In this podcast episode, Jay discusses the TWO different types of idioms in English – proverb idioms like “to kick the bucket” – and idiomatic phrases like “kind of” or “count on” or “after all”. It turns out that native English speakers know just as many idiomatic phrases as they do single words. Put another way, a native English speaker knows about 25,000 individual words and they also know and use about 25,000 natural sounding idiomatic phrases. These idiomatic phrases are challenging to learn because they don’t make literal sense. Think about the phrase “count on me”. It doesn’t make sense, and translating it into your first language won’t work to find the meaning. So listen carefully to this podcast to learn all about idiomatic phrases and why they are key to your English language fluency.
Hello and welcome to Everyday English with E2. My name is Jay. Each week we help you to improve your English with podcasts on vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. And you can always check out www.e2english.com for English language courses as well.
In this podcast, we’re focusing on an interesting and fun part of vocabulary – idioms.
I’m sure you’ve heard of idioms. Ya know: kicked the bucket. It’s raining cats and dogs. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. A picture paints a thousand words. These are all examples of ‘proverb’ idioms. Proverb idioms are great. They’re funny. They tell us a lot about the culture of English speakers. But guess what? They’re NOT the type of idioms we’re going to talk about today.
Instead, we’re going to talk about a different type of idiom – arguably, a much more important type of idiom and certainly a much more common type of idiom.
Today we’re going to talk about “idiomatic phrases”. Let me give you a few examples so you know exactly what I’m talking about:
in terms of
as well as
These phrases – these idiomatic phrases – are extremely common. Native English speakers use them in almost every single sentence. And I want to let you in on a secret to learning English which will blow your mind.
Native English speakers know, on average, about 30,000 individual words.
Native English speakers also know, on average, about 25,000 idiomatic phrases.
Think about this for a second. Native English speakers know almost just as many idiomatic phrases – phrases like ‘kind of’ or ‘of course’ or ‘make sure’ – as they do individual words like ‘car’ or ‘eat’ or ‘funny’.
So why are these phrases ‘idiomatic’ anyway? I mean, are they idioms?
Well, they kind of are idioms. Let’s go back and take a closer look at one of those ‘proverb idioms’ and learn why it’s an idiom.
Okay, so take the proverb idiom: ‘to kick the bucket’, which is a funny way to say that someone has died. So why is it idiomatic? Well, it’s ‘idiomatic’ or an ‘idiom’ because the meaning of the phrase is not literal. No one literally ‘kicked a bucket’. Instead, this phrase is ‘figurative’; for some reason, ‘to kick the bucket’ means ‘to die’.
Okay, so now let’s take a closer look at one of those ‘idiomatic phrases’ and work out why they too are ‘idioms’. It’s the same reason. The individual words don’t mean anything literally. Take, for example, the phrase ‘to figure out’. ‘To figure out’. ‘To figure out’. Well, ‘to figure out’ means to solve a problem. Right? For example, I ‘figured out’ how much money I owe you’. Or ‘I figured out what was wrong with my car’. I solved a problem.
But listen to each of these words: ‘figure’, which is another word for ‘a number’, and ‘out’, which is a preposition that means to move away from something. So, individually, these two words DO NOT mean to solve a problem. But together, they do! That’s why this phrase is idiomatic.
Let’s look at another example of an idiomatic phrase. Take, for example, ‘right away’, which is a VERY common way of saying ‘immediately’. In fact, it is a much more common way of saying ‘immediately’. But if we look at each of the words: “right” and “away”, these two words do not mean “immediately”. It’s only because it’s an idiom that it happens to mean “immediately”.
I can’t tell you how important these idiomatic phrases are in English. They really are the heart of the language. If you understand them then you can understand anything in English and if you can use them in your speaking or writing then you will sound natural. Really, these phrases are the most natural part of the language.
So when you hear the term “idiom”, please remember that there are two types of idioms. There are the ‘proverb’ idioms like ‘to kill two birds with one stone’ and ‘let the cat out of the bag’. These types of idioms are funny and interesting but they’re not that important. The types of idioms that are much more important are the “idiomatic phrases”, and there are thousands of them.
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