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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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 To mangle an idiom: Why expose a gift horse with your mouth? Nina Burleigh, The New Republic, 16 May 2023 In contrast, Brown tries to straddle two distinct idioms: abstract mark-making and impressionistic figuration. Sebastian Smee, Washington Post, 27 Apr. 2023 These are full-throated, demonstrative singers well practiced in the idioms of contemporary American opera, singers of our place and time. Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times, 29 Mar. 2023 Both bristle with Latin folk and popular idioms, the pairing maybe an overload of similar effects. Dallas News, 24 Feb. 2023 There were 37 power plays across the four games, a shot at the hockey idiom that officials swallow their whistles in the playoffs. Dallas News, 3 May 2022 Sturdy post-Elgarian idioms were indulged in the evening’s longest selection, dating from 1921. Scott Cantrell, Dallas News, 12 May 2023 People with advancing dementia will no longer understand figures of speech like metaphors or idioms. Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi, Discover Magazine, 5 May 2023 The quirks of idiom, the slang, the deliberate misspellings—all of the massive diversity of language is tough for these systems to understand. Navneet Alang, The Atlantic, 9 Mar. 2023 See More

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 6 Jun. 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

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