Understanding Idioms

Sep 24, 2018 | Posted by Jennifer


Idioms. We use them in our everyday conversations, but because they are so ingrained into our language structure, we rarely stop to give them a thought. If you had asked me to define the word before I began homeschooling, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. But when I started teaching my children grammar, I decided to gain a firmer grasp of the term so that I could explain what they actually are. This is what I learned: Idioms are expressions that can’t be understood literally, word for word. In a grammar context, this means that we can’t necessarily parse or diagram the separate words in an idiom because they must be taken together as a complete expression in order to come to an accurate interpretation.

So what are some idioms that we use in everyday language? I think seeing a few used in sentences will be helpful. Here are a few you’re sure to recognize!

  • It’s raining cats and dogs. (It’s not literally raining cats and dogs; it’s raining very heavily.)
  • The jacket cost an arm and a leg. (That would indeed be a costly jacket if one had to literally give up an arm and a leg in order to get it!)
  • You’re in hot water now! (Oh boy, are you in some trouble!)
  • The job offer came out of the blue. (Out of seemingly nowhere.)
  • I am so glad we see eye to eye! (We agree on an issue.)

Every country and culture has its own idioms. This can make learning a new language or moving to a new country a little challenging. After all, a student new to the language is still working on simply understanding the various words, tenses, and declensions as individual units, not necessarily grouped together where they create unique expressions with meanings all of their own.

Enjoy reading a few idioms from around the world:

  • I’m not hanging noodles on your ears! (Russian. This idiom means, “I’m not trying to fool you.")
  • She felt just like a crocodile in a wallet factory. (Puerto Rican. The meaning of this idiom is not as difficult to discern. It means she was extremely nervous.)
  • I want you to deliver this package like your eyebrows are on fire. (Chinese. The package must be very urgent to require such a quick delivery time.)
  • Stop climbing on my head! (Arabic. It means, “Stop annoying me!”)
  • They were pedaling in sauerkraut. (French. It means they were getting nothing accomplished.)
  • Remember, son, that grapes darken by looking at one another. (Turkish. This expression means that we are directly influenced by the company we keep. This dad is reminding his son to choose good friends who will be a positive influence in his son’s life.)
  • ​​​​​​​I’ve been peeling pineapples all day. (Brazilian. The American version of this idiom is “I’ve been putting out fires all day,” which means that I’ve been trying to solve difficult problems.

Idioms. They aren’t such a difficult concept to understand after all, don’t you agree? Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks, for I was able to figure out what they mean, even as an adult. But don’t ask me to learn advanced geometry. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish!


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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