noun id·i·om \ˈi-dē-əm\

Definition of idiom

  1. 1a :  the language peculiar to a people or to a district, community, or class :  dialectb :  the syntactical, grammatical, or structural form peculiar to a language

  2. 2 :  an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically (such as no, it wasn't me) or in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (such as ride herd on for “supervise”)

  3. 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

Examples of idiom in a sentence

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. The expression give way, meaning retreat, is an idiom.

  5. rock and roll and other musical idioms

  6. a feature of modern jazz idiom

Did You Know?

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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

First Known Use: 1588

Other Grammar and Linguistics Terms

IDIOM Defined for English Language Learners


noun id·i·om \ˈi-dē-əm\

Definition of idiom for English Language Learners

  • : 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.

IDIOM Defined for Kids


noun id·i·om \ˈi-dē-əm\

Definition of idiom for Students

  1. :  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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