Idioms in Spoken English

by Greg and Ivy on November 18, 2008

People often use idioms in spoken English.  If you can learn to understand their meaning and learn how to use them, it can really boost your spoken English skills.

What’s an idiom?

First of all, you may be wondering…what’s an idiom? Well, an idiom is a phrase (group of words) where the exact meaning is not easily understood from the words used. We’ll show you what we mean with an example…

Photo credit: Hannah Boettcher

Example: Cost (someone) an arm and a leg‘. Can you guess the meaning of this idiom?

Let’s imagine that your friend is showing you his new mobile phone (cell phone).

You: “How much did you pay for it?”
Your friend: “It cost me an arm and a leg!”
Is the meaning clearer to you now? When you look up the meaning of the idiom in a dictionary, you’ll find that it means very expensive.  Did you guess it right?

You can also use this idiom in a sentence like this:
The trip to Paris is going to cost me an arm and a leg.  I’ll have to save up for it!”

How to learn idioms…

Three things to remember when learning idioms:

  1. Learn the meaning of the new idiom in English that you already understand – this helps you to get the full and actual meaning of the idiom, without an approximate translation.
  2. Learn how to use the idiom in a particular situation (look at an example) – if you don’t know how to use the idiom, it’s useless to you.  It’s better not to use it if you can’t use it well.
  3. Start using the idiom in conversation with others as soon as possible- ‘use it or lose it!’ – if you don’t start using it immediately you’ll soon forget it, and all the time you spent learning it would have been wasted.

We’ll be looking at some of the commonly used idioms, in a series of articles about idioms.  Keep visiting the site for more idioms…

While you’re here, see if you can add another short dialogue that uses the idiom, cost (someone) an arm and a leg‘, in the comments section below…

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