Common Idioms

An idiom is an expression consisting of a combination of words that has a figurative meaning. The figurative meaning is comprehended in regard to a common use of the expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made. Idioms are numerous and they occur frequently in all languages. There are estimated to be at least 25,000 idiomatic expressions in the English language.


Here are some Examples


The following sentences contain idioms. The fixed words constituting the idiom in each case are bolded:

  1. She is pulling my legto pull someone's leg means to tease them by telling them something fictitious
  2. He took me to the cleaners again. to take someone to the cleaners means to beat them badly (in a game).
  3. When will you drop them a lineto drop someone a line means to call them
  4. You should keep an eye out for that. to keep an eye out for something means to watch for it.
  5. I can't keep my head above waterto keep one's head above water means to manage a situation.


Each of the word combinations in bold has at least two meanings: a literal meaning and a figurative (=idiomatic) meaning.

Pulling someone's leg means either that you literally grab their leg and yank it, or more likely,

it means that you tease them by telling them a fictitious story. Idioms such as the ones here are

very numerous in all languages and they occur in many different forms. They can appear as words,

combinations of words, phrases, entire clauses, and entire sentences. For instance, idiomatic

expressions that constitute entire sentences can be proverbs, e.g.

  1. The devil is in the details
  2. The early bird gets the worm.
  3. Waste not, want not.


Proverbs such as these have figurative meaning. When one says "The devil is in the details", one is not expressing a belief in demons, but rather one means that things may look good on the surface, but upon scrutiny, problems are revealed.

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