English Idioms: A Piece of Cake or A Can of Worms?


Cambridge Idiom Dictionary Cover

English idioms are one of the most difficult topics for any ESL student to master since they are not translated literally and cannot be understood from the individual meanings of their elements. If your new smart phone cost you an arm and a leg, it does not mean that you actually had to amputate your limbs in exchange for a high-tech gadget. There are over 15,000 idioms in the English language so it’s understandable why it might be quite a challenge for a non-native speaker to know them through and through. Yet, there is no need to look for a shoulder to cry on. If you happen to stumble upon an expression you don’t know, you can refer to one of the many online idiom dictionaries.

A good place to start is The Free Dictionary. With over 12,000 idioms, it’s one of the most comprehensive resources on the web. You can browse through a list of random idioms and pick up a couple of new expressions. If you want to see the idioms containing a specific word, enter it in a search field and see what you get.

Online Idiom Dictionary is another must-see website. Similar to The Free Dictionary, it also provides you with a list of most common idioms and expressions picked at random. For every idiom, there is an example of its use in the sentence. The dictionary is significantly smaller - it contains about 5,000 expressions - but it’s less crowded and more pleasing to the eye.

If money is no object, you should consider investing in the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary. It has up-to-date content, a section on the most commonly used idioms and the option to search for an idiom by different topics. Click on the picture to learn more about pricing and availability.

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  • Ardypras
  • March 25, 20113:32 pm
  • Reply
Thanks for the references. I've got a pocket english idiom dictionary six thousands idioms and proverbs, but I would've bought new and more complete one cause I guess that's not enough. I want to ask a question. Does idiom often used in daily conversation? What if they don't comprehend the idea of word native speaker says? I mean, not every english learner can know all of those fifteen-thousands idioms.
  • March 28, 20115:03 pm
  • Reply
Idioms are used pretty often in daily conversation. But you are absolutely right: not every English learner, and even not every native speaker of English, can possibly know 15,000 expressions. If you know the most commonly used idioms, you should be fine. Read as much as you can and pay attention to the idioms in the text. This way, you'll learn to use them in the context.
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