Idioms and Phrases

English is a fascinating language. It is colourful and full of expression, and well-written prose can transport you to another world. One such tool that authors usually employ to make their words memorable are idioms and phrases. It is important for us to understand the concept and the correct usage of idiom and phrases. Let’s get cracking!

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Idioms and Phrases

(Source: dreamstimes)

Idioms are a collection of words or phrases which have a figurative meaning that is generally well established and known. So these words can’t be taken at their literal meanings since they would sound farcical. Idioms, at times, seem grammatically unusual as well.

Idioms are a useful tool in linguistics. They add life and colour to the prose. It allows the authors to play with words and make it an interesting read, rather than straightforward boring paragraphs. Idioms are often used in stories, poems and even in the spoken words. The origins of these idioms are not always known, but they said to originate from stories and creative writing, and are modified over time.

Let us take a look at some really creative examples of idioms and their subsequent meanings.

Idiom Meaning
Penny for your thoughts Asking someone what is on their minds
Beat around the bush Trying to avoid a subject/person/situation
Burn the midnight oil Work or labour late into the night
Judge a book by its cover Rely on outward appearances
Takes two to tango Most deeds/actions/misdeeds require participation from two people
Kill two birds with one stone Accomplish two things with the same effort
A piece of cake An easy task/job
Whole nine yards The entire thing, all of something
A dime a dozen Very common/commonplace
Bite off more than you can chew Try to take on a task too big for oneself
Cry over spilled milk Regret/complain about something that cannot be rectified
Hit the road Begin one’s journey
Once in a blue moon Once in a while, infrequently
Have a blast To enjoy oneself, have a good time


A phrase is a small group of words that are like a unit. These units are a part of a bigger sentence or a clause. Phrases are unlike idioms, they are actually direct and to the point. They do not figurative meanings, the expression means what the words indicate.

A phrase, unlike a complete sentence, does not have a subject and a verb. So it does not express a complete sentence, they are a unit of a complete sentence. There are broadly eight types of phrases – noun, verb, infinitive, gerund, appositive, participial, prepositional and absolute phrases.

Some examples of phrases are

  • The phone was on the table
  • The children were giggling and laughing when the teacher left the room
  • The nice neighbour offered him a glass of water.

Solved Question for You

Q: Choose the option that best describes the underlined idiom: It will take him some time to get a handle on how things run in this part of the world.

  1. Teach himself
  2. Develop an understanding of
  3. Write it down
  4. Explain to someone

Ans: The correct option is B. “Get a handle on” means to understand and comprehend something or some situation. So in the context of the sentence, the person will need to understand how things work in this part of the world.

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2 responses to “Types of Phrases”

  1. kiishi says:

    this thing really helped me

  2. Johanna says:

    Just a quick info for you because I believe you have a minor error in your definition on verb phrases. In the example ‘They have been playing since the last two hours’ shouldn’t it be ‘for’ instead of ‘since’ regarding the fact that ‘the last two hours’ is a period of time and not a certain point in the timeline in which case you were to use the word ‘since’? Other than that this is a useful guide to tha different types of phrases in the english language 🙂

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