What Is an Idiom? Your Writing Guide

Whenever you hear a phrase like “you’ll kill two birds with one stone,” you naturally don’t think about taking a stone and killing those pretty, sweet creatures, right? That’s a real-life example of idiom usage in communication. So, what is the meaning of an idiom? When can it be integrated without confusing the readers, and what language purposes does it help achieve? Here is a guide with everything you should know about idioms. 

What Is an Idiom

If you’re reading this text, you’ve probably come up with a question, “What is an idiom?” Let’s first discuss the literal definition of an idiom to get things straight.  

We can say that a particular phrase is an idiom if its full meaning doesn’t equal the sum of meanings of its constituent parts. In other words, an idiom cannot be translated word by word; its meaning is integral to the entire phrase or sentence and can’t be broken down into separate parts. 

This peculiarity of idioms is explained by the fact that they are cultural attributes and belong to the category of figurative language that shouldn’t be perceived literally. This way, when you’re characterizing some craft as not your cup of tea, you generally don’t mean drinking tea. Similarly, when a person is characterized as being “under the weather,” this phrase has nothing to do with rain or sun in the streets; it refers to the person’s illness. 

There is a huge variety of idioms with vague linguistic and cultural roots, so their study is a separate science. If you’re not planning to dive deep into the origin of a specific idiom in figurative language, the only thing you should keep in mind is that idioms have fixed and context-specific meanings stretching far beyond the meanings of their constituent words. That’s why language learners and users have nothing else to do but to memorize their meanings by heart; deciphering the interpretation on your own can lead to embarrassing situations. 

Types of Idioms 

Now that we’re done with the meanings of idiom in general, it’s time to understand their typology. This way, you will be better equipped to recognize and use idioms in various communicative acts. You can come across the following idiom categories: 

  • Cliché phrases. Cliches are frequently used in literary and oral language, and they are widely known because of the long tradition of overuse. Some well-known cliché phrases belonging to the idiom category are “one can’t judge a book by its cover” or “saving for a rainy day.” 
  • Euphemisms. This category of idioms is used to soften some unpleasant information or refer to a harsh or offensive phenomenon in a more acceptable way. The examples include being “between the jobs” for joblessness and “letting one go” for firing or breaking up with a person. 
  • Proverbs. These phrases have a long cultural tradition and usually refer to universal truths or common phenomena. Some examples include “fortune favors the bold,” which justifies risk-taking, and “good things come to those who wait” – a reference to the virtue of patience. 
  • Pure idioms. If one refers to an idiom as a “pure” category, it means that the meaning of this phrase is impossible to decipher from its form. Illustrative examples are “killing two birds with one stone” or getting a “pig in a poke.” 
  • Partial idioms. These idioms are used as a part of the sentence and can be adjusted to various situations. For instance, you may start your sentence with the phrase “if the shoe fits,” meaning the acceptance of a truth, or say “when in Rome,” suggesting that a person should follow the 
  • Prepositional idioms. This category refers to phrases that combine a verb and a preposition in a way that forms a completely different meaning. This way, the word “favor” means one thing, and the phrase “in favor of” already transforms that meaning to denote that a person supports somebody or something. 
  • Binomial idioms. These idioms usually include two words connected by “and” or “or,” such as “odds and ends,” “on and off,” or “back and forth.” 

How Are Idioms Structured? 

It is also noteworthy that every phrase like this has a fixed idiom structure. This means that you can’t use only a part of an idiom or change some words in it and hope to be understood correctly. As a rule, idioms are used in an unchanged form and tolerate little alteration. As you can see from the previous section, binomial idioms are connected by “and” and “or,” while partial idioms are used as an introductory part of a sentence. That’s why you may use some types as standalone sentences and integrate others into longer sentences. 

When Are Idioms Used? 

A rule of thumb is to use idioms for summarizing or reflecting a shared cultural experience. English idioms are different from French or Italian ones, and every culture and community produces its own figurative phrases based on the collective history and mindset. That’s why authors apply these idioms in situations when they want to point out their belonging to a certain community or their understanding of dominant cultural norms and traditions. 

When Are Idioms Used in Writing? 

Once we’ve received enough clarity on the question, “What is an idiom?” it’s time to move on to the practical part. How can you integrate a idiom sentence into writing so that it looks harmonious and adds meaning to your context? When is the use of idioms reasonable? Here are some cases:  

  • Adding humor. 
  • Appealing to a specific community or region. 
  • Expressing commonly shared values and ideas. 
  • Delivering complex messages in simple words. 
  • Engaging the audience. 

Tips on Using Idioms 

Experts recommend following these tips when incorporating idioms in various types of writing: 

  • Don’t over-rely on cliches. They are too overused to add originality or unique style to your texts. 
  • Mind the audience and their language when choosing idioms. 
  • Don’t be too repetitive – use varied idioms. 

How to Use Idiom in Essay 

Overall, idiom usage is not popular in academic writing. It is a more typical language means for literary works, poetry, and journalism. That’s why you should apply idioms sparingly, only if you’re 100% confident that they fit the context and the tone of your writing. It should also be a well-known idiom that is understandable to broad audiences. 

Idiom Examples 

If you still have questions about the propriety of idiom usage in your texts, you definitely need an idiom example to move on with this topic. Here are a couple of sample idioms and their interpretations to give you a better understanding of the proper context: 

  • Beating a dead horse – the idiom relates to fruitless efforts to change a situation that one can’t influence. 
  • Head in the clouds – the phrase is used to refer to people detached from reality. 
  • Jumping on the bandwagon – the idiom is often used to denote people joining a popular trend. 
  • Once in a blue moon – the idiom relates to rare occurrences. 

We hope that this guide has revealed all vital aspects of idioms and their integration into various texts. So, you have a full answer to the question, “What is an idiom?” and can explain the concept to your peers. If you still have questions or are confused about their usage, welcome to our writing service, where you’ll receive accurate information and consultation on any aspect of writing practice.

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Religion & Theology
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