id·​i·​om | \ ˈi-dē-əm How to pronounce idiom (audio) \
plural idioms

Essential Meaning of idiom

1 : an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own The expression "give way," meaning "retreat," is an idiom.
2 : a form of a language that is spoken in a particular area and that uses some of its own words, grammar, and pronunciations : dialect
3 : a style or form of expression that is characteristic of a particular person, type of art, etc. a poet's idiom rock and roll and other musical idioms a feature of modern jazz idiom

Full Definition of idiom

1 : 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)
2a : the language peculiar to a people or to a district, community, or class : dialect
b : the syntactical, grammatical, or structural form peculiar to a language
3 : 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

Synonyms for idiom


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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.

Examples of idiom in a Sentence

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
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Recent Examples on the Web Bastida taught herself English in middle school and doesn’t always get every idiom. Lizzie Widdicombe, Vogue, 27 Dec. 2021 Radio has always been just a little bit left of diabolical in the U.K., so it was considered rather deprecating to actually even consider country music as an idiom. Chris Willman, Variety, 12 Nov. 2021 As the old idiom goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and no matter the technology level, tires a crucial link. Sam Abuelsamid, Forbes, 5 Oct. 2021 As Debussy, Schoenberg and Scriabin were all writing revolutionary piano music at that time, Medtner happily composed in a late 19th-century idiom. San Diego Union-Tribune, 1 Nov. 2021 This belief-doubt spiral is especially common in America, or on the internet, where no single idiom exists for the credible expression of pain. Virginia Heffernan, Wired, 26 Nov. 2021 Apparently, at the outset of the discussion, Xi used a friendly idiom to describe the U.S. president. Matthew Continetti, National Review, 20 Nov. 2021 Stanislavski leanings have become as much a marketing hook as an integral acting idiom — no matter whether his Method ultimately adds to or detracts from the story on screen. Chris Lee, Vulture, 23 Nov. 2021 If Western popular culture has a common idiom, a force that binds us all, the stories contained in Marvel comics are probably it. New York Times, 12 Oct. 2021

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.

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First Known Use of idiom

1575, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

History and Etymology for idiom

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

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Last Updated

12 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Idiom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for idiom


id·​i·​om | \ ˈi-dē-əm How to pronounce idiom (audio) \

Kids Definition of idiom

: an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but must be learned as a whole The expression "give up," meaning "surrender," is an idiom.

More from Merriam-Webster on idiom

Nglish: Translation of idiom for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of idiom for Arabic Speakers


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