English Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions
What is an idiom?
An idiom is a combination of words that has a meaning that is different from the meanings of the individual words themselves. It can have a literal meaning in one situation and a different idiomatic meaning in another situation. It is a phrase which does not always follow the normal rules of meaning and grammar.
To sit on the fence can literally mean that one is sitting on a fence.
I sat on the fence and watched the game.
However, the idiomatic meaning of to sit on the fence is that one is not making a clear choice regarding some issue.
The politician sat on the fence and would not give his opinion about the tax issue.
Many idioms are similar to expressions in other languages and can be easy for a learner to understand. Other idioms come from older phrases which have changed over time.
To hold one's horses means to stop and wait patiently for someone or something. It comes from a time when people rode horses and would have to hold their horses while waiting for someone or something.
"Hold your horses," I said when my friend started to leave the store.
Other idioms come from such things as sports that are common in the United Kingdom or the United States and may require some special cultural knowledge to easily understand them.
To cover all of one's bases means to thoroughly prepare for or deal with a situation. It comes from the American game of baseball where you must cover or protect the bases.
I tried to cover all of my bases when I went to the job interview.
Structure of Idioms
Most idioms are unique and fixed in their grammatical structure. The expression to sit on the fence cannot become to sit on a fence or to sit on the fences. However, there are many changes that can be made to an idiom.
What is a phrasal verb?
A phrasal verb is a verb which is a combination of a verb and an adverb, a verb and a preposition, and a verb with an adverb and a preposition. It can have a literal meaning that is easy to understand because the meaning is clear from the words that are used in the phrasal verb itself. It can also have an idiomatic meaning which cannot easily be understood by looking at the words themselves.
What is a proverb?
A proverb is a short saying or sentence that is generally known by many people. The saying usually contains words of wisdom, truth or morals that are based on common sense or practical experience. It is often a description of a basic rule of conduct that all people generally follow or should follow. Proverbs can be found in all languages.