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What is An Idiom? An Ultimate Overview

Are you also looking for the simplest answer about what is an idiom and its different types, along with examples? This is one of the most important questions students and professionals find difficult to understand. Daily, we all hear lectures, attend seminars and conferences, and see movies where teachers, mentors or actors use idioms in their conversations.

In addition to this, being a student or researcher, you also have to use idiomatic terms, phrases or expressions in your thesis, essay, presentations or assignments. But we often cram and use them wherever we want without understanding their true structure, definitions and meanings.

In this blog, we will take practical examples to understand the use of different types and categories of idioms. Moreover, we will explore the characteristics of idiomatic expressions and discuss their differences with metaphors and phrases.

We have also crafted an extensive list of idioms personalized for students, kids and academic research writing. So, without much ado, let’s straightaway jump into it.

Idiom Definition – A Beginner’s Friendly Quick Guide

The word Idiom is derived from the Greek word idios, which means ‘private .’It is a common phrase, expression, or saying whose meaning you can’t derive from looking at the individual words.

These figurative terms have non-literal meanings; we can’t understand them only by deciphering the words.

For example, when someone says, “It’s raining cats and dogs, ” it does not illustrate that the cats and dogs are falling from the sky. Instead, it means that “it’s raining heavily.”

Similarly, the idiom “don’t beat about the bush” has a different meaning when broken down into individual words. However, its idiomatic meaning is “Don’t talk about irrelevant and unimportant things; just come to the point.”

The idiom “That’s how the ball bounces” seemingly means ” how balls jump.”. But in idiomatic terms, its correct meaning is that “the things are just out of our control.” 

Similarly, when we say “kill two birds with one stone,” we never mean to kill the birds using the stone. We mean to say that “complete two tasks at once.”

To understand more clearly, let’s break them down into simpler steps.

  • Expression or Word Combination:
    • An idiom can be a phrase, expression, or combination of words.
    •  It can be even a single word that can act as idiomatically.
  • Peculiar:
    • These are commonly used in a special community or group of people familiar with them, such as native or fluent speakers.
    • It is similar to a joke or any funny terms we discuss in our private friend’s group, etc., and no one can literally understand them.
    • Every language has some private language terms that are strange to others.
    •  In a nutshell, these are rare to understand for everybody.
  • Figurative Meaning: To understand it, consider any language has two layers such as:
    • Literal Meaning: Words, expressions, or phrases that we can simply and straightaway search in the dictionary to understand. For example, “Cow has four legs.”
    • Figurative Meaning: Figurative terms or words are those that we can’t understand in a non-literal way. These don’t have straightaway meanings and definitions.
  • Different from Literal Meaning:
    • We can’t derive or understand their meanings by looking at the individual word in an idiomatic expression.
    • For example, “that is the way ball bounces” is an idiom, but we can derive its meanings correctly by looking individual words up in a dictionary.

Types of Idioms with Meaning, Sentences and Examples

4 Common Types of Idioms

There are four types of idioms such as (1) Pure Idiom, (2) Binomial Idiom, (3) Partial Idiom, and (4) Prepositional Idiom.

Let us understand them one by one.

Pure Idiom:

  • Pure idioms are typical idioms that we use regularly. This means, in the normal way, when people think or talk about idioms, they refer to these kinds of idioms.
  • In these phrases or expressions, the individual word or component does not contain any relationship or resemblance with the actual meaning of the phrase.
  • This means we can’t deduce or understand them by looking at the individual words.
  • Seemingly, they don’t have any literal meanings.
  • They are private, and only the native people or the groups of people can understand them easily.
  • In a nutshell, pure idioms are non-transparent idioms where an individual word or component provides no literal meaning or hint.

Pure Idiom Meaning and Example Sentences:

Pure IdiomMeaningExample Sentences
“Spill the bean”Revealing secretNobody will spill the beans about the night party.
“Don’t beat about the bush.”Talking irrelevant and unnecessary thingsPlease tell me what you want without beating around the bush.
“Hard nut to crack”Very difficultWriting 5000 words in a single day is a hard nut to crack.
“Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.”Creating chaos over minor thingsIt was a mistake, but don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. 
“The ball is in your court.”The decision is up to you.Tell me what to do because now the ball is in your court. 
“Take a rain check.”Politely declining someone’s offerCan I take a rain check and play cricket with you tomorrow?

Binomial Idiom:

  • The binomial idioms contain exactly two words.
  • These are joined or connected using a conjunction or any preposition.
  • They work as a single idiomatic unit or expression to convey meaning.
  • You can’t break them into individual parts or words to understand them correctly.

Binomial Idioms Meaning and Example Sentences:

Binomial IdiomMeaningSentences
“Back and forth” “Moving in one direction and then opposite without making any progress.”He was moving back and forth while eating the food.
“Black and white”“Easy to understand,”I think this science topic is black and white; no need to revise.
“Bits and pieces” “Scattered parts”He reached the destination, even having bits and pieces of the information.
“Do or die.”“Succeed at any cost”This final match is a do-or-die for us to win the World Cup.
“Eat or be eaten” “Be aggressive and proactive to survive the competing environment.”Be aggressive in this competitive market; it is like eating or being eaten.
“High and dry.”“Leave someone in a difficult situation.”The company sacked the employees, leaving them high and dry.
“My way or the highway” “Accept someone’s points or order; otherwise, leave.”I can’t work with managers my way or the highway behavior. 
“Night and day”“Shows the difference between two things.”You have improved your performance like night and day compared to the previous month. 

Partial Idiom:

  • Partial idioms are those idiomatic phrases or expressions that are not complete on their own.
  • They are sometimes called clipped idioms because they contain only a partial or single part of the original idioms.
  • They usually borrow the first part of the first few words from the original idiomatic sentences.
  • Although they don’t contain the full structure, they keep the figurative or original meaning intact.
  • Native speakers or people familiar with these terms readily understand the meaning and context without worrying about the missing part or structure.
  • For example, “spill the bean” is a partial idiom, while its full form is “spill the bean about something.”
  • Moreover, “kick the bucket” is a partial idiom, while its complete version is “kick the bucket like a horse.”

Partial Idiom Meaning and Examples:

Partial IdiomMeaningFull Idiom
“Blow it.”“To fail or make a mistake.”“Blow it all.”
“Cracking up”“Laughing uncontrollably”“Cracking up with laughter”
“Drop the ball”“Forget something important.”“Drop the ball on something.”
“Have a ball.”“Have a lot of fun.”“Have a ball doing something.”
“Spill the bean”“Reveal secret”“Spill the beans about something.”
“Take it easy”“Relax or calm down”“Take it easy on someone or something.”

Prepositional Idiom

  • Prepositional idioms are those expressions or phrases in which the meaning of the entire Idiom depends upon the preposition.
  • This means that changing the preposition alters the context of the entire idiomatic phrase.
  • Prepositional idioms contain prepositions such as “in,” on,” “under,” etc.
  • They contain prepositions along with nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

Prepositional Idiom Meaning and Examples:

Prepositional IdiomMeaningPrepositional IdiomMeaning
“Come down hard on someone.” “Punishing severely”“Come up with an idea.” “Event”
“Get off on something.” “Enjoying deeply”Get on with someone“Get along”
Look down on someone“Consider someone inferior.”“Look up to someone” “Admire”
“Run out of something” “Become depleted”“Run into someone.” “Encounter unexpectedly”

What is an Example of an Idiom for Easy Understanding

5 Best Examples of an Idiom

  • “A piece of cake”
  • “Barking up the wrong tree”
  • “Cry over spilled milk.”
  • “Hold your horses.”
  • “Let the cat out of the bag.”

List of Idioms You Can’t Afford to Miss in 2024

“A penny for your thoughts.”

  • Meaning: Curious about someone’s actions, thoughts, and opinions.

“Actions speak louder than words.”

  • Meaning:  practical deeds are far better than simply speaking the words.

“All that glitters is not gold.”

  • Meaning:  Anything that looks pretty from appearance can be deceptive inside.

“Barking up the wrong tree.”

  • Meaning: pursuing the wrong direction. Misguided.

“Beat around the bush.”

  • Meaning: Talking about irrelevant or unnecessary things.

“Better late than never.”

  • Meaning: It is wise to do something even late instead of not doing it at all.

“Bite the bullet.”

  • Meaning: Facing complex or difficult situations.
  1. “Break a leg.”
  • Meaning: Wishing someone the best of luck before any performance.

“By the skin of your teeth.”

  • Meaning: A narrow victory.

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

  • Meaning: Putting all the resources into a single adventure or risky thing.

“Every cloud has a silver lining.”

  • Meaning: Better time comes after every difficult situation.

“Fit as a fiddle.”

  • Meaning: In excellent condition or health.

“Give the benefit of the doubt.”

  • Meaning:  Believing someone’s statement even if there are uncertainties or doubts.

“Go the extra mile.”

  • Meaning:  Making additional efforts to achieve something.

“Haste makes waste.”

  • Meaning: Acting too quickly can result in mistakes.

“Hit the nail on the head.”

  • Meaning: Exactly identifying and describing the main point or issue.

“In the heat of the moment.”

  • Meaning: In emotions or excitements.

“It’s raining cats and dogs.”

  • Meaning: It’s raining heavily.

“Kill two birds with one stone.”

  • Meaning: Doing two tasks at once.

6 Categories of Idiomatic Expressions – You Must Know

6 Major Categories of Idiomatic Expressions

We can categorize idiomatic expressions into six categories depending on their characteristics and usage. So our writers have crafted them to help you differentiate between idioms by looking at them.

Proverbs or Sayings: They are historical and offer truth, guidance, or wisdom. For example, “Actions speak louder than words”.

  • Metaphors: Metaphors explicitly compare two unrelated things. E.g. “kick the bucket”

Similes: Similes are those idiomatic expressions that use words such as “like” and “as” to compare things. E.g. “As busy as a bee,” “Like a fish out of water.”

  • Phrasal Verbs: Phrasal verbs are those idiomatic expressions that contain verbs followed by prepositions or adverbs. e.g.” Take off,” “put up with.” 
  • Fixed Expressions: Fixed expressions have a static structure, and we can’t change them to deduce their meanings from individual words. e.g. “bite the bullet” and “cost an arm and a leg.”
  • Colloquialism: Colloquialism is informal and culturally specific. They belong to a specific dialect or region. E.g. “Hit the hay” and “Break a leg.”

What are English Idioms?

  • “Break a leg”
  • “Bite the bullet.”
  • “A penny for your thoughts.”
  • “Piece of cake”
  • “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

What are idioms for Kids? Meanings and Examples

IdiomMeaningExample Sentence
“All thumbs”Clumsy, uncoordinated.“I’m all thumbs this morning; I can’t seem to button my shirt!”
“Butterfly in your tummy”NervousI had butterflies in my tummy before the quiz.
“Head in the Clouds”Lost in daydreaming, busyAsim had his head in the clouds and did not notice the storms. 
“Raining Cats and Dogs”Raining heavilyWe could not reach the spot because it was raining cats and dogs. 
“A Piece of Cake”Easy taskWriting 500 words in an hour is a piece of cake for me. 
“Break a Leg”Good luckBreak a leg on your CSS exam.
“Give it a Shot.”Try onceAlthough I was nervous, finally, I gave it a shot. 
“Hit the books.”Study hardBabr hit the books to pass matriculation. 
“Think outside the box.”Be CreativeThink outside the box to survive in Web Development.
“Birds of a feather flock”Similar people are often friendsUmar and Ali are friends because birds of a feather flock together. 
“Cut someone some slack.”Forgive someoneHe cut him some slack due to his illness.
“On the same page”Agree with each otherAll political parties are on the same page for boosting the country’s economy.
“Thick as thieves.”Close friendsThey belong to the same village and are thick thieves. 
“Two peas in a pod”Very similarShoaib and Asif are two peas in a pod. 
“Every cloud has a silver lining.”A good time comes after a bad“Don’t worry; even if things seem bad now, every cloud has a silver lining.”
“Keep your chin up.”Don’t give up.Work hard and keep your chin up to pass the exam.
“Never say never.”Anything is possibleNever say never; you can still qualify for the final.
“The sky’s the limit.”No limit; you can achieve anything.Go ahead, and the sky’s the limit for you. 
“Miss the boat.”To miss the opportunityYou miss the boat to invest in a property. 

Idiom Vs Metaphor – Master the Key Differences

Idiom:

  • Idioms indirectly draw a comparison between two different things.
  • They don’t explicitly use words such as “like,” “as,” etc.
  • We can’t conclude their meanings from individual words.
  • They are cultural, Community, or group-specific.
  • Idioms are phrases or expressions with a symbolic meaning different from their literal meanings.
  • We use idioms in our daily sentences to describe any situation.

Examples of an Idioms:

  •  “Life is a rollercoaster,”
  •  “His smile was sunshine after a storm,”
  • “That joke was a real knee-slapper.”

Metaphor:

  • A metaphor explicitly compares two different or unlike things using words such as “like,” “as,” etc.
  • They make comparisons by using any shared or common characteristics between things.
  • People widely use metaphors in literature, music, poetry, etc., because they bring clarity and depth to our communication.

Examples of Metaphors:

  • “Time is a thief”.
    • Meaning: “Time passes quickly, often stealing away precious moments.”
  • “Her words were music to my ears.”
    • Meaning: “Her words were pleasant to hear.”
  • “Life is a journey.”
    •  Meaning: “Life is a process of traveling through experiences and challenges.”

4 Important Characteristics of Idiomatic Expressions

  • Figurative or Nonliteral Meanings: We can’t understand their meanings by looking at the individual words. They have figurative meanings.
  • Fixed Structure: Changing the order of the words or even slight modification changes the meanings of the whole sentences. They are fixed in structure, and we can’t make even a slight variation.
  • Cultural or Community Specific: They are well-known to a specific culture or Community, such as native English speakers. Strangers find them difficult to understand.
  • Brevity and Conciseness:  They describe or pack a lot of meanings into a few words. For example, “break a leg” and “kick the bucket.”

11 Best Idioms for Students – Meaning and Examples

“Hit the books.”

  • Meaning: Study hard
  • Example: Salman hit the books to pass the 9th exam.

“Ace the test.”

  • Meaning: Perform exceptionally well in the exam.
  • Example: You can ace the competitive test if you work hard.

“Think outside the box.”

  • Meaning: Be creative and bring new ideas
  • Example: Think outside the box to stay ahead of the competition.

“Burn the midnight oil.”

  • Meaning: Study day and night, work hard
  • Example: He burnt the midnight oil to pass his previously failed subjects.

“Brain Drain”

  • Meaning: wasting the talent.
  • Example: “The university is concerned about the potential brain drain after many graduating students accept jobs abroad.”

“Cram for the exam”

  • Meaning: Studying intensively
  • Example: He has been cramming for the exam since last year.

“Get cold feet.”

  • Meaning: Getting nervous about something
  • Example: Don’t get cold feet due to your presentation.

“Play it by ear”

  • Meaning: dealing with things with a flexible and adapting mind without pre-planning.

“All-nighter”

  • Meaning: Staying up all night
  • Example: “I pulled an all-nighter studying for the final exam; my eyes feel like sandpaper!”

“Piece of cake”

  • Meaning: Very easy
  • Example: Writing an English essay is a piece of cake for me.

“Go down the wire”

  • Meaning: Finish something before the deadline
  • Example: “The presentation is tomorrow, and I’m still adding slides – it’s going down to the wire!”.

4 Key Differences Between Idioms and Phrases

IdiomsPhrases
They have symbolic or non-literal meanings.Phrases can have figurative and literal meanings.
Idioms are fixed structures.Phrases have flexible word order and structure.
Idioms are complex and hard to understand.Phrases are simpler and easy to understand.
Idioms have cultural or historical roots.We can make a phrase readily or on the spot. 
Example: “Kick the bucket”Example:” The red car”

21 Formal Idioms in Academic Writing with Meanings

“Bridge the gap.”

  • Meaning: Connect two things or fill in the missing information.

“Delve into”

  • Meaning: Explore anything or topic

“Food for thought”

  • Meaning: Something that enables you to be creative.

“Get to the crux of the matter.”

  • Meaning: Important points or central idea

“Hold water”

  • Meaning: Valid and Logical

“Leave no stone unturned”

  • Meaning: Doing everything possible.

“Mull over”

  • Meaning: Thinking deeply about something.

“Part and parcel”

  • Meaning: Important part or component of something.

“Run the gamut”

  • Meaning: Cover the complete range or spectrum of something.

“Shed light on”

  • Meaning: Highlighting something, showing importance.

“Take issue with”

  • Meaning: Disagree with someone.

“Touch upon”

  • Meaning: Briefly discussing something.

“Turn the tide.”

  • Meaning: Change something in a positive direction.

“Unpack the meaning”

  • Meaning: Explain the complexities of something.

“Weigh the pros and cons.”

  • Meaning: Consider the advantages and disadvantages before doing something.

“In the long run”

  • Meaning: Over a long time.

“On the other hand”

  • Meaning: Contrasting view or opposite point.

“The bottom line”

  • Meaning: Main point of something.

“Take on board.”

  • Meaning: “Consider and incorporate something into your thinking or plans.”

“Play devil’s advocate”

  • Meaning: Exploring opposite sides or all sides of something.

“Think outside the box.”

  • Meaning: Be creative

13 Common Idioms for Research and Thesis Writing

 “In the realm of”

  • Meaning: Relating to a particular field or topic. 

 “Lay the groundwork.”

  • Meaning: Making the foundation of something.

“Bridge the gap.”

  • Meaning: Connecting things or filling in missing information.

 “Give rise to”

  • Meaning: Cause something to happen or emerge.

 “Shed light on”

  • Meaning: highlighting the importance of something.

 “Unveil the mysteries”

  • Meaning: Uncovering the hidden information

 “Navigate uncharted waters.”

  • Meaning: Dealing with complex situations.

 “Carve out a niche.”

  • Meaning: Creating a unique perspective or space in a larger field.

 “Break the mold.”

  • Meaning: Doing something unique. 

 “Build on solid foundations”

  • Meaning: Using previous or historical knowledge for further development.

 “Paint a comprehensive picture.”

  • Meaning: describing something completely and precisely.

 “Take center stage”

  • Meaning: Become the center of attention.

 “Push the envelope.”

  • Meaning: Going beyond the limits.

Important Note:: Don’t know how to optimally use idioms in your thesis writing or research paper? Take quick help from our experts at the thesis writing service platform. 

11 Best Idioms for the IELTS Writing and Speaking Exam

“Over the moon”

  • Meaning: Very delighted or happy.

 “Once in a blue moon”

  • Meaning: Rare, not often.

“A piece of cake”

  • Meaning: Easy to do.

“A drop in the ocean”

  • Meaning: A little contribution to something.

“Actions speak louder than words”

  • Meaning: Practical deeds are better than only speaking the words.

“Back to the drawing board”

  • Meaning: Starting again from the beginning.

“Put all your eggs in one basket.”

  • Meaning: Doing something risky by putting all the resources.

“Off the top of my head”

Meaning: Immediately without thinking or planning.

“Run of the mill “

  • Meaning: Common, not unique.

“Soulmate”

  • Meaning: A person with whom you share your thoughts and secrets.

“Down in the dumps”

  • Meaning: feeling sad or depressed.

Final Thoughts on What Is an Idiom and Its Types

Idioms are figurative terms that have non-literal meanings and definitions. They are part of the academic syllabus, and students have to use different idioms in their assignments, essays, or exams.

There are four main types of idioms such as:

  1. Pure idioms: Pure idioms are typical idioms that we use regularly.
  2. Binomial Idiom: The binomial idioms contain exactly two words.
  3. Partial Idiom: Partial idioms are those idiomatic phrases or expressions that are not complete on their own.
  4. Prepositional Idiom: Prepositional idioms are those expressions or phrases in which the meaning of the entire Idiom depends upon the preposition.

Examples of the idioms include:

  • “Break a leg”
  • “Bite the bullet.”
  • “A penny for your thoughts.”
  • “Piece of cake”
  • “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

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Frequently Asked Questions
What is an Idiom? What is the definition of Idiom? What is an Idiom for Kids? What are 10 Examples of Idioms and Their Meaning? How to Use Idioms? How to Understand Idioms? Is an Idiom a Metaphor? What are Pure Idioms? What is An Idiom in Literature? Is Idiom a Figure of Speech? What is an Idiom Example? What is an idiom in English? Idiom Examples for Students? Idiom Synonym? Idioms and Phrases?
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