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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web But self-consciousness, both political and theatrical, is Merry Me’s idiom. Sara Holdren, Vulture, 31 Oct. 2023 Gershwin’s proposal was bold and obvious: Early forms of African American ragtime and blues had taken the nation by storm, and his job was to allude to those idioms in a virtuoso concerto. Ethan Iverson, New York Times, 26 Jan. 2024 Un sou est un sou (every cent counts) goes the French idiom — just not when the European Commission disagrees, as the Paris mint found out in a recent blunder. Kate Brady, Washington Post, 12 Jan. 2024 The opera’s musical idiom has its own contrarian magic. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 8 Jan. 2024 But his dialogue was a little too full of midwestern idiom. Bilge Ebiri, Vulture, 8 Dec. 2023 His project, instead, is to develop a varied, idiosyncratic Black culinary idiom—and to bring it into the mainstream. Hannah Goldfield, The New Yorker, 2 Oct. 2023 Saturday’s players got together at Wesleyan University last week, but, accustomed to Russell’s idiom and performance practice, are not repeatedly running through it. Joshua Barone, New York Times, 28 Sep. 2023 The country blues was a wildly inventive idiom, but it was also rooted, like many vernacular traditions, in assemblage. Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, 25 Sep. 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 22 Feb. 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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