Definition of idiom in English:



  • 1A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g. over the moon, see the light).

    • ‘Students also were sincere in writing diaries in their rooms by asking various questions about words, idioms, and the differences between Korean and English.’
    • ‘First, one must have a firm command over classical Arabic language including its vocabulary, grammar, metaphors, and idioms.’
    • ‘Even though I'm a carefree user of idioms like ‘I could care less’, I agree with John's judgment about ‘don't care less.’’
    • ‘Their problem is to understand when people talk in indirect speech and use irony, idioms and metaphors because they take each sentence literally.’
    • ‘Consider the case of idioms which contain a word which has no uses outside the idiom itself.’
    • ‘India has had a longer exposure to English than any other country which uses it as a second language, and its distinctive words, idioms, grammar, rhetoric and rhythms are numerous and pervasive.’
    • ‘Still, ‘horse and buggy’ is a fixed expression, a collocation, an idiom, and ‘buggy and horse’ is not.’
    • ‘American Sign Language, which has its own grammatical system, cannot be translated word for word because of idioms.’
    • ‘My students became really interested in what all these idioms meant, so I developed an art/language unit on the usage of idioms, that would be appropriate for nearly any grade level.’
    • ‘Brewer's aim was to help readers understand the context of the catchphrases, clichés, slogans and odd linguistic idioms by which the British make themselves understood.’
    • ‘On the other hand, Indian and Western philosophical studies should be pursued independently using idioms, language, and metaphors appropriate to the investigations.’
    • ‘They can be familial or communal, as when an ethos, history, or way of life is articulated in ideas and words, manners, customs, folkways, myths, idioms, categories of discourse.’
    • ‘We turn next to semantic constraints triggered by the lexical properties of certain predicates, idioms, and anaphoric expressions.’
    • ‘Teens comprehend abstract language, such as idioms, figurative language, and metaphors.’
    • ‘Given a larger sample, individual idioms might be more precisely defined and differentiated from one another.’
    • ‘To be an adept speech-reader generally requires fluency in the language, as speech-reading requires knowledge of idioms and predicting what phrases would be most likely to occur in any given context.’
    • ‘Even the latter has been impregnated with American words and idioms, a process certain to continue.’
    • ‘For this, the dictionary has 80,000 words and phrases with over 10,000 phrasal verbs and idioms highlighted.’
    • ‘English is a difficult enough language to learn without all the idioms and metaphors and other figures of speech.’
    • ‘According to the most common definition, idioms are linguistic expressions whose overall meaning cannot be predicted from the meanings of the constituent parts.’
    expression, idiomatic expression, turn of phrase, set phrase, fixed expression, phrase
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    1. 1.1mass noun A form of expression natural to a language, person, or group of people.
      ‘he had a feeling for phrase and idiom’
      • ‘The few reviews written in a public idiom whether in literary journals or the general press are increasingly characterized by their blandly uncritical quality.’
      • ‘Rexroth had reimagined the poems as the work of someone on the other side of the Pacific Rim, speaking in a plain, natural-breathing, neutral American idiom.’
      • ‘The ideology has its importance in that it puts in an Islamic idiom what might otherwise be expressed in a nationalist or Marxist idiom.’
      • ‘You have always been fond of quaint and archaic words, so I shall speak to you in your own idiom, rather than vainly attempting to adopt the modes and manners of modern English, as she is spoken today.’
      • ‘In one way you can look at the book as an anthology of fairy-tales retold in a modern idiom.’
      • ‘When the movie Wayne's World was released in Latin America, a lot of the film's American idiom and idiosyncratic language didn't translate well, if at all.’
      • ‘The Jews spoke an Islamic cultural language, and in giving their cultural idiom a material expression, they relied on contemporary Islamic art for inspiration.’
      • ‘But this is a highly agreeable book, saved by Shelby Hearon's command of irony and idiom from the cliches of sentimental romance.’
      • ‘Sprachgefuhl (with an umlaut over the ‘u’) is a feeling for language, a sensitiveness to idiom.’
      • ‘But he is a politician who came to power using the idiom of fellowship and community.’
      • ‘A language of this kind would not share the disadvantages of a scientific idiom different from common usage.’
      • ‘We, of course, would say that the members are in the club: the example therefore illustrates the way in which Spinoza's purified metaphysical idiom conflicts with the language of man.’
      • ‘Regional differences need the idiom of globalisation to articulate themselves.’
      • ‘In turn, tradition was transformed into a modern idiom creating continuity between old and new.’
      • ‘She kept insisting that no one else had the gift for adapting the Bard to the modern idiom.’
      • ‘We need to make that point-in a warm and affectionate way, and in their language and idiom.’
      • ‘The film is an accurate witness to the Gospels using a modern idiom.’
      • ‘He not only lent a thundering voice to Panthic politics but also gave a new meaning, direction and idiom to it.’
      • ‘The translations I offer aim to transcribe the phrasing of the French as exactly as possible, often at the expense of English idiom or felicity of expression.’
      • ‘Fritsche's point is that Heidegger's idiom and use of language were part of a shared tradition of right-wing thought that emerged in the 1920s in Germany.’
      language, mode of expression, style of speech, speech, talk, -speak, manner of speaking, way of speaking, usage, phraseology, phrasing, choice of words, vocabulary, parlance, tongue, vernacular, jargon, patter, argot, patois, cant
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    2. 1.2 The dialect of a people or part of a country.
      • ‘The linguistic logic of the bubble was expressed in a particularly Californian idiom.’
      • ‘The author's use of a southern idiom adds regional charm.’
      • ‘She perfectly recreates the idioms and dialects of a certain sort of Manchester, and it was un-put-downable in a slightly addictive, confessional way.’
      • ‘The soap videos provide both a glimpse of popular British culture and useful exposure to regional accents and idioms.’
      • ‘There are southern and northern dialects, each having three regional idioms.’
      • ‘It is an uphill task capturing the true spirit of the original, not missing out on the nuances and finer points of the dialect and the local idiom, or for that matter, the tenor and authentic flavour of the literary work in question.’
      regional language, local language, local tongue, local speech, local parlance, variety of language
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  • 2A characteristic mode of expression in music or art.

    ‘they were both working in a neo-impressionist idiom’
    • ‘But the more I hear it the more I hear Jewish melodies expressed through German musical idioms - and vice versa.’
    • ‘In his abstract expressionist paintings, popular idioms found in his music clearly present themselves.’
    • ‘But the Lowell of Life Studies was nothing but a maker - a poet who forged the apparently natural idiom on which other poets were to depend.’
    • ‘The New York Times explained that ‘Monroe created one of the most durable idioms in American music.’’
    • ‘Although I really don't like Jazz, I do like the way Gershwin uses the jazz idiom to create sublime music, that sounds fresh and modern eighty years after it was written.’
    • ‘Similarly, in their music, whole groups of people have often adopted characteristic idioms and inflections, which in course of time took the form of favouring some pitches or pitch intervals and avoiding others.’
    • ‘An accomplished singer, she is well versed in singing various styles and idioms of music.’
    • ‘The dance and the dancer's idiom transcend time, space and language.’
    • ‘In Mozart and Salieri he wrote in a highly expressive declamatory idiom, while in Tsarskaya nevesta he used traditional forms and smooth melodies.’
    • ‘Now 29, Kate is quite content to stick with folk, rather than crossing her music with more mainstream idioms to court commercial success.’
    • ‘Stylistically, she has moved from a highly detailed, expressive idiom to a pared-down rendition of place in which the gestural mark is less pronounced.’
    • ‘He creates paintings on the lines of the artistes of yore who not only adopted a conventional artistic idiom, but also used natural dyes.’
    • ‘At the same time his style changed, as he abandoned Cubist leanings for a more naturalistic idiom.’
    • ‘Long a downtown resident, Mitchell treats, within the confines of his abstract idiom, such natural phenomena as clouds and trees, as well as the urban language of streets and buildings.’
    • ‘He then spent two years in Paris, and on his return to New York worked in the prevailing Abstract Expressionist idiom, being particularly influenced by Jackson Pollock.’
    • ‘The second device relied on words rather than theatrical idioms and images.’
    • ‘Composers are not standing in line to compose ballets, and, in fact, the idiom of much modern music might not be all that suitable for dance.’
    • ‘Carrà, Soffici, and Ottone Rosai contributed to the Strapaese circle with landscapes and genre painting rendered in a conservative, naturalist idiom.’
    • ‘Drawing is still widely regarded in the Indian art world as a subordinate idiom; however complex or powerful a drawing may be, very few viewers are disposed to accord it an autonomous position.’
    • ‘As a result, music hall idioms and artistes were ubiquitous.’


Late 16th century: from French idiome, or via late Latin from Greek idiōma ‘private property, peculiar phraseology’, from idiousthai ‘make one's own’, from idios ‘own, private’.