object/complement (and/or adverbial)
Example: kill two birds with one stone
Meaning: produce two useful results by just doing one action

prepositional phrase
Example: in the blink of an eye
Meaning: in an extremely short time

Example: a bone of contention
Meaning: something which people argue and disagree over

simile (as + adjective + as, or like + noun)
Example: as dry as a bone
Meaning: very dry indeed

binomial (word + and + word)
Example: rough and ready
Meaning: crude and lacking sophistication

trinomial (word + word + and + word)
Example: cool, calm and collected
Meaning: relaxed, in control, not nervous

whole clause or sentence
Example: to cut a long story short
Meaning: to tell the main points, but not all the fine details


Now, let’s practice, answer this idiom exercise here.


English Idioms in Use


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