id·​i·​om ˈi-dē-əm How to pronounce idiom (audio)
plural idioms
: an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (such as up in the air for "undecided") or in its grammatically atypical use of words (such as give way)
: the language peculiar to a people or to a district, community, or class : dialect
: the syntactical, grammatical, or structural form peculiar to a language
: a style or form of artistic expression that is characteristic of an individual, a period or movement, or a medium or instrument
the modern jazz idiom
broadly : manner, style
a new culinary idiom

Did you know?

The Makeup of Idioms

If you had never heard someone say "We're on the same page," would you have understood that they weren't talking about a book? And the first time someone said he'd "ride shotgun", did you wonder where the gun was? A modern English-speaker knows thousands of idioms, and uses many every day. Idioms can be completely ordinary ("first off", "the other day", "make a point of", "What's up?") or more colorful ("asleep at the wheel", "bite the bullet", "knuckle sandwich"). A particular type of idiom, called a phrasal verb, consists of a verb followed by an adverb or preposition (or sometimes both); in make over, make out, and make up, for instance, notice how the meanings have nothing to do with the usual meanings of over, out, and up.

View more idiom examples, definitions, and origins

Example Sentences

She is a populist in politics, as she repeatedly makes clear for no very clear reason. Yet the idiom of the populace is not popular with her. P. J. O'Rourke, New York Times Book Review, 9 Oct. 2005 And the prospect of recovering a nearly lost language, the idiom and scrappy slang of the postwar period … Don DeLillo, New York Times Magazine, 7 Sept. 1997 We need to explicate the ways in which specific themes, fears, forms of consciousness, and class relationships are embedded in the use of Africanist idiom Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark, 1992 The expression “give way,” meaning “retreat,” is an idiom. rock and roll and other musical idioms a feature of modern jazz idiom See More
Recent Examples on the Web Where there's a will, there's a way--as true as any idiom could be. Arkansas Online, 16 Jan. 2023 The instrument layout is very much in the current BMW idiom with the Curved Display incorporating a 12.3-inch LCD instrument cluster in front of the driver and a 14.9-inch display for iDrive 8 in the center of the dash. Csaba Csere, Car and Driver, 1 Dec. 2022 The idiom of Formula 1 is a Ph.D.-level patter of ride heights, tire-degradation curves, strat modes, and gurney flaps. Sam Knight, The New Yorker, 23 Oct. 2022 First, these events highlight the social, political and cultural dimensions of suicide as a powerful collective idiom of distress. Neuroskeptic, Discover Magazine, 3 June 2011 Few albums in the early 00s hit as hard as Thursday’s second album, Full Collapse, which saw the New Jersey group grow considerably as both musicians and songwriters within the post-hardcore/emo idiom. Ron Hart, SPIN, 13 Dec. 2022 Brown had invented his own folk idiom to express a rebellious sensibility. Sasha Frere-jones, Harper’s Magazine , 9 Nov. 2022 This is the idiom in which DeLillo’s novel unfolds. Jon Mooallem, New York Times, 23 Nov. 2022 Related to that, once again, rap music — the 21st century’s defining pop idiom — remained embarrassingly underrepresented in the top three Grammy categories. Chris Richards, Washington Post, 15 Nov. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'idiom.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle French & Late Latin; Middle French idiome, from Late Latin idioma individual peculiarity of language, from Greek idiōmat-, idiōma, from idiousthai to appropriate, from idios

First Known Use

1575, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of idiom was in 1575

Dictionary Entries Near idiom

Cite this Entry

“Idiom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


id·​i·​om ˈid-ē-əm How to pronounce idiom (audio)
: the choice of words and the way they are combined that is characteristic of a language
: an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but must be learned as a whole
the expression "give way," meaning "retreat," is an idiom

More from Merriam-Webster on idiom

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Challenging Words You Should Know

  • hedgehog reading a book
  • Often used to describe “the march of time,” what does inexorable mean?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?