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

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

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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 Gallier devised a magnificent temple-like edifice of the Greek architectural idiom, the likes of which had been popular in the Northeast since the late 1700s but remained little known in New Orleans until the 1820s. Richard Campanella,, "Moving New Orleans City Hall: How many times has it been done in 3 centuries?," 6 Feb. 2021 Singer, a company that is definitely not in cahoots with Porsche and our lawyers advise us should never be remotely represented as such, is building a new model in the off-road idiom. Ezra Dyer, Car and Driver, "Singer All-Terrain Competition Study Evokes the Porsche 959," 5 Jan. 2021 In other words, pugilist prose offers an idiom of flamboyant irrelevance. Theodore Gioia, The New Republic, "Death to the Negative Restaurant Review," 16 Dec. 2020 A few days ago, a friend taught me a Spanish idiom: vergüenza ajena. Mark Lamster, Dallas News, "Klyde Warren Park’s splashy proposed fountain is a design belly flop," 11 Dec. 2020 Managing the low end requires more nuance, more care than any idiom. Michael Gehlken, Dallas News, "It’s about mental health: How the Cowboys are trying to cope after a brutal emotional rollercoaster," 28 Nov. 2020 This proclamation, full of the language of national purpose that was the Kennedy idiom and the soundtrack of the New Frontier, was issued 18 days before the president was assassinated. David M. Shribman, Los Angeles Times, "Giving thanks, expressing hope: presidential wishes at Thanksgiving," 25 Nov. 2020 The use of try and for try to has become an established idiom in everyday speech and, increasingly, in writing. Richard Lederer, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Star upset ‘irregardless’ has invaded the dictionary," 14 Nov. 2020 And for Xiao Linda Liu and Matthew Carter Penny, that idiom couldn’t be more true. Shira Savada, Harper's BAZAAR, "This Maui Wedding Was All About Fashion, Family—and Engagement Photo Shoots in Two Countries," 12 Nov. 2020

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

17 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Idiom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for idiom



English Language Learners Definition of idiom

: an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own
: a form of a language that is spoken in a particular area and that uses some of its own words, grammar, and pronunciations
: a style or form of expression that is characteristic of a particular person, type of art, etc.


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.

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More from Merriam-Webster on idiom

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for idiom

Nglish: Translation of idiom for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of idiom for Arabic Speakers

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