What Is An Idiom? Definition and Examples

What Is An Idiom?

So you’re here and you’re wondering: “What is an idiom?” Don’t worry, it’s simple! First, let’s go over the definition: An idiom is a group of words, and the meaning of these words is not immediately apparent when you look at them.

Okay, now let’s take a closer look at one so we can learn more about them.

Note: In the paragraphs and examples that follow, idioms will appear in the color blue.

Idiom definitions, draw the line

EXAMPLE #1: “For breakfast, I’ll eat up to three eggs. I draw the line at more than that.”

The idiom in this example is draw the line. What does it mean? When someone draws the line, they set a limit and do not go beyond it. So in the example, the person set a limit of three eggs; they will not eat any more than that amount. This is the phrase’s figurative meaning.

Now, what happens if someone has never heard of this idiom before? If they were to read the example, what would they think after seeing it? They would not be able to deduce the phrase’s figurative meaning just by looking at it, so they’d probably think in more literal terms, like somebody drawing a line with a pencil. But if this phrase is taken literally, then the example sentence doesn’t make much sense, now does it?

​So you see, if someone has never seen or heard of a particular idiom before, then it’s pretty much impossible for them to figure out its figurative meaning simply by looking at the words.

That’s why websites like this are helpful, because you can find the meaning for hundreds of idioms on here. So if there’s one in particular that you have in mind and you want to learn more about it, feel free to explore this site. Anyways, let’s move on to example #2.

Idiom Definition and Example #2

Alright, here’s another idiom definition and example for us to consider. Have you heard of this one before? You might want to grab a broom because it’s gonna get a little messy:

Spilling the beans idiom example

EXAMPLE #2: “Come on, Jerry, spill the beans already!”

​The idiom in this example is spill the beans. It’s definition is “to reveal a secret.” Basically, Jerry is being asked to disclose information; to make it known.

However, let’s pretend for a second that you didn’t know any of that. Reading the example sentence again, what do you think of now? Taken literally, this idiom suddenly becomes an odd request. It sounds like someone is asking Jerry to make a mess by dumping beans all over the floor. But since we know the definition of this idiom, we understand what is actually being said here.

But do you see how if a person has never seen a certain expression before, how difficult it would be for them to figure out its figurative meaning just by looking at it? This is part of the reason why learning new languages can be difficult, because other languages have idioms too and learning them (especially when there’s a ton of them to be learned) can be tough.

​Alright, so we have gone over the question of ‘What is an idiom?’ Now, let’s talk about how these things are used on a daily basis by people.

Did You Know?

Many of the idioms in use today are hundreds of years old, while others are more recent, being less than a century old. For instance, “out of the jaws of death” is one that’s been around for over 400 years.

Examples Of Idioms And How They’re Used

Idiomatic expressions are used in all kinds of situations. People use them at work or while they’re out shopping, at the gym or during school, and yes, even at home. So let’s look at a few examples of idioms and see how they are applied in different circumstances:

When we’re becoming tired:

  • Recharge one’s batteries (EX: I need to recharge my batteries before our trip to the zoo.)
  • Running out of steam (EX: Rob almost won the race, but he ran out of steam at the end.)

When we’re describing things that are excellent: 

  • Knock one’s socks off (EX: The clarity on this new phone’s screen will knock your socks off.)
  • Out of this world (EX: We visited Sea World this weekend and it was out of this world.)

When we take a guess at something, even though we lack knowledge on the subject:​

  • Going out on a limb (EX: I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that chicken noodle soup you made last night will last one week in the fridge.)
  • Shot in the dark (EX: I don’t know anything about cars, so this is a shot in the dark, but I think you have to change the oil every two months.)

When someone is holding a grudge against another person:

  • A chip on (one’s) shoulder (EX: He’s got a chip on his shoulder because of the argument we had yesterday.)
  • A bone to pick (EX: He’s been treated unfairly, so he has a bone to pick with his boss.)

As you can see from these 8 examples of idioms, they are used for all kinds of situations in life.

Looking For More?

If you want to see even more idiom examples, then that page has you covered. Hopefully, though, the question “what is an idiom?” has been answered for you. If it hasn’t, well, maybe take a 5 minute break and go over the information on here one more time. 

Alright, so I guess that’s it. I tried thinking of a clever expression to put here as a way of saying goodbye, but I couldn’t think of one. Maybe, uh… don’t let the door hit you on the way out! I mean that in a nice way.