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

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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.

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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
Recent Examples on the Web To vary an old idiom: if only an ounce of compassion could be worth a pound of cure. Longreads, 7 June 2024 To solve the problem, modernizers designed a common language based on the vocabulary and pronunciation found in Beijing and claimed that the regional languages were mere offshoots of this main idiom. Gina Anne Tam, Foreign Affairs, 20 Apr. 2021 It’s been a very collaborative music, a music that has asked the listeners, the press, and the musicians involved to not have prejudice, to be creative inside of their own idioms, to be strong and confident enough to do that. Peter Helman, SPIN, 30 May 2024 Puryear is an American artist of African descent who has worked in a sculptural idiom of European derivation for nearly five decades. Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times, 21 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for idiom 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'idiom.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 24 Jun. 2024.

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

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