This presentation is about how we can use English idioms to make our communication more effective. Most universities in the state have questions in the final university examination on the use of idioms and phrases. So I have chosen quite a few examples from the prescribed text books.`
Are you all ears now? Are you ready to listen to this presentation which will last the next 40 minutes. Lend me your ear. Listen to me carefully and attentively so that you can make the most of my presentation. I would like you to be on the ball, be active during the presentation, make notes, do the exercises, call me, seek clarifications and even talk to your neighbors when I ask you to. If you are ready, let’s kick off – commence - the presentation now. I think you have noticed that these expressions are English idioms. You might have already noticed that they are set expressions which have a meaning different from the literal meanings of their components. Idioms are mostly unchangeable and often not logical and may not follow basic rules of grammar. Idioms can be quite clear (in general; come out; at first; the root of all evil) or pretty unclear (on end; pack it in; high and low; hard cash). Some idioms have proper names in them (a Jack of all trades; Uncle Sam); some other idioms are comparisons (as clear as a bell; as the crow flies). Proverbs and sayings may also have idiomatic character (every cloud has a silver lining; still waters run deep).
Each language has a unique set of verbal habits which have been used by the people speaking that language over a long period. They cannot be true translated into other languages, though many of them may have equivalents in other languages. Take ‘better half’ for example. Can it be true translated into your mother tongue? The slide shows how we refer to a very, very short time in different languages. Though they all have the same idiomatic meaning, literally they mean different things. They cannot be true translated into other languages. English - To kill time Hindi - (to break chairs) – kursi thodna Telugu (to pluck nails) – gollu gillukovatam
Kick the bucket: die (Kick the calendar in Polish) hang your head (in shame): to be ashamed Students caught copying during examinations should hang their heads in shame. To sit on the fence: Literal meaning – to sit on a fence. She stood on the fence to look outside. Idiomatic meaning - not making a clear choice regarding an issue. Many political parties are sitting on the fence about FDI.
Roundtable – a meeting of parties or people on equal terms for discussion (not round stool) lend me an ear or lend me your ear, but not give me your ears, or may I borrow your ears. ("Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears“ – Shakespeare, Julius Caesar) Meaning: to listen carefully and in a friendly way to someone, especially someone who is telling you about a problem
‘Broke’ is another example of how the grammatical structure of an idiom is fixed. I am broke refers to the fact that I have got no money, I have become bankrupt or insolvent. We cannot say “I am broken” or “I am breaking now.” Broke in verb form is the past tense of break – he broke the toy. Broke in adjective form is having no money – he is broke. To be broke is grammatically incorrect but it has the idomatic meaning of ‘to have no money’. I am broke and I cannot have my dinner tonight.
Grammatical structure cannot be changed: I'll eat my hat = if you say you will eat your hat if something happens or does not happen, you mean you will be very surprised if it happens or does not happen at a loss = unable to speak or know how to act or what to do. He felt totally at a loss about how to proceed with the project. We were at a loss for words when they scolded us without reason.
keep your cool Cool is an adjective, not a noun, and the phrase is grammatically incorrect. = to remain calm, undisturbed and in control, especially in a difficult situation. If you see a difficult question in the exam, don't panic. Just keep your cool. Keep a cool head, stay cool, be cool, take it cool are other ways of saying the same thing.
The native speakers acquire idiomatic language from a very early linguistic stage. So understanding the speech or writings of the native speakers is impossible without knowing the idioms of that language. Idioms add color and glitter to your communication and make your conversation expressive and most importantly effective. Idioms serve as lubricants, cosmetics, perfumes of your communication. By using them judiciously, you can make your language impressive. Idioms are the nuts and bolts of conversation. = the basics of something
Like we learn vocabulary, rules of grammar and usage by constant practice, we have to learn idioms also by constant practice. We should make it a habit to spend some time guessing the meaning of a new idiom, because we often find contextual clues that help us figure out their meaning. We can use a dictionary, there are exclusive dictionaries of idioms in the market, to refer to the meaning, use and origin. It is a good idea to maintain a workbook where we record the new idioms that we learn. Trying our own sentences with the new idioms and practice are absolutely essential to retain the idioms that we have learned.
Take an example from your text book. You have read this lesson about this person who says who knows everything about everything and is irritating. What is the idiom used to refer to him Mr Know-all. Take another example. What is the irritating person who is impatient to damage the reputation of the conjurer in ‘Conjurer’s Revenge’ called? The Quick Man – not a standard idiom in the dictionary, but coined by Stephen Leacock.
A lazy, do-nothing addict to television watching. If there was a prize for the best couch potato, none can beat my daughter.
Red in the face = embarrassed learn something by heart = to memorize something without thinking. I had to learn the entire speech by heart. I had to go over it many times before I learned it by heart. Eye to eye = be of the same mind, be in agreement. They continued to friends all their lives because they saw eye to eye on almost every thing. Face the music: to receive punishment; to accept the unpleasant results of one's actions.
Old hand = a person who is experienced at doing something. The guide you just hired is an old hand at leading tours across South India. under one's thumb = under the power or influence of; at the mercy of; controlled or dominated by someone. She was under her brother’s thumb till she was 25. On the tip of tongue = about to be said or almost remembered. Her husband’s name is on the tip of my tongue. I’ll recollect it in a moment.
Read somebody's mind = to know what someone is thinking without being told . You have to tell me what you want. I cannot read your mind.
Make up one’s mind = or come to a decision about what to do. After lengthy deliberations, we finally made up our mind to vote in favor of the government. She's made up her mind to join English classes.
To watch or give attention to someone or something. We will be out of town for two days. Will you please keep your eye on my house?
To appear clearly. Jealousy was written all over her face when she saw her neighbor’s jewelery.
Put all of one’s efforts, energy and enthusiasm into something. If you put your heart and soul into something, you are very enthusiastic and invest a lot of energy and hard work in something.
If you have a change of heart, you reverse your attitude, opinions or feelings.
Someone who has a heart of stone is a cold and unfeeling person who shows others no understanding, sympathy or pity.
If you say that something will happen over your dead body, you mean that you will do everything you can to prevent it. You will never let that happen.
To pay too much for something. To study in any private college these days, you have to pay through the nose for it.
Match the idioms in the left column with their meanings in the right column. Make your own sentences with each of the idioms.
Made for each other = to get along extremely well with another person Tie the knot = to get married To have a crush on = to have strong feelings of love for someone (often for a short time and with no results) She says she will never have a crush on anyone again.
Father something on someone = to regard someone as the author or originator of something. Match the idioms in the left column with their meanings in the right column. Make your own sentences with each of the idioms.
Cool as a cucumber = very calm and in control of emotions. Even while everything has been going wrong, she stayed as cool as a cucumber. Cup of tea = something that we like or consider interesting. Sob stories are not really my cup of tea. In a nutshell = very briefly, in as few words as possible. The answer, in a nutshell, is no.
Getting into the soup = a bad or difficult situation. The girl broke her neighbor’s flower vase. The mother and daughter have really got in the soup. Hot potato = awkward, sensitive or controversial situation. People handling it risk unpleasant consequences. The dangerous situation developed suddenly and they dropped it like a hot potato. Food for thought = something for someone to think about. An issue to be considered. Your article on corruption has given me some food for thought.
Piece of cake = something easy to do. That’s not a problem at all. I have a very clear idea of what it is. It's a piece of cake.
Match the idioms in the left column with their meanings in the right column. Make your own sentences with each of the idioms.
Never in a million years = absolutely not. I will not buy that useless stuff never in a million years. Eleventh hour = almost at the last possible moment Many students turned in their assignments at the eleventh hour. Who worries about death until the eleventh hour?
Fifth wheel = An unwanted and unnecessary person or thing. On cloud nine = blissful, overjoyed Second to none = as good as the best, in quality or reputation. Inferior to no one else or to nothing else, better than anything else. Indigo Manza is an excellent car, second to none.
First and foremost, I want to thank the management for the inviting me to this workshop. Without a good command over English you have a chance in a million of getting the job. Amar and Akbar are two of a kind. Both of them enjoy several outdoor sports and both are well-built.
Raining cats and dogs = raining very hard. Don’t even think of leaving just now. It's raining cats and dogs since morning and you don't have an umbrella. Crying wolf = to ask for help when you do not need it, to raise unnecessary alarm If you cry wolf too often, people will stop believing that you need help. Social butterfly = a sociable person who likes to attend parties and other social gatherings; a people person
My aunt got the lion‘s share of the inheritance. A little bird told me that you are thinking of quitting your job. He was a dark horse in the race to be President until he gave some good speeches on TV. He is tired of living in the rat race every day and plans to quit his job soon and do something else. We had a whale of a time at the party last night.
Brain drain = a situation in which a country’s most intelligent people, especially scientists, go to another country in order to make more money or to improve their living and working conditions. Cream of the crop = the best or choicest: a college that accepts only students who are the cream of the crop. Get the axe = if a plan or a service gets the axe, it is stopped. If a person gets the axe, he loses the job. My research project was the first thing to be given the axe when the new boss took over.
Golden handshake = an attractive pre superannuation retirement agreement offered to an employee Hang up boots = to permanently stop playing a sport Sachin Tendulkar may hang up his boots after another one or two years. Know inside out = to know everything about something. I know this machine inside out.
Have enough courage to do something
Precisely Exactly at the stated or expected time The plane landed at two o'clock on the dot.
Read what is implied but not expressed on the surface
Something you'd say when you meet someone unexpectedly. When you run into your friend in your vacation far away from your hometown
To be forgotten I meant to tell my wife about our cousin’s visit, but it completely slipped my mind.
OK. It’s agreed. Bill: Let's go to dinner together tonight. Mary: It's a deal.
Intentionally wearing clothes that attract sexual attention and admiration.
Stop doing what one is doing.
The preposition or adverb that follows the verb is called a particle and changes the meaning of the phrasal verb. Turn the TV off Turn off the TV Turn it off
That completes the story, and I will say no more.
Idiomatic English for Effective Communication
Are you all ears?
Lend me an ear.
Be on the ball.
Let’s kick off now.
What’s an IDIOM?
1. Verbal habits unique to a
• English: in the twinkling of an eye
• Hindi: (in the snap of a finger)
• Telugu: (in the drop of an eyelid)
What’s an IDIOM?
2. Meaning different from literal
Kick the bucket
Hang one’s head
What’s an IDIOM?
3. Fixed phrases in structure
Lend an ear
I can’t afford to buy a new mobile. I’m
totally broke. I hardly have any
money left. I’m broke until my next
He is completely broke, he can’t even
pay his bills.
What’s an IDIOM?
3. Rules of grammar may not
I’ll eat my hat
At a loss
Keep your cool
I know you are upset but you have to
keep your cool. If you just can keep
your cool at the interview, you will do
Don’t get nervous about the exam.
Keep your cool.
Why Learn Idioms?
• Add color to your communication
• Make speech effective & expressive
• Lubricate your language
• Nuts and bolts of conversation
How to learn Idioms?
• Guess the contextual meaning
• Use a dictionary
• Use a workbook
• Make your own sentences
• Use/Practice in context
Examples from Text
What do you call an irritating person
who says he knows everything?
What is the irritating person who is
impatient to damage the
reputation of the conjurer called?
The Quick Man
Sarita is a couch potato. She sits in
front of the TV all day.
I should be more active and less of a
couch potato, if I have to lose
Idioms with Body Parts
The teacher kept making mistakes
and became red in the face.
The entire speech was learnt by
The two sisters don’t see eye to eye.
Idioms with Body Parts
I am an old hand at teaching English.
She has always kept her husband
under her thumb.
Just a minute. I have got the answer
on the tip of my tongue.
Read one’s mind
You have read my mind.
That’s exactly what I was
He is an introvert. It is usually
difficult to read his mind.
Make up one’s mind
My boss is persuading me to
make up my mind and choose
one of the two projects. But I am
not able to make up my mind.
Can you please help me take a
Keep an eye on
Don’t worry about your luggage. I’ll
keep an eye on it.
I’ve got to go to the washroom. Can
you keep an eye on my suitcase for a
Written all over face
He guessed his brother stole the
gold. He said it was written all over
One doesn’t need be a psychologist
to know you are sad and upset. It’s
written all over your face.
Put heart into something
The Commissioner is determined to
streamline the functioning of colleges
in the state. She has put her heart
and soul into it.
Change of heart
He was against charity till a few years
ago. He had a change of heart
when he saw the plight of the
homeless. But the real change of
heart came when he read about
the work of Mother Teresa.
Heart of stone
She's not the person to go to if you've
got problems - she's got a heart of
Over the dead body
You want a new car again.
Over my dead body.
You want to marry that poor,
fat, ugly boy. Over my dead
body. There is no way I’ll let you
do that, not over my dead
Pay through the nose
You may afford to buy a car.
But you will have to pay through
the nose to buy petrol.
By the skin of
nervous and difficult to express
cannot remember at the
just barely, narrowly
On the tip of the not to say things that upset
Problems in the early stages
The husband and wife get along very
well and are made for each other.
After dating for several years, the
young couple decided to tie the knot.
Mythili has a crush on her senior
Attracted the very first time
Love at first sight Find a long time partner
Be in the family
Very close friend
Find Mr Right
A person’s husband or wife
In such tense situations, it’s difficult
to be cool as a cucumber.
Dance has never been my cup of tea.
Let me cut the story short and tell you
in a nutshell.
Always avoid unnecessarily getting in
Anti Corruption Bill is a hot potato
for the Centre now.
I don’t agree with you, but your
questions have given me food for
Piece of cake
• Learning English is a piece of cake. All
that it needs is a little confidence and
a lot of practice.
• Passing the English practical
examination is a piece of cake. I don’t
think anyone of you will fail.
Bread and butter Energetic, in high spirits
Eat one’s words
The family member that earns
the most money
Full of beans
Basic needs of life
Reveal the secret
Spill the beans
Take back what one has said
I will never in a million years
understand why he married her.
They won the match with his goal
in the eleventh hour.
I felt like a fifth wheel at the
When the vacation was
announced, the students were on
The food was second to none.
A dime a dozen
In two minds
A chance in a
More important than anything
Very small chance
Undecided about something
Similar in attitude, character or
Two of a kind
Cheap and common
It’s raining cats and dogs. I wish I had
brought my umbrella.
Does she really have a problem or is
she just crying wolf again?
She is always out and about. She is a
real social butterfly.
Get the lion’s
A little bird told
Confused living without purpose
Get the largest percentage of
To have an exciting and
I heard something from
A whale of a
Little known to the general
Brain drain of the educated youth
is a great loss to the nation.
As usual, the cream of the crop of
the JKC were offered the best
During recession times, senior
staff often get the axe.
It is an impressive golden
I am going to hang up boots
If you got the answer from
Kalam, you can trust it. He
knows it inside out.
Have the Guts
I don’t have the guts to go bungee
jumping. It is too scary. Do you have
the guts to go on that roller coaster?
He doesn’t have the guts to ask her
on a date.
On the dot
You’d better be here a few minutes
ahead, because the telecast starts at
11.00 on the dot.
Don’t keep me waiting. Be here at six
o’clock on the dot.
Let’s reach the airport at 3.30 on the
Read between the lines
If you read between the lines, you
would understand what he actually
meant. He said one thing and meant
another. Listen to that again
carefully. If you don’t read between
the lines, you will later get into
A small world
I didn’t know that you knew my
brother. What a small world.
Did you say you are a student of
Gajwel college? What a small world.
Slip one’s mind
I wanted to call you this morning, but
it slipped my mind. And I am so very
sorry, your birthday totally slipped
I wanted to mail the letter yesterday,
but it completely slipped my mind.
If I help you with your homework, you
will clean the house? It’s a deal! And
I’ll take you out to a movie, if you stop
bothering me. That’s a deal too.
If you wash my car, I’ll pay you 100
rupees. Doesn’t that sound a deal?
Dressed to kill
Your dress is gorgeous. You’re
dressed to kill.
Wow! Tonight she is dressed to kill.
Go the extra mile
Against the clock
The last straw
From rags to riches
Tie the knot
Head over heels
Beating around the bush
Pull the plug
Hit the sack
Break someone’s heart
Run out of steam
Keep your chin up
The ball is in your court
All Greek to me
Off the record
Burn the midnight oil
Pass the buck
Hit the nail on the head
Out of the blue
Let bygones be bygones
At the drop of a hat
Cock and bull story
Back to square one
Call it a day
It’s almost 11.45 now. Let’s call it a
Let’s call it a day. I am too tired to
A verb + an adverb
A verb + a preposition
A very + an adverb + a preposition
• Literal meaning is easy to understand
• Idiomatic meaning difficult to
put up (literal) = physically place somewhere
put up (figurative) = provide a place to sleep
put up (idiomatic) = deal with a situation
• Same phrasal verbs can have different
pick up = learn
pick up = physically fetch
pick up = purchase
• One main verb can take many different
Put up with
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