What Are Idioms & How Often Should I Use Them?

What are idioms in the English language

“OK, I knew English was weird, but come on… Now I have to know what idioms are?” It’s normal to despair when it comes to idioms as not even learning the most common idioms will help you know the meaning of them all.

It’s kind of similar to trying to find out what phrasal verbs actually are and attempting to learn as much as you can about phrasal verbs. There seems to be no end and it feels as though not even an English language school in San Diego could help you. However, help is on the way!

What are idioms in the English language?

Well, first of all, idioms are fun. Secondly, if you’d like a  California Department of Education style explanation of what idioms actually are, we can do that as well, but that’s a bit less fun to be completely honest.

Joking aside, here’s the simplest explanation of what an idiom is:

  • An idiom is a combination of words that, put together, have a meaning that is different than the sum of its parts. 

Even more plainly, idioms usually don’t mean what you think they do. Let’s take, for example, the idiom “when pigs fly”. Now, it has nothing to do with pigs suddenly growing wings, no. It means that something is extremely unlikely to ever happen, similar to how pigs will never fly (unless a mad scientist cross-breeds a pig and an eagle and it happens to miraculously work and we get a peagle). 

Barring such an occurrence, idioms almost never mean what you think they do on your first encounter.

How often should you use idioms?

Every now and again is the safest bet if you’re asking us. While they are fun, you should look at idioms as a kind of language spice - great if you use it sparingly, too much if you use them too often.

Idioms can be a great addition to a person’s vocabulary. They sound great, they’re interesting to hear, and they make you sound as if you’re a level or two above your actual language proficiency.

But, be careful not to become an idiom hog. You know, a person who starts using idioms so much he loses all the ability to speak plainly. Why are you looking at us all funny, it’s a thing! Really though, use idioms, but don’t abuse them!

What are the most common idioms in the English language?

If you’re looking to find out what the most commonly used idioms in English are so you can enrich your vocabulary a bit, you’re in the right place. Here’s our selection of top 10 idioms for every occasion:

  1. “Speak of the devil” - Nothing to do with occult rituals, it just means that a person you’ve been speaking about has suddenly appeared.
  2. “See eye to eye” - You don’t have to join heads to see eye to eye with somebody. It simply means that you agree with somebody else on a certain matter.
  3. “A piece of cake” - One or two? No, not that piece of cake, an idiomatic piece of cake! If something’s really easy, it’s a piece of cake! Or a walk in the park for that matter.
  4. “To cost an arm and a leg” - When something is very very expensive, it costs an arm and a leg. Not literally though, that would be a bit barbaric.
  5. “To feel under the weather” - This means you’re not feeling all that grand, usually when you’re a bit ill.
  6. “Kill two birds with one stone” - Wait, nobody’s talking about actually killing birds, come on. This means that you are able to solve two problems at the same time. Woah, a close one.
  7. “Break a leg” - Now, if you’re not a native, and somebody tells you to break a leg, don’t get cross, because the person is wishing you good luck.
  8. “The last straw!” - If you’re really angry with somebody, you can say that it’s the last straw and that you can’t take it anymore!
  9. “Don’t judge a book by its covers” - It’s true for books as well as people. Don’t judge a man on appearance alone.
  10. “The elephant in the room” - When there’s an elephant in the room, there’s a matter that nobody’s willing to discuss openly.

“Is there a language school for English in San Diego where I could learn idioms?”

If idioms are still proving to be too much to handle, if they’re giving you the cold shoulder even though you’re giving it your all to hit the nail right in the head, you’re in luck, because help is on the way!

College of English Language is the perfect place for you to learn all the idioms you want, and then some. Our teachers are experienced and dedicated and they’ll give it their all to teach you. So, if you’re ever near Embarcadero, stop by our school and let’s see how we can sort you out.