Idiom: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what an idiom is? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on idioms, including the definition, usage, example sentences, and more!

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

What is an idiom?

According to Merriam-Webster, an idiom is a figure of speech or group of words which has a meaning that is established by common usage, and not deducible from the individual words. These common idioms do not use idioms’ literal meaning, but rather a figurative one as known by native English speakers.

What are examples of idioms?

An idiom can be used in many different contexts in the English language. Trying to use a word or literary technique in a sentence is one of the best ways to memorize what it is, but you can also try making flashcards or quizzes that test your knowledge. Try using this term of the day in a sentence today! Below are a couple of examples of common English idioms that can help get you started incorporating this tool into your everyday use.  Take a look at these idiom examples from Your Dictionary and see how many you know! 

  •  See eye to eye – Agree
  •  Raining cats and dogs – It is raining very hard
  •  Snail’s pace – To move extremely slow
  •  Birdbrain – Someone who is not very smart
  •  Blessing in disguise – Something that seems bad but is good
  •  Cat got your tongue? – Why aren’t you talking?
  •  Give it a shot – To try to do something
  •  Hold your horses – Wait a minute
  •  Goose is cooked – Now you’re in trouble
  •  Let the cat out of the bag – Tell a secret
  •  Second to none – The best
  •  When pigs fly – To say something is impossible
  •  Hot dog – A person doing athletic stunts that are dangerous
  •  Curiosity killed the cat – Asking too many questions may get you in trouble
  •  Crack a book – Open up a book and study
  •  Teacher’s pet – The teacher’s favorite student
  •  Down to the wire – At the last minute
  •  Slipped my mind – I forgot
  •  You can’t teach an old dog new tricks – It’s harder for older people to learn new things
  •  Get a kick out of it – Really enjoy/like something
  •  Out of the blue – With no warning
  •  Doggy bag – A bag to take home leftovers from a restaurant
  •  A grey area – Something unclear
  •  The world is your oyster – You can achieve whatever/go wherever you want
  •  Wolf in sheep’s clothing – A person who pretends to be nice but is not
  •  Draw a blank – Can’t remember
  •  Get off your high horse – Quit thinking you are better than others
  •  Fill in the blanks – Provide more information
  •  Mumbo jumbo – To call something total nonsense
  •  Giving the cold shoulder – Ignore someone
  •  A little birdie told me – Someone told me a secret
  •  It cost an arm and a leg – It was expensive
  •  Busy as a bee – To be very active and working hard at something
  •  Horse of a different color – Something that is quite different, a separate issue
  •  Get your act together – Behave properly
  •  Cry crocodile tears – To pretend to be upset
  •  Stir a hornet’s nest – To cause a lot of trouble
  •  Pig out – To eat a lot
  •  Have second thoughts – Have doubts
  •  Have a change of heart – Changed your mind
  •  Wild goose chase – Unnecessary hunt
  •  Rule of thumb – General rule
  •  Piece of cake – Something very easy
  •  Pass with flying colors – To succeed at something easily
  •  Elephant in the room – Something everyone knows but won’t say
  •  In the same boat – Be in the same situation
  •  Different kettle of fish – Something completely different
  •  Spill the beans – Tell a secret
  •  At the drop of a hat – quickly
  •  Fish out of water – Being somewhere you don’t belong
  •  Call it a day – Time to quit
  •  Cool as a cucumber – To be very calm under stress
  •  As easy as ABC – Something is very easy
  •  Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched – Don’t get ahead of yourself
  •  Put a bug in his ear – Make a suggestion
  •  Make a mountain out of a molehill – Make something unimportant into a big deal
  •  I’ve got your number – To say you can’t be fooled by someone since you have them figured out
  •  Have mixed feelings – Be unsure of how you feel
  •  Top banana – First place, in charge
  •  Add fuel to the fire – To add more to an existing problem
  •  In hot water – Be in trouble
  •  Cross your fingers – For good luck
  •  For the birds – Something that is not worth anything
  •  Fell on deaf ears – People wouldn’t listen to something
  •  A rip-off – Too expensive, a lot of money for little value
  •  Bee in her bonnet – She is upset
  •  A bull in a china shop – Someone who is very clumsy
  •  I’m all ears – You have my full attention
  •  Night owl – Someone who stays up late
  •  Speak your mind – Say what you really feel
  •  Miss the boat – You missed your chance
  •  Read between the lines – Find the hidden meaning
  •  Kick the bucket – Die
  •  Get cold feet – Be nervous
  •  It’s in the bag – It’s a certainty
  •  The icing on the cake – Something additional that turns good into great
  •  Play it by ear – Improvise

What are other literary techniques and devices?

There are many different grammatical and literary techniques and devices that you might see when you are reading poetry or prose. Knowing these devices is very important because they are always used in writing or speech for some purpose. Knowing these devices can help readers and listeners understand the speaker or author’s deeper meaning and why they are using such a device. Take a look at the below list of literary devices from Reedsy and see how many you know! Then try researching ones that are unfamiliar to you. 

  •  Alliteration
  •  Tautology
  •  Allegory
  •  Symbolism
  •  In Medias Res
  •  Chiasmus
  •  Juxtaposition
  •  Flashback
  •  Anthropomorphism
  •  Tmesis
  •  Cumulative sentence
  •  Malapropism
  •  Anastrophe
  •  Anachronism
  •  Tone
  •  Imagery
  •  Dramatic irony
  •  Hypophora
  •  Isocolon
  •  Frame story
  •  Motif
  •  Anaphora
  •  Allusion
  •  Exposition
  •  Tragicomedy
  •  Litotes
  •  Repetition
  •  Oxymoron
  •  Satire
  •  Hyperbole
  •  Personification
  •  Foreshadowing
  •  Onomatopoeia
  •  Soliloquy
  •  Irony
  •  Euphemism
  •  Metonymy
  •  Zoomorphism
  •  Aphorism
  •  Paradox
  •  Polysyndeton
  •  Colloquialism
  •  Synecdoche
  •  Archetype
  •  Point of view
  •  Simile

Overall, the word idiom is a form of figurative language used by a particular group of people that has a meaning by usage, and not by literal meaning.


  1. 45+ Literary Devices and Terms Every Writer Should Know | Reedsy 
  2. 68 Examples of Idioms for Kids | Your Dictionary 
  3. Idiom | Definition of Idiom | Merriam-Webster