Your Free Idioms Dictionary

Idioms are phrases whose meanings cannot easily be known from the meanings of each work in the phrase. They usually have a fixed form that resists being altered without changing the meaning of the phrase. While idioms are quite transparent to native speakers of a language, they are a source of frustration and perplexity for those seeking to learn a new one. Welcome to Idioms Online, your free English idioms dictionary, the best way to learn about idioms on the web. Here you can search for idioms by using the site search, by the first letter, or by individual words or theme.


What Is An Idiom? (Video)

Why Have an English Idioms Dictionary?

Before you can begin to understand the need for a website about idioms, you need to know the definition of idiom.

One reason to have a site about English and American idioms is so that those learning English as a second language can find out what they mean! Idioms are confusing when learning a new language. You can’t take them literally, but if you haven’t grown up with them, you may not know at all what they mean. This does not mean it is necessary or even preferable to try to memorize the idioms and core metaphors of a language, as you may not come upon most of them very often at all and to make a special case of them in learning a language could well lead you to overproduce them in everyday conversations. At the same time, the number of idioms used in everyday conversation is staggering. You cannot hope to be a confident speaker of the English language without a broad understanding of idioms, even if it is to understand the people you encounter in your daily life.

Another reason to have a site about idioms is that they are fascinating in their own right. What if I told you other sites about idioms cut corners? Would you think these sites had no corners? Of course not. If you are a native speaker of English, you would surmise that I mean these sites were not very informative. What if I told you idioms were a hot-button topic? Clearly, I am not talking about a button you can push on this site, let alone a hot one.

I’m not going to give up my day job to write a site on idioms, though.

You do not know if I have a day job, or what it may be, but most readers probably knew what I meant by “not giving up my day job,” just as you knew what I meant by cutting corners and hot button. Although some idioms are quite straightforward, for the most part, if you do not understand them automatically, understanding the meaning of each individual word would not always help you arrive at the true meaning.

We take all these expressions for granted, hardly noticing them or sparing a moment to reflect on the fact that they are, by themselves, almost incomprehensible. The more you start paying attention, the more you will notice how much we use them. The next time you watch TV, start listening for idioms. You’ll be amazed. They are countless. How do people from other countries ever understand a word we say?

Idioms reflect our shared culture and provide a fascinating glimpse into linguistics. Instead of looking at language as individual words, used according to rules, we realize that language is often constructed by word chunks that we hear as if they are basic units. The fact that idioms exist while ignoring grammar, yet act as basic units of language, may show us that there is much more to language than your stodgy English teacher taught you.

Surely, these cannot be random phrases? They must have a history. So, another reason to have a site about idioms is to try to tease out this history.

How the Site is Organized

Idioms Online is, first and foremost, and idioms dictionary. The pages on this site are listed in alphabetical order, to the extent possible, using the first letter of the first word of the idiom which is not an article (a, an, the). For example, if you were looking for the idiom penny for your thoughts, you could use the alphabetical index above to go to P where you would find all the idioms on the site which start with P.

The idioms are also cross-referenced by words and also theme when possible. The easiest way to find a particular idiom is to search the site using the search box.

When viewing a particular idiom, to find related idioms, scroll down to the bottom of the page, where you will find idioms cross-referenced by similar words as well as more idioms starting with the same letter as the present idiom.

Although I take pains to organize the site with as much detail as possible, you should be wary of sites that seem to have too many general categories as this often suggests a false idea of how idioms are used. For example, just because you sometimes encounter an idiom being used in a business setting doesn’t mean it is a business idiom. The same idiom might be used in various contexts. Although there are certain idioms that are unique to business, if English is your second language but you need to do business in English, habitually using certain idioms you believe to be ‘business’ idioms will sound very odd to native English speakers.

Idiom Origins

Many of the idioms defined here on Idioms.Online also include information on the origin of the idiom. What information is included depends on what is known about the history of the particular idiom. The word “origin” should not always be taken to mean that the exact origin of the idiom is being presented.

We do know the exact origins of many idioms. For example, many idioms come from literature or the Bible. Given the huge number of English idioms, however, the exact origin of most idioms is not known. When the origin is unknown,  the earliest date of use will usually be given, at the least.

Sometimes, the allusion of an idiom is given as a clue to how it originated. The allusion of an idiom describes what is “alludes to.” To allude to something means to refer to it indirectly. This type of allusion information can be an aid in understanding the idiom. Many times the allusion is quite obvious.

There are also many origin stories for idioms. These stories are often fanciful and were invented after the idiom was already in use. Other stories are more credible, such as those that can be historically verified. For instance, many idioms have nautical or military origins.

Whether you are working to learn English or are just curious about certain idioms, this site is for you.


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