In the video below, I present six very common English idioms that never seem to make it into the common idioms lists. All these expressions have one word in common: anything. These idioms may not be as colorful and interesting as popular and very idiomatic sounding expressions such as kick the bucket or it’s raining cats and dogs, but they are even more important to everyday English conversation!
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Video Transcript: Six Anything Idioms That are Common in English
I’m going to start this video with a little rant about common English idioms. I’ve been complaining about lists of common idioms that are made up of idioms that simply stand out because they are colorful and seem very idiomatic, but which are anything but common.
Now, I just used a fairly common idiom. And it used a word that is commonly used in idioms that are never named in these common idiom lists!
The word is anything and the idiom I used was anything but. Anything but simply means not at all.
So, when I said that these idioms are anything but common, I meant that they are not common at all. I did not mean that they could be anything else except common idioms.
What’s surprising even to me is that I used that idiom in the first sentence of my script without even intending to use an idiom. It is the kind of idiom that is used much more often than the idioms that stand out in our memories.
And, if you neglect these types of idioms for the more colorful and typical idioms that you find in lessons, you will not sound like a native speaker, but like someone who is ‘trying’ to use idioms.
Yet, this is the kind of idiom that English teachers seem to routinely disregard. It’s used much more commonly than idioms such as ‘kick the bucket’ or ‘it’s raining cats and dogs.’ In fact, the word anything gives us many of these idioms. Let’s look at just five more of them.
Anything Else I Can Do For You?
Something you will often hear, for example, when calling the customer service of a company is “Anything else I can do for you?”
Or they might say “Is there anything else I can do for you.” Sometimes this is shortened to just ‘anything else?’
When someone asks you this, they do are not really offering to do ANYTHING you want them to do. They will not sing a song to you, should you ask. At least, probably not. It is an idiom that means “can I be of further assistance in regards to OUR particular service or products.” And, often, it is just used for politeness.
Another idiom that uses anything in a similar way is or anything.
Let’s say you comment on this video, asking me a question about one of the idioms. I answer your question and then I say, “If you need more help with idioms or anything, just let me know.”
Am I really offering to help you with ANYTHING? No. I am offering to help you with anything that is similar or related to English idioms. Anything does not really mean anything. It’s used idiomatically and it is a VERY common idiom!
So, instead of trying to commit supposedly common idioms to memory, if anything, you should try to develop a good idiom radar. In other words, you should learn to recognize when something is idiomatic.
There I just used another common anything idiom: if anything.
If anything means if nothing else, if at all, if to any degree, or if anything definite can be said, this is it. “If anything, most idioms are less common than they seem.”
Are You Doing Anything…?
Another anything idiom that just doesn’t seem all that idiomatic at first glance is ‘Are you doing anything (on a particular day or at a particular time)?’
When we ask this question, we are not really asking if another person is doing something, but whether they are busy. It is a prelude to an invitation. If I say “Are you doing anything Friday night?,” you then, would know that I was about to invite you to do something or to attend something.
If you wanted to accept this invitation or was curious, you would say ‘No, why?’ If you did not want to have to turn down an invitation you should probably respond something like ‘Yes, sorry, I have plans.’
So, you see recognizing these common but not so colorful idioms can save you from a lot of awkward moments!
Anything Is Possible
Now, what if I told you anything is possible. According to theoretical physicists, anything IS possible, just not always probable. But, normally, when we say anything is possible, we are using an idiom. We are saying that any possible outcome in a particular situation is possible.
“You’ve never been able to beat me at this game. I don’t know why you bother.” “Hey, anything’s possible.”
Maybe we should call these types of idiom little idioms or idioms in disguise. They are the bread and butter idioms of our language. They are really the idiomatic glue that holds conversations together, and there are thousands more.
So, from now on, if you want to speak English like a native speaker, don’t disregard idioms that don’t seem interesting, colorful, or just not idiomatic enough. If you do, you will not understand English conversation and you will not be able to use idioms like a native. You will be lost in a confusing hodgepodge of random phrases.
And bread and butter? In this case, it means something that is essential and indispensable.
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