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Idioms: The Ultimate Guide to Figurative Language

Idioms: What They Are and Why You Should Use Them

Have you ever heard someone say that they are feeling under the weather? Or that they have a lot on their plate? Or that they are over the moon? If you have, then you have encountered some examples of idioms. Idioms are expressions that have a meaning that is different from the literal meaning of their words. For instance, feeling under the weather does not mean that you are literally below the clouds, but that you are sick or unwell. Having a lot on your plate does not mean that you have too much food to eat, but that you have too many tasks or responsibilities to handle. Being over the moon does not mean that you have travelled to outer space, but that you are very happy or excited.


Idioms are very common in English and other languages. They are often used in everyday speech and writing to convey emotions, opinions, attitudes, and situations in a more vivid and expressive way. They also reflect the culture and history of the people who use them. For example, many English idioms come from ancient Greek and Roman mythology, such as opening Pandora's box (causing a lot of trouble), having an Achilles' heel (having a weak point), or being caught between Scylla and Charybdis (being in a dilemma). Other English idioms come from sports, such as hitting a home run (achieving a great success), dropping the ball (making a mistake), or throwing in the towel (giving up).

In this article, we will explore what idioms are, how they are formed and classified, why they are important and useful to learn and use, what challenges they pose for learners of English, how to overcome these challenges and master idioms effectively, and some fun facts and trivia about idioms. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of idioms and hopefully be inspired to use them in your own speech and writing.

Types of Idioms

There are many ways to categorize idioms based on their form, function, or theme. However, one of the most common ways is to divide them into four main types: pure idioms, binomial idioms, partial idioms, and prepositional idioms.

  • Pure idioms are expressions that have a completely figurative meaning that cannot be deduced from their individual words. For example, spill the beans means to reveal a secret; kick the bucket means to die; break a leg means to wish someone good luck.

  • Binomial idioms are expressions that consist of two words joined by a conjunction or a preposition. For example, by and large means generally; pros and cons means advantages and disadvantages; bread and butter means basic income or livelihood.

  • Partial idioms are expressions that have a partly figurative and partly literal meaning. They usually consist of a verb and a noun, an adjective and a noun, or an adverb and an adjective. For example, catch a cold means to become sick with a cold; red tape means bureaucratic procedures or regulations; highly unlikely means very improbable.

  • Prepositional idioms are expressions that consist of a noun, an adjective, or a verb followed by a preposition. For example, on fire means burning or very excited; in trouble means facing difficulties or consequences; look after means take care of.

These types of idioms are not mutually exclusive, and some idioms may belong to more than one category. For example, bite the bullet is both a pure idiom and a binomial idiom, meaning to face a difficult or unpleasant situation. Cut corners is both a partial idiom and a prepositional idiom, meaning to do something in a cheap or easy way.

Benefits of Using Idioms

Idioms are not just decorative or ornamental elements of language. They have many benefits fo