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Idioms in English: What Are They? How Are They Used?

European Day of Languages 2019

Idioms are everywhere in the English language. They vary slightly from region to region, however, it’s important to be able to identify an idiom in English to save yourself confusion.

What is an idiom?

Idioms are a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words, according to Lexico.

Meaning, you put two words together and their meaning has typically very little to do with the original words.

The best way to show what an idiom is is through examples. Here are 12 popular idioms in the United States;

A Cog In The Machine

This term would be used mostly to describe someone or something that is insignificant or unimportant. It’s typically used in a negative light and definitely isn’t a compliment.

Example: “Wesley is just another cog in the machine, we need to go directly to his boss!”

Beat Around the Bush

This popular phrase means to prolong something or take a long time getting to the point of the story.

Example:
Mom: “Why did you get a bad grade on this test?”
Child: “Well, I had band practice and then I had to mow the lawn…”
Mom: “Stop beating around the bush and tell me you just didn’t study!”

Cream of the Crop

The cream is the most desirable part of a batch of milk, says the Grammarist. The cream also rises to the top, so this saying refers to the best of the best.

Example: “The Olympics feature cream-of-the-crop athletes from each country.”

Know the ropes

If you know the ropes, you know how to do something really well, efficiently, or quickly.

Example: “We are looking to hire from within the company, we’re looking for someone who already knows the ropes.”

Dog Days

The dog days of summer are those extremely hot days in late July and early August.

Example: “I always have a pool party for my daughter because her birthday always falls in the dog days of summer. It’s too hot to do anything else!”

Whole Nine Yards

If you go the whole nine yards you’ve thought of every last detail. You put all of your efforts forth and your project was done thoroughly.

Example: “Wow, this student really went the whole nine yards on this project. The teacher should really give him an A!”

touch base

To touch base with someone just means to get into contact with them, typically it’s a brief meeting and has virtually nothing to do with baseball.

“My mom got an email from the principle that they need to touch base! What could I have done?”

Like a bull in a china shop

People usually use this to describe clumsy people or people who fail to think before they act. In this sense, we are talking about China as in ceramic and glass bowls and mugs.

Example: “Last time we went there, she broke three glasses! She’s like a bull in a china shop.”

for the birds

This saying is used when something is labeled as worthless or useless.

Example: “Plastic straws will be for the birds once you buy a metal straw.”

more bang for your buck

You get more bang for your buck when you get more of a product for a lesser price than you would have, had you bought that many individuals.

Example: “Why did you buy three 4-packs? The 12-pack was less money, you would’ve got more bang for your buck!”

If the shoe fits…

This is typically used to convince someone of a judgment, whether it be positive or negative.

Example:
“She said I could be a model!”
“Yeah… I’m not sure if that shoe fits!”

when pigs fly

When Pigs Fly is really just a fun way to say something will never happen because it’s impossible or just unrealistic.

Example:
“Would you ever move to Florida?”
“Maybe when pigs fly! I love skiing too much.”

These are just some of the many many idioms in the English language. What are some of your favorite sayings?

If you’re interested in learning more about the English language, check out our English courses on Cudoo!

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About the author

Mackenzie Xanthos

Mackenzie, our U.S. Marketing Associate, studied Journalism at Hofstra University. She's passionate about education, the French language, and mental health.

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