Helping Learners Understand Spoken English

What Are Idioms?

Raining cats and dogs idiom

Idioms are group of words that have a meaning that is unrelated to the individual words in the group.

For example, It’s raining cats and dogs. is an idiom that means it is raining very heavily (lots of rain coming down fast and hard). This idiom is easier than others because it does have the word rain, which tells you what it is about. However, it certainly doesn’t mean that cats and dogs are falling from the sky!

Many idioms do not have words that help you understand them.

For example: Shooting the breeze means chatting casually with someone. You cannot tell by the words alone what this means, can you? It’s not about guns, taking pictures or the wind. There is nothing to help you know that it is about talking.

Where do idioms come from?

Different idioms come from different places.

Sometimes, there are different explanations, and we don’t always know which is fact and which is fiction. There are multiple explanations for the origin of raining cats and dogsOne states that it may come from a Greek expression cata doxa, which means contrary to experience or belief. Another says that during heavy rains in England during the 17th century, it rained so much that the streets became rivers carrying dead cats and dogs that did not survive the flooding. 🙁 

piece of cake on a white plate

Why are idioms important to learn?

Idioms are very common in English. There are thousands of them!

You can hear idioms on TV shows and in movies. Native speakers use them often, but they are difficult for non-native speakers to understand without learning them.

When teachers are speaking to you, they will often try to avoid using idiomatic language because they know that you might not understand them. If you are speaking with someone who says something you don’t understand, it is a great opportunity to learn! Simply say, “Sorry, what does that mean?” In most cases, especially if they are a teacher, they will be happy to explain.

There are some idioms that are so common, you probably already know them. Can you think of any? How about a piece of cake? Context can help you understand idioms more easily. Let’s look at a piece of cake used in context.

Elsa: That test was a piece of cake!
Oliver: Right?! I didn’t even study, but I think I did well!

Hopefully, from the context, you can guess that if something is a piece of cake, it is really easy!

Learning common idioms will help you understand more English. Even if you aren’t able to use idioms, knowing them will help you understand the seemingly crazy things Americans say!

Ready for more idioms?

That doesn’t ring a bell. 

Hang in there!

Blood, sweat, and tears

This site is reader supported through affiliate purchases. I may receive a commission if you decide to purchase a course I recommend. I only recommend products I wish I had created myself.
There is no extra cost to you.

You can check out the other idioms I’ve written about or head over to Espresso English and check out the idiom course offered there to learn 300+ idioms. You can also try a free sample lesson if you just want to check it out or learn more.

300+ English Idioms in 30 Days

Never stop learning!