English Language Reference-Idioms: Part 1

Native speakers of English often use idioms. What are idioms?

An idiom is a phrase whose meaning is difficult or sometimes impossible to guess or understand by looking at the meanings of the individual words it contains. For example, the phrase be in the same boat has a literal meaning that is easy to understand, but it also has an idiomatic meaning:

>  I found the lesson diffcult at first. But we were all in the same boat ; we were all learning.

Here, be in the same boat  means ‘to be in the same difficult or unfortunate situation’.

Some idioms are imaginative expressions such as proverbs and sayings:

> Too many cooks spoil the broth.

(= If too many people are involved in the samething, it will not be well done.)

If the expression/idiom is well known, part of it may be left out:

> Well, I knew everything would go wrong- it’s the usual story of too many cooks!

Other idioms are short expressions that are used for a particular purpose:

> Hang in there! ( used to encourage somebody in a difficult situation)

> Get lost! ( a rude way of saying ‘go away’)

Many idioms however, are not vivid in this way. They are considered as idioms because their form is fixed:

> for certain

> in any case

In a good dictionary you will find idioms are difined at the entry for the first ‘full’ word ( a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb) they contain. This means ignoring any grammatical words such as articles and prepositions. Idioms follow the main senses of a word, in section marked –IDM:

IDM in the blink of an eye very quickly; in a short time on the blink (informal) (of a machine) no longer working correctly.

The words in, the and on in these idioms do not count as ‘full’ words, and so the idioms are not listed at the entries for these words.

Deciding where idioms start and stop is not always easy. If you hear for example this expression:

> They decided to bury the hatchet and try to be friends again.

you might think that hatchet is the only word you do not know and look that up. In fact bury the hatchet is an idiomatic expression and it is defined at bury. At hatchet you will find a cross-reference directing you to bury:

hatchet noun a small AXE (= a tool with a short handle– picture at AXE IDM see BURY

OK that’s a brief explanation of idioms. More detailed explanations will follow in Part 2 of  my Idioms Post.

Now lets just look at few well known idioms and their meanings:


Exploreall avenues

Fighttooth and nail

Flyby the seat of your pants

Goto great lengths

Gointo overdrive

Keep your nose to the grindstone

Have one’s heartset on something

Hell-bent on something  If you are hell-bent on doing something, you are recklessly   determined to do it, even if it’s dangerous or stupid. “Although he is still weak, he’s hell-bent on playing the match.”Hitch one’s wagon to a star  Someone who hitches their wagon to a star has great   ambitions and is very determined to reach their goal.   “At an early age she decided to hitch her wagon to a star   and become rich and famous.”Kill two birds with one stone  If you kill two birds with one stone, you succeed in doing   two things at the same time.   “By studying on the train on the way home every week-end,   Claire kills two birds with one stone.”Make hay while the sun shines   This expression is used as an encouragement to take   advantage of a good situation which may not last.   “Successful sportsmen are advised to make hay while   the sun shines.”Make headway If you make headway, you make progress in what you   are trying to achieve.   “Investigators have made little headway in their search for   the causes of the catastrophe.”Mean business  If someone means business, they are serious about what   they announce.   “The boss says that in future any missing material will be   reported to the police, and he looks as though he means   business.”Pester power  This expression refers to the power children exert over their   parents by continually nagging or pestering them until they   accept to buy advertised toys or fashionable products.   “Pester power leads busy parents to buy more and more   for their children.”Reach for the moon  If you reach for the moon, you are very ambitious and try   to achieve something even if it’s difficult.   “His parents were hardworking people who encouraged their    children to reach for the moon.”Raise/lower your sights  If you raise or lower your sights, you raise or lower your   expectations, or you are more or less ambitious..   “He had to lower his sights and accept a less ll-paid job   than what he had hoped for.”Sink one’s teeth into something  If you sink your teeth into something, you do it with a lot   of energy and enthusiasm.   “When Julie got promoted, she immediately sank her teeth   into her new job.”The sky’s the limit   To say “the sky’s the limit” means that there is no limit   to thepossibility of success or progress for someone or   something.   “How successful do you think the project will be?    Who knows… the sky’s the limit!”Stand on your own two feet   If you stand on your own two feet, you are independent   and need no help from anyone.   “When young people leave home, they learn to stand on   their own two feet.”
At all costs   If you are determined to obtain or achieve something at all   costs, you want it regardless of the expense, effort or sacrifice   involved.   “The journalist was determined at all costs to get a report from   the war zone.”

Avowed intent   When someone makes a public declaration of their objective   or goal, this is their avowed intent.   “The avowed intent of the new Government is to reduce    unemployment.”
Beard the lion in his den   If you visit someone important in the place where they work,   because you are determined to challenge him/her or obtain   something, you beard the lion in his den.
Have a bee in one’s bonnet   A person who has a bee in their bonnet has an idea   which constantly occupies their thoughts.   “She’s got a bee in her bonnet about moving to New York.”
Beyond one’s wildest dreams   If something is beyond your wildest dreams, it is better   than you imagined or hoped for.   “The research team received a grant from the government   that was beyond their wildest dreams.”
Blood, sweat and tears   A project or action which involves blood, sweat and tears requires a lot of effort and hard work.   “His success wasn’t due to luck; it was blood, sweat and   tears all the way.”
Have something on the brain   If you have something on the brain, you think or talk   about it constantly.   “Stop talking about golf.  You’ve got golf on the brain!”
Buckle down   If you buckle down, you apply yourself with determination to   hard work and give it your full attention.   “If you want to pass your exams, you’ll have buckle down and   do some serious work.”
Dig in your heels    If you dig in your heels, you refuse to do something,   especially if someone is trying to convince you to do so.   “My grandfather dug in his heels and refused to move to an   apartment.”
An eager beaver   The term eager beaver refers to a person who is hard-   working and enthusiastic, sometimes considered overzealous.   “The new accountant works all the time – first to arrive and   last to leave  – a real eager beaver!”
  If you explore all avenues, you try out every possibility in   order to obtain a result or find a solution.   “We can’t say it’s impossible until we’ve explored all   avenues.”
   If you fight tooth and nail for something, you fight with all   your energy.   “The Transport Minister fought tooth and nail to have to have   the proposed road safety law accepted.”
If you fly by the seat of your pants, you do something   without knowledge or experience, using only your instinct and   hoping that you will succeed.   “Without any formal training, he decided to fly by the seat of   his pants and try his luck in New York.”
Go the extra mile   If you go the extra mile, you do more than what is expected   of you.   “You can count on Tom; he’s always willing to go the extra   mile.”
  When trying to achieve something, if you go to great lengths,   you do everything that is possible in order to succeed.   “The two parties went to great lengths to reach an agreement.”
Going places   To say that someone is going places means that they show   talent and ability that will no doubt lead to a successful future.   “Even at college it was obvious that Paul was going places.”
  If someone or something goes into overdrive, they begin to   work very hard or start to perform intensely.   “At the start of every new collection, my imagination goes into   overdrive.”
  A person who keeps their nose to the grindstone is   someone who concentrates on working hard at his job.
Hang in there   This expression is used to encourage someone to persevere   and not give up in spite of the difficult circumstances.   “I know the atmosphere is very tense, but just hang in   there and eventually things will calm down.”
Hang on by your fingernails When you hang on by your fingernails, you succeed in   continuing to do something in a very difficult situation.   “The restaurant is losing more and more customers; the owner   is just hanging on by his fingernails.”
  Someone who has their heart set on something wants it   very much.   “From an early age Tiger had his heart set on becoming a   professional golfer.”
A long row to hoe   This expression refers to a difficult task, assignment or   undertaking that will take a long time.   “Getting through medical school is going to be a long row   to hoe.”
Never say die   This expression is used to encourage someone to persevere   in their efforts and not give up or abandon their project.   “Keep going.  It’s too soon to give up.  Never say die!”
Not for (all) the world If you say that you would not do something for (all) the world,   you  mean that you would never do it, not matter what you   were offered.   “I would not live in that building for the world.”
Paddle your own canoe   If you paddle your own canoe, you do what you want to   do without help or interference from anyone.   “He decided to paddle his own canoe and set up his own   company.”
Pound the pavement   Someone who pounds the pavement, walks the streets   or goes from company to company, usually in search of   employment.   You also pound the pavement in an effort to raise funds or   gain support for a cause.   “Charlie is out there pounding the pavement since he lost   his job.”
Pull out all the stops   If you pull out all the stops, you do everything you can to   make something successful.   “We’ll have to pull out all the stops to get the store ready   for the opening day.”
Punch above one’s weight   If you punch above your weight, you try to perform at a level   that is considered to be beyond your ability.   “She submitted her idea for the ‘invention of the year’ award,   knowing that she was punching above her weight.”
Stop at nothing   Someone who would stop at nothing would do anything,   even something illegal or immoral, in order to obtain what   they want.   “He’d stop at nothing if there was a possibility of making   money.”
Take pains   If you take pains to do something, you try very hard or make   a special effort to do something as well as possible.   “Great pains were taken to ensure the athletes’ security.”






Good luck with your English language learning 


Ok English

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