Are you curious about idioms? Would you like to know what they are and how you can use them in your writing? If so, you've come to the right place. This article will teach you everything you need to know.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
Idioms are groups of words that only have meaning when interpreted as a whole. The individual words have nothing to do with the idiom's meaning.
But why do we say that something is a piece of cake to mean that it's easy? How did idioms come about, and why do they mean what they do? The answer is that it depends. We've lost trace of the source of many idioms, but the ones we know seem to come from everyday cultural experiences, albeit ones that are a little outdated. Here are some common idioms and their sources.
Note that these are all theories, and nobody knows for sure since most idioms were created decades, maybe even centuries, ago:
So why use idioms? Well, there are many reasons. They brighten up your writing, for starters. You can think of them as a splash of color on a black-and-white painting. They're also great ways to illustrate your meaning, express yourself in original ways, engage your readers with humor, and avoid repetition.
There are four types of idioms in English grammar.
Let's take a look at each of these types of idioms one by one.
Pure idioms are complete sentences with no connection between the meaning of individual words and the sentence's meaning as a whole. They're what you think of when someone says the word 'idiom.'
Here are some examples of pure idioms and their meaning:
Run like the wind. - run as fast as you can.
That ship has sailed - it's too late.
They're like two peas in a pod - they're well suited.
It takes two to tango - both parties are at fault.
They're a dime a dozen - they're worthless.
As the name suggests, binomial idioms contain two words and denote a symbiotic or opposed relationship.
Here are some examples:
Give and take - make compromises
Heart-to-heart - talk honestly about feelings
Wine and dine - entertain someone at a restaurant
Dos and don'ts - general rules or conventions
Night and day - two things that are opposite
When idioms become so well-known, they often get shortened so that people only say part of it. That's when you get partial idioms. Here are some common ones; I've followed them up with the full version—in case you're unfamiliar with them—and their meaning.
When in Rome - When in Rome, do as the Romans do - adapt to the circumstances
If she shoe fits - If the shoe fits, wear it - accept criticism directed at you
Great minds - Great minds think alike - we both had a great idea
If wishes were horses - If wishes were horses, beggars would ride - you can't just wish for things to be different; you must take action
Birds of a feather - Birds of a feather flock together - people who are alike attract each other
Prepositional Idioms are like phrasal verbs in that they consist of a verb and a preposition, and the phrase's meaning can't be deducted from the individual words—they must be understood as a whole. The preposition changes the meaning of the verb.
Here are some examples:
Put up with - accept an unpleasant experience
Agree on - accept a suggestion
Stand by - support someone/be in their corner
Look after - take care of
In favor of - to support or approve of something
That concludes this blog on idioms and how to use them in your writing. Our blog has many more examples of idioms, so don't hesitate to check those out.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
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