What is an idiom?
• An idiom is a group of words (or a compound) with a meaning that is
different from the individual words, and often difficult to understand from
the individual words.
• Moreover, an idiom is an expression, word, or phrase whose sense means
something different from what the words literally imply. When a speaker
uses an idiom, the listener might mistake its actual meaning, if he or she
has not heard this figure of speech before. Idioms usually do not translate
well; in some cases, when an idiom is translated into another language,
either its meaning is changed or it is meaningless.
In the English expression to kick the bucket, a listener knowing only the
meanings of kick and bucket would be unable to deduce the expression's
true meaning: to die. Although this idiomatic phrase can, in fact, actually
refer to kicking a bucket, native speakers of English rarely use it so. Cases
like this are "opaque idioms."
Here are some common idioms.
• Get a move on If someone tells you to get a move on, they are asking
you to hurry up.
"You'd better get a move on or you'll miss the bus!"
• Answer back means reply rudely
Don't answer back your mother!
• Call it a day. A person who decides to "call it a day" decides to stop
doing finish doing something, generally because they are tired.
Let’s call it a day.
• Bear something in mind If someone asks you to bear something in
mind, they are telling
you to remember it because it is important.
"You must bear in mind that the cost of living is higher in New York.“
• My wife and I take turns cooking (I cook one day, she cooks the next, etc)
• I don’t know the answer offhand. (without looking it up or asking someone)
• I’m not very good at small talk. (social talk; not about serious things)
• I’m sorry I can’t make it on Friday. (come)
• I asked her to keep an eye on my suitcase while I went to the
• Get cracking
When you get cracking, you start doing something immediately.
"I'd better get cracking or I'll never get my homework done.“
• Go hand in hand
If two or more things go hand in hand, they are associated or often
happen at the same time.
"In big cities poverty and violence often go hand in hand.“
• Don't beat around the bush
This expression is used to tell somebody to say what they have
to say, clearly and directly, even if it's unpleasant.
• There are also expressions in English where the meaning is
easy to understand, but the same idea in your language may
need a completely different expression. If you translate each
word from your language, you may say something in
English that is completely wrong.
• It’s a good short-term (temporary, for now) solution, but in
the long run (over a longer period of time) we will need to
think about it.
• A bad egg refers to someone as a bad egg means that they
cannot be trusted.
"I don't want my son to be friends with Bobby
Smith. Bobby's a bad egg.“
• On the fly
If you do something on the fly, you do it quickly, without
thinking much about it, while doing something else.
"I'm so busy I usually have lunch on the fly."
• Big cheese
This expression refers to a person who has a lot of power and influence
in an organization.
"Tom's father is a big cheese in the oil industry."
• Fast talker
A person who speaks quickly and easily but cannot always be trusted is
called a fast talker.
"The salesman was a fast talker and persuaded the old lady to buy
a new washing machine.“
• Bag of bones
To say that someone is a bag of bones means that they are
"When he came home from the war he was a bag of bones."
• Down payment
When someone makes a down payment, they pay a part of the total
amount agreed when signing a purchase deal or contract.
"Emma and Paul are excited. They put a down payment on their first
• Take the floor When someone takes the floor, they rise to
make a speech or presentation.
"When I take the floor, my speech will be short." he said.
• Call it quits. If you say "I'm going to call it quits", this
means that you are going to stop doing something, or end
what you are doing.
• Run a mile
This expression is used by someone who is anxious to
"She said she'd run a mile if she saw reporters in the area.
• Up and about If someone is up and about, they are out of
bed or have recovered after an illness.
She was kept in hospital for a week but she's up and about
• Idioms often have special features: They may be
informal or funny or ironic; they may be used by
certain people (e.g., young children, or teenagers,
or elderly people); they may appear only in
limited contexts; they may have special grammar.
For these reasons, you can sometimes “learn” the
meaning of an idiom but then use it incorrectly.
For example, “I was sorry to hear that your father
kicked the bucket.” This idiom means died, but it
is used humorously, never in a serious situation. It
would be completely inappropriate when offering
Some easy idioms to use
• A: Can I borrow your dictionary?
B : Sure, go ahead. (It’s OK; do it)
• A: I don’t know which one to choose.
B : Well, make up your mind. (decide)
• A : What’s up? (what’s new/wrong?)
B : Nothing
• A : Are you coming?
B : Yeah. Right away. (soon)