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Information about idioms

The website contains examples of common English idioms. An idiom is an expression that has a different meaning than the sum of its words. So although, for example, the learner might know that the word kitten means baby cat, she may well have trouble with the idiom to have kittens, which means to be worried or nervous.

To master English, the learner needs not only to understand everyday idioms, but to use them correctly him- or herself. This can be difficult because some idioms are fixed, while others allow variation. For example, you must say kittens; it cannot be: She was having a kitten. On the other hand, the nouns in the following idiom can be singular or plural: to fight like cat and dog / to fight like cats and dogs.

For this webpage I selected 366 (one for each day of the year) from the thousands of English idioms. I chose those that I as a British native speaker personally use, with a particular focus on idioms using body parts. I omitted all phrasal verbs used idiomatically - 366 of these are listed elsewhere on this site.

The first two examples of each idiom have been concocted by me, an experienced teacher of English as a second language, as exemplifying a typical use. The examples contain a limited range of vocabulary so that the learner is not distracted by the presence of too many unfamiliar words.

The third and fourth examples* of the idiom have been taken from web pages found by searching in Google. The examples are thus authentic but not necessarily immediately transparent. Learners who really wish to understand the usage of an idiom are recommended to run a similar Google search.

* This is not yet finished for all idioms.


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