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How to Use Idioms

How to Use Idioms

Idioms describe a situation in a vivid and descriptive way, imparting more beauty to English language. It is not a herculean task to use idiomatic expressions in your writing and conversations. All you need to do is to get a clear cut understanding of idioms.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
Idioms make English language funny, vibrant and enriching to learn. Many of us use idioms very often in our daily conversations, even without being aware of it. That is quite understandable from the fact that there are nearly 25,000 phrases in English language that are deemed to be idioms! In almost all languages, there are hundreds of thousands of idioms. In this article, we will restrict out discussion only about English idioms and phrases, with their meaning and usage.
Using Idioms Smartly
Idioms are phrases, expressions that are used very commonly in a language to express something whose meaning can't be taken literally. Many English language experts presume idioms to be a type of figure of speech or a metaphor, as they convey the same effect, in certain circumstances. Knowing about the history of idiomatic expressions is very interesting, as most of the idioms have been picked from human experiences. All idioms have an interesting story behind their origins. Idioms have become such an integral part of linguistics that avoiding their usage in English language would only render this funny language dry, dull and pedantic. So idioms are groups of words, phrases whose meaning can't be deduced apparently from the words used in the sentence. 

The sentence might have altogether different connotations. To quote a simple example of an idiom, when we say that, 'it's raining cats and dogs', it doesn't mean that cats and dogs are actually falling from the sky! The idiom has a different meaning, that is, it is raining heavily. To a beginner English learner, idioms can be quite confusing to remember and memorize. So what is the best way to use idioms in English language? You can't attain perfection in using idioms overnight. It is not easy to learn all idioms and memorize their meaning in one go. Most of the idioms are used in daily life, so we get their meaning during our natural phase of learning. Some uncommon ones can be known by reading grammar books. 

Reading diverse books of different authors helps us to strengthen our vocabulary and also learn about various cultures. Remember, idioms are mostly derived from cultural practices and traditions. Not all idioms will have grammatical and logical connectivity. So you have to be patient while learning idioms. You can't use idioms anywhere and in any sentence. If used improperly, idioms can sound idiotic! Unless you don't know the meaning and usage of idioms, it is not a smart work to use them. You needn't memorize hundreds of idioms in one go. Learning about idioms is a gradual process and takes time. You must also make it a habit to practice making sentences by using idioms. That will help you to remember the meaning of idioms properly. Television, newspapers, magazines, college books, ebooks, Internet and conversations with native people - all these are some vital sources of learning idioms.
Practice Exercise
Choose the meaning of each idiom by answering the following multiple choice questions.

#1. Your Boss: Unless you are not thinking out of the box, you won't survive in this job.

a) It is necessary to sit in a box and then come out of it to think.
b) You must not exercise your imagination but focus on facts only.
c) You have to use your creativity to think differently.

#2. The ministers met but did not discuss anything about the elephant in the room!

a) There was an elephant in the room when ministers met but they didn't see it.
b) An elephant is causing some problem.
c) Ministers are ignoring discussion on some vital problem.

#3. The decision to close two manufacturing plants of the company is just the tip of the iceberg. Employees must not be surprised if the company is closed next year.

a) The problem is more severe than what it appears to be.
b) Manufacturing plants are situated near a glacier.
c) Company is going to venture in a different business

#4. Teacher: Maths is not your cup of tea John. You are better in humanities.

a) Teacher doesn't like John drinking tea in the class.
b) It is difficult for John to do well in maths.
c) John is a master in maths

#5. Jimmy: Gosh! I had a deja vu last night. It was so real. I'm surprised, how close it was.
Johnny: What are you saying, friend? Did you have a bad dream last night? Did you dream of some African tribe named deja vu? Huh. Scary man.
Jimmy actually wanted to say that:_______


a) He had experienced something similar already that was happening in his present.
b) Jimmy really belongs to some tribe in Africa, named, deja vu.

#6. If you are cutting a long story short, you are actually _______

a) Tearing apart the paper in which you have written something.
b) Deleting few lines of what you have written.
c) Directly discussing the essential details.

#7. If you are going through thick and thin, you are actually_______

a) Are losing and gaining weight.
b) Having several experiences in life.
c) Walking on thin and thick roads.

#8. If you are taking the bull by the horns, you are________

a) Preventing yourself from an attacking bull.
b) Ready to face a difficult problem.
c) Saving your friend from being hit by a bull.

#9. The program ended without a hitch.

a) You were not shown the movie 'Hitch' at the end of the program.
b) You faced lots of problem in completing the program.
c) The program finished exactly as planned and expected.

#10. John: Hey, what about your date with Linda?
Peter: Nothing dude! She just showed me the cold shoulder!
John: Did she actually show you her shoulder!!


a) Linda was disinterested in a date with Peter.
b) When Peter met Linda, she refused to recognize him and didn't talk to him.
c) Linda actually showed her shoulders to Peter.
So didn't you find idioms and their usages hilarious! A single change of situation and an idiom can turn out to be very funny. Now that you know about some examples on using idioms, it is time to rush to your grammar book and make your own sentences by using idioms given in the book. Don't forget to get it checked by your elders! Happy learning idioms!