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Idiomatic Expressions: Why I’m Highlighting Some Bits of Text in Red in My Blog Posts

by Robby on July 5, 2011

English Idiomatic Expressions
Here’s the short answer – they’re bits of spoken English any foreign English speaker should know to communicate effectively! They’re word combinations used by native English speakers and by using them you’re going to make your spoken English sound more natural and native-like.

English collocations, phrasal verbs and sayings all fall under the broad category of these idiomatic expressions, and to put it simply – you can’t come up with these sort of sayings just by sticking the words together; you have to learn the EXACT phrase or word combination to be able to use it :!:

There are also typical full English idioms among them, but I have to admit I have some reservations towards learning certain idioms like “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “pot calling the kettle black.” They are typical English idioms that you’ll find on any decent English idiom list online, yet they’re rarely heard in real life, if at all.

My take on the whole English idiom thing (like it’s on spoken English in general) is the following – you don’t need to hammer loads of English idioms in your brain that you’re not going to use. You’d much better off using your potential as a foreign English speaker by learning idiomatic expressions because there’s a much bigger chance you’re going to use them in real life!

How about the following ones: “for the argument’s sake”, “to jump to a conclusion”, “fit for the purpose”?

These are typical idiomatic expressions that have some characteristics of full idioms, but at the same time it would be possible to derive their meaning from the words alone.

Also, they don’t even need to be long phrases to fall under the category of idiomatic expressions. “On target”, “straight away”, “I’m all ears”, “big time” and similar short expressions are the ones that can make a difference between you being perceived a so-so English speaker or quite an advanced one! Not that you should care what others think of you, but still it’s nice to be capable of communicating with native English speakers like an equal, isn’t it? ;-)

So to help you with learning these idiomatic expressions, I’ve been highlighting them in my blog posts in red color so that you can immediately see which bits are useful to memorize!

Just to remind youidioms are sayings and phrases you can’t take literally, for instance “a piece of cake” means something is very easy to do but it’s got nothing to do with pastry. You can’t infer the meaning of this idiom from the words alone :!:

Idiomatic expressions, for the most part, would reveal their true meaning even to those who hear them for the first time, yet you as a foreign English speaker wouldn’t be able to construct them on your own anyway.

Let’s take the expression “for the most part”. You could quite easily guess its meaning even if you hadn’t heard it before, yet could you come up with an identical phrase on your won? Of course not, simply because natural English language doesn’t always comply with rules that are set in stone. You can’t translate directly across languages, and every language has its own unique means of expressions.

Sometimes foreign English speakers might even think there’s something wrong with grammar in the idiomatic expressions. If I was asked to create a sentence conveying the same message, most likely I’d come up with something like “for the biggest part”, or “at the biggest part”.

How could I ever think of pairing up the words “most” and “part” if it doesn’t make grammatical sense to me? Yet for one reason or another it’s how native English speakers speak and I strongly believe you’re much better off just repeating it without questioning WHY they say it. Leave it to academics!

But now let’s go back to where I started – explaining why I favor idiomatic expressions over typical idioms.

The reason behind it is – you’ll use the former ones an awful lot more than the latter ones. Spoken English is full of things people would describe as “I don’t know why but they just say it this way in English”! Sometimes I’d refer to it as having the gut feeling for spoken English which means you just have to “feel” what the right thing to say is. This feeling can be acquired by plenty of exposure to the English language and engaging in as many English conversations as you can, so that eventually you’ll mimic native English speakers.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying you don’t need to know any proper English idioms! If you ask your friend about his plans for the evening and he tells you “we’ll play it by ear”, it’s obvious that you need to know the meaning of this idiom to understand what your friend meant :!:

There are plenty of full English idioms that you’ll pick up naturally just like idiomatic expressions and they’ll come in handy to make your spoken English natural and fluent. The point I was trying to make is that many of those idioms are outdated so you shouldn’t learn all idioms that come along. You have to be selective and learn the ones you hear on a daily basis around you!

Sometimes it’s pretty hard to say where an idiom becomes an idiomatic expression. For instance, a saying I hear quite often in Ireland is “to scare the living daylights out of me”, which means that something or something gave me a terrible fright. Is it an idiom? Probably yes, because it’s not clear as to what “living daylights” has got to do with being afraid.

On the other hand, is it possible to guess its meaning? Well, I’d say it is! So – it’s probably not a full idiom whose meaning can’t be inferred by taking the words literally; it’s probably more like an idiomatic expression because the word “to scare” gives away its meaning!

Anyway, I don’t want to spend more of your time trying to figure out whether this or that particular saying is an idiom, or idiomatic expression or whatever, it wouldn’t serve any purpose in your quest to becoming a fluent English speaker.

All you need to know is that there’s loads of English sayings and small talk phrases that are typical for the English language only and that you need to know a good few of them to make your conversational English sound natural and also so that you can fully understand what other English speakers are communicating with you! :-)

Robby

P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE - it’s stuffed full with English idioms and idiomatic expressions!

 

English Harmony System

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Thanks Alicia for the positive feedback, I really appreciate it!

  • Alicia

    Your method of learning the language is brilliant, Robby!

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    What about them?

  • louiegi

    sentences containing idiomatic expressions

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    If you’ve no idea what a particular idiom means, please use the great search tool Google to look it up! You may also want to use this website http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ because you’ll find pretty much any phrase or expression on it!

  • Polly

    What to do, if i come up with some idiomatic expressions
    That i have no idea what they are meaning.

  • Kestrel0117

    very thoughtful of you, thanks a lot rob, keep up. GBU

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Thanks, I really appreciate your opinion of my blog and my efforts to help my fellow foreigners with fluency and confidence related issues!

    Speaking of academic writing – well, you may find this article helpful: http://englishharmony.com/write-like-a-native-speaker/

    Hope this helps,

    Robby

  • Zsljulius

    Helpful, helpful, helpful. Your blog is very helpful not just for the learning purposes but also for the inspiration. I have been constantly in doubt of my English, and having hard time blending in the English community ( I am currently an international student in the U.S). I took my GRE the other day, but did really bad on the writing part(below 29%). You had any suggestion for academic  writings, or specifically for the time-limited writing? 

    Thanks for your effort for putting all these great posts together.

  • Pingback: Find It Hard to Sound American? Take Some Water in Your Mouth!

  • Guest

     Yay! Cant’ wait to see it!

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Btw – I’m currently working on a free eBook which is going to be packed full of idioms and phrases. So stay tuned and you’ll be in a pleasant surprise! ;-)

  • Guest

     Well, that’s the problem: You have to buy the whole system and it’s currently for Windows only :-(

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    You can take a look at my English Harmony System 2.0:
    http://englishharmony.com/improve-spoken-english.php 

    It’s packed full with different phrases and idiomatic expressions and does its job beautifully! ;-)

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Hi Hashem,

    Thanks for publishing the list of expressions, it’s a great addition to this post and my blog as a whole!

    I didn’t know number 2, the first part of number 6 and number 7, so as they say you learn something new every day! ;-)

    Btw, I looked up the meaning of ‘pack a wallop’ and it appears that it can be used to describe anything that causes excitement or other sorts of intense feelings; you can look it up here: http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/pack+a+wallop

    Thanks a lot,

    Robby

  • Guest

    Robby, it would be great if you could make a list of those idiomatic expressions separately available for purchase?

  • Hashem

    greeting robby :)
    in the last few couple of months i’ve memorized quite a few of idioms and phrases while watching tv in hopes that i’ll become more effective when it comes to speaking english and i’d like you to take a gander at just a small fraction of them :
    1)go up in smoke.. means same as go to watse ,like 20 years of hard work went up in smoke.
    2)jump off the gun:to get a headstart but at a bad timing.
    3)at stake/at japordy/on the line? all could be used when you’re speaking about something that’s at risk.
    4)quell their hunger/quench their thirst.(not idioms nor phrases)
    5)tip the the scales to my direction/close to give someone and edge.
    6)tickles you fancy/floats the boat.could be used to tell that you’re interested in a particular thing.
    7)pack a wallop: to punch with a considerable force.i guess you could use that when u’re telling the other party that somebody is strong. like:sure can that boy pack a wallop.

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Thanks Tamara, I’m flattered… ;-)

    What I’ve achieved is within the realm of every foreign English speaker’s possibility; and don’t forget that the comment I received was made about my WRITING. 

    As I’ve often said on this blog, writing and speaking are two quite different things and while one can be very comfortable while writing, it’s possible that that person is having severe oral fluency related issues.

    In my case I’ve dealt with them and I can speak fluently and comfortably, yet I’m sure my speech wouldn’t warrant the aforementioned comment because it’s not as perfect as that of a native speaker.

    Not that I would be too hung up about it; I’m just saying this to point out that you might not be that far away from achieving your goal of English fluency yourself ;-)

  • Tamara

     
    Guys, I just think that Robby is a very nice person first of all…
     
    Robby in love with the English language and it is obvious; and he shared his love with us big time!
     
    Robby, it’s so nice that native speakers are reading your blog posts and saying to you:” I would never have guessed English is not your first language.”
     
    That is what I am dreaming of!  I wish one day someone say these words to me…
    Well… “To succeed at something you have to be engaged in that activity in earnest or else you won’t achieve any noticeable success.”
     
    Robby, thank you for being such a great example of achieving English fluency!

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Hi Marwa,

    Good questions, but I can’t actually think of any fitting specific idiomatic expressions to describe those two situations.

    In the first instance the phrase you used – “isn’t hard to please” – is a very good one and can be considered a valid expression in its own right.

    Speaking of having nothing interesting to watch on TV, personally I would say – “not much on TV tonight” or something similar. 

    You see, such and similar phrases aren’t generally considered as idioms, but I would still put them in the same category.

    Regards,

    Robby

  • Marwa

    hello robby i’ve been meeting to ask u.. do u happen to know a phrase or an idiom suitable in a situation when u want to describe a person who isn’t hard to please (isn’t picky) modest an he’s almost satisfied with anything.another thing,suppose that ur uncle came to u while u’re watching tv …u’re switching channels and there’s nothing really interesting,is there some idiom to use here instead of sayng nothing intesersting?

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Thanks for the comment! My foreign origin isn’t probably evident in my writing I guess, but when I open my mouth the hard East-European accent makes it all quite obvious! Which I’m not concerned about anyway because there’s no point in being hung up over something I can’t change.

    Thanks for the expressions – hadn’t heard these (not surprising considering I live in Ireland!)

    Here’s what came to my mind when reading your phrases – “You’re bunkers” and “He’s totally flabbergasted” – can’t really think of any local Irish equivalents though!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002442149179 Hadyn Thomas

    To be honest with you, most of us native speakers do not use this term much. You would definitely find it in something like a Jane Austen novel. I have only used it a few times in my life to tell the listener that I mean to do something completely and seriously.

    Cheers!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002442149179 Hadyn Thomas

    A very interesting article, and I would never have guessed English is not your first language. I have often wondered why we say some of the strange things that we do, so it is good to discover others think the same about English :-).

    You mentioned ‘the pot calling the kettle black’, which was said quite often when I was a child. I still use this phrase but I change the word black to refer back to the other person’s remark – for example, if someone calls me fat and they are fat, I would say, ‘that is the pot calling the kettle fat’. English is a great language to play around with, and most times people will understand you. Just have fun with it and kick around our expressions to make them your own.

    Here are a couple local (England’s Westcountry) expressions for you:
    ‘You are bombed out’ (mad, crazy, out of your mind);’He is totally mazed’ (confused, bewildered).

    All the best.

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Thanks Yusuf, but I’m far from being perfect, believe me! ;-) And actually that’s what’s allowed me to achieve English fluency – just doing as good as I can instead of trying to be perfect.

  • Yusuf

    To say the truth, this is the first time I have found a really impressive and well prepared site which gives the follower the comfort of finding the right path to improve spoken English. Honestly saying, you are perfect. Thank you so much.

  • Alabi Eric

    I THINK ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS NOT APPRECIATED BY ITS USERS ‘COS OF NOT UNDERSTANDING ITS ORIGIN,PURCHASE,AND THE EFFECT IT HAS TO USERS.

  • http://englishharmony.com Robby Kukurs

    I don’t actually use this phrase and it’s not a part of my active vocabulary. Anyway, “in earnest” means “for real”, “seriously”.nn”To succeed at something you have to be engaged in that activity in earnest or else you won’t achieve any noticeable success.”nn”When I write a new article for my blog I always do it in earnest so that I can pass on all my knowledge and expertise to my blog readers.”nnMaybe these examples are a bit clumsy because as I said I don’t use this phrase and to be honest with you – it’s not used by those native speakers I deal with on a daily basis. Anyway, it should give you an idea of how this phrase is generally used!nnHope this helps,nnRobbyn

  • Dark_26

    speaking of idioms, could you explain what “in earnest” means? like when somebody says the battle will begin in earnest or celebrations in the uae will begin in earnest.put it in a couple of sentences please so that im able to come up with something on my own.

  • http://englishharmony.com Robby Kukurs

    The funny thing is that I didn’t even realize how much of spoken English is taken up by such idiomatic expressions until I started highlighting them in my blog posts!nnAnd I don’t even highlight them all or else nearly the whole text would be marked red and it would lose any practical purpose! :-)

  • http://www.getintoenglish.com David

    I thought of doing something similar on my blog – with a glossary below – but it’s already very time consuming! nnEnglish is a colourful language and agree these are def worth learning. Makes you sound more natural for one thing, and better able to understand native speakers. nnI haven’t had a typical ‘idioms lesson’ recently, but what I do is get students to practise recognising idiomatic language in our conversation or from our book, an article, a recording etc. nnOften this language revolves around phrases with the most common words in English (eg ‘take’, ‘get’, ‘put’) which seem easier to remember than some idiom they’ll hear once a year lol.nn

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