Idioms or idiomatic phrases exist in every language worldwide and are part of the rich tapestry of figurative language. When looking at idioms, it’s important to remember that they are a play on words.
Unlike verbs or nouns, idioms and phrases aren’t meant to be taken seriously, and we can’t understand them by considering each word in the phrase as fact. For example, let’s look at the common idiomatic phrase, ‘chickened out.’ If taken literally, you might conjure up an image of a chicken, but not much else. This phrase means someone didn’t do something because of fear, because they didn’t want to, or because they were nervous. Let’s take a look at it in an example sentence.
In this case, the person decided not to tell their teacher that the work wasn’t completed because, presumably, they were scared or worried about the reaction.
Idioms are examples of figurative language. They allow speakers to play around with language, which can be fun to learn.
Idioms and phrases are expressions that take literal language and turn it on its head by inferring meaning from the phrase. Idioms are also heard daily in advertising, marketing, and common speech, and if learned and expressed correctly, they can help you to shorten and simplify complex ideas.
Idioms are also used for:
Idioms are heavily intertwined into the culture because they come from people. Many idiomatic phrases are also related to the cultural history of a specific place, where you gain insight into the speaker’s societal standards, morals, ethos, and experiences through the idiom used.
Let’s look at some idioms with a long history that we still use today.
‘Bite the bullet.’
‘All hands on deck’
‘Putting the cart before the horse.’
‘Hit the books.’
Idiom meaning: To study hard.
‘Hit the nail on the head.’
Idiom meaning: To understand something perfectly.
‘Pull yourself together.’
Idiom meaning: Calm down or collect yourself.
‘Best of both worlds’
Idiom meaning: The advantages of one situation without the cons.
‘On cloud nine.’
Idiom meaning: Pleased and content.
If you want to learn more about English idioms and phrases, we’ve got a list of common idioms and a complete guide to English idioms for kids; and remember, idioms are fun to master. Every time you learn a new one, write them down and check their meaning.