Questions tagged [idioms]

Use the idiom tag for questions which a dictionary cannot answer about set phrases with unusual meanings that can't be properly understood just from the separate words in them.

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15 votes
2 answers
5k views

"It's time ... 'verb'/'verb-ed' ..."

It's time colleges helped you compare apples to apples. (The Boston Globe) If the time is a present moment, why does the journalist use "help" in the past tense? Or is "helped" ...
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3 votes
3 answers
4k views

Why is it "had" in "I had better get going"?

I specifically want to know why the past tense of the word 'have' is used in this phrase. In modern casual English(at least in the US), everyone says ' I should better get going' or they completely ...
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  • 691
9 votes
3 answers
10k views

Walking up/down a level road/street

Is walking up/down the road/street applicable if the street is not sloped? I think I heard something about "with/against the numbering of houses" but I'm not sure if it's correct. Also, if that were ...
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  • 9,885
3 votes
5 answers
6k views

He became firm ‘friend’ or ‘friends’ with?

I was reading BBC culture page ( See Here ). In the middle of the text, we see: He became firm friends with the Shakespeare and Company owner in a relationship that lasted until his death 40 years ...
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  • 5,895
16 votes
6 answers
18k views

When you don't understand a joke right away

In my native language we have lots of ways (some of them very funny) of saying that you, or someone else didn't understand a joke right away. That is, he/she needed some time to figure it out. I ...
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6 votes
1 answer
34k views

"It is raining" or "it is rainy"?

I'm trying to say: I don't like the weather today because it is ____. (rainy / raining) I have to carry an umbrella for ____ (rainy / raining) weather. Should I use rainy or raining? Also, what ...
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  • 7,865
5 votes
2 answers
663 views

How to dissect/parse 'no sooner X than Y'?

I ask not about the meaning, but about its derivation: no sooner F than S {phrases} = [Please check my additions of F and S 1. Used to convey that the second event S mentioned happens ...
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4 votes
2 answers
2k views

Why do you say "to the movies"

What structures do stand behind the expression the movies (we're going to the movies)? It confuses me that it is plural (movies) and with the definite article (the). It seems that in the same way you ...
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  • 7,126
2 votes
2 answers
14k views

What is difference among "come" "come up" "come over" and "come around"?

Would anyone explain the differences among the followings phrases, please? "come" to your place "come up" your place "come over" to your place "come around" to your place I'm now personally ...
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1 vote
1 answer
766 views

Have a seat, guys (have seats?)

Have a seat, guys I think "have a seat" is a fixed phrase that does not change whether you address someone or a group of people. Is that correct? If you have more to add to the post, please do so ...
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  • 5,838
1 vote
2 answers
5k views

Grammatical function of "at best" idiom

Dictionaries state that "at best" is an idiom. But, what is the grammatical function of "at best" (for example, in the below sentences?) Their response to the proposal was, at best, cool. The ...
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  • 1,049
52 votes
7 answers
13k views

Why are nice picture/gif/video about foo called "foo-porn"?

I was browsing Reddit and I discovered many subreddits named after foo-porn, to name just a few: /r/EarthPorn /r/FoodPorn /r/Map_Porn /r/ruralporn /r/shockwaveporn /r/SkyPorn /r/unixporn It seems ...
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  • 1,209
12 votes
2 answers
72k views

The exact meaning of "for that matter"

What is the exact meaning of, "for that matter," in the sentence: He did not speak to her, or anyone for that matter?
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  • 121
26 votes
2 answers
21k views

"Add-in salt to injury"?

I've never seen "Add-in salt to injury" but I know "Add insult to injury" exists. I had a grammar exercise that asked for the most suitable idiom or proverb for expressing: To make something bad ...
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  • 8,628
11 votes
2 answers
49k views

Why is 'what will you do tomorrow evening' incorrect?

‘What will you do / are you doing tomorrow evening?’ ‘Nothing. I’m free.’ (Essential Grammar in Use) The book says ‘are you doing’ is correct. But I don’t know why ‘will you do’ is not correct?
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  • 24.1k
11 votes
7 answers
5k views

Explain "You People" please

I heard this phrase in Tropic Thunder. This isn't the first time I've seen a character in a movie/TV show use you people and be accused of racism for it. If I remember correctly, this also appears in ...
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8 votes
2 answers
15k views

"To think" idiom

I have this Magic: The Gathering card flavor text: “To think some believe it peaceful to die in one's sleep.” What exactly that “to think” means?
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4 votes
2 answers
3k views

Etymology of "dog slow"

When I think of dogs I have an image of them being fast animals, running and jumping, chasing a ball or another dog. So, I am surprised that dog slow means very slow. What is the etymology of this ...
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3 votes
2 answers
6k views

(Up to / until / by) 50% off

I wonder if someone could tell me which choice works in the following sentence and why the others do not work: (From my point of view, all of these choices work in this context.) They have great ...
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  • 13.7k
3 votes
1 answer
23k views

What is the meaning of "draining the swamp"?

What is the meaning of "draining the swamp" in this article? “Speaking of draining the swamp, Donna Brazile did it again,” Mr. Trump said. “WikiLeaks today, she gave the questions to a debate to ...
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3 votes
5 answers
85k views

What does "Lose Yourself" mean?

The question is very small, what does the sentence "Lose yourself" mean? I searched on internet and got many different meanings. Two of which are quite contrary to each other. One is, "...
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  • 1,713
2 votes
2 answers
4k views

What does X is the new Y mean, and why do we say this?

In English, I sometimes hear a phrase like green is the new black. Literally, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. What does it mean when someone says X is the new Y, when this makes no sense ...
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  • 4,657
9 votes
2 answers
28k views

Call it a day meaning

What is the meaning of "Call it a day/night". I have heard people saying "I am calling it a day". I tried to find out the meaning in dictionaries, but could not. Please let me know your answers.
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  • 138
5 votes
1 answer
4k views

Allow, Allow Of, Allow For

I am confused about the usages of "allow", "allow for" and "allow of". Suppose police is examining the evidence related to a bank robbery: The evidence allows the possibility of an inside ...
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  • 7,563
3 votes
1 answer
33k views

Meaning of "Orange is the new black" [duplicate]

There is a TV show by this name. And I heard someone saying it too. I googled its meaning but the effort went in vain.
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  • 1,977
2 votes
1 answer
2k views

The use of -s on third person verbs in a question starting with "does"

I was watching this video about Cyclopia on youtube and noticed this sentence: How does an animal that normally has two eyes develop just one in the center of its face. I tried to google it but I ...
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2 votes
1 answer
8k views

Difference between "call it the night" and "call it a night"

What difference has "call it the night" and "call it a night"? According to the google search the both expressions are correct. call it the night: 20,800,000 hits call it a night: 9,150,000 hits ...
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  • 915
1 vote
1 answer
1k views

A cry boy / A crying boy

You are a cry boy now. You are a crying boy now. What does the each sentence mean? When would you choose each form to mean what?
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  • 2,300
0 votes
3 answers
930 views

"off colour" and "out of sorts" in British English

I am wondering whether "off colour" and "out of sorts" are completely interchangeable idioms in British English, and if not, what the difference is. John {looks/feels} a bit {off colour/out of ...
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  • 4,734
14 votes
4 answers
200k views

"Let's get started" vs. "let's start"

OALD gives an idiom: Get started meaning: to begin doing something. example: It's almost ten o'clock. Let's get started. In this example, can I say "let's start" instead? Both can mean we ...
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  • 6,975
30 votes
16 answers
15k views

Sarcastic Idioms for being slow to notice something

The scenario: The power was out but it came back up. However, a friend or family member noticed that late and said: Oh, the power is back up! You noticed that long before they did (sometimes because ...
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  • 5,838
5 votes
2 answers
11k views

How about someone do something?

Can "how about" be used in this way? I heard it in an episode of Grey's Anatomy: How about we don't talk to her anymore? Because from what I've learned after "how about" we're ...
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  • 477
39 votes
8 answers
9k views

Can I say "Call it a project" similar to "Call it a day"

I know we can say, "Call it a day" at the end of a day. Can I say, "Call it a project" meaning successful completed project?
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  • 593
19 votes
4 answers
28k views

'learning the ropes' should be followed by which prepositions?

I am trying to use the idiom "learn the ropes" in a sentence as below: I am learning the ropes of my new job. Somehow, this doesn't "feel" right, and I think it should be: I am learning the ...
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9 votes
3 answers
45k views

Why does "tap into" mean what it means?

According to Macmillan "tap into" means "use" or "get some benefit": tap or tap into [TRANSITIVE] if you tap something such as someone’s ability or a supply of information, you use it or get some ...
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  • 1,049
6 votes
3 answers
991 views

Does this sentence need "if" or "when"?

I came across this sentence: "There isn't an entomologist in the whole world who wouldn't give all he has to be in my shoes today." This was said when a person caught a rare insect. If "if" or "...
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  • 2,303
25 votes
4 answers
14k views

The meaning of "half woman, half girl"

"It was the same mirror I'd gazed into as a child, then as a girl, then as a youth, half woman, half girl." Educated by Tara Westover What does "half woman" mean? (For example: A ...
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  • 5,118
16 votes
4 answers
23k views

Is it 'thumb is up' in 'thumbs up'?

It was a thumbs up on the new filtration plant at Thursday's village board meeting This is so common but then I never thought too deep unless I became a fan of English language after joining this ...
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  • 64.8k
8 votes
1 answer
137k views

What does "apples to apples" phrase mean?

I came along this phrase in a sentence like so ... can be compared apples to apples I guess it has something to do with apples to apples game, but I couldn't figure it out. What does this ...
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  • 683
6 votes
1 answer
2k views

catch fire; catch on fire

1. Seventy percent of the man's body had been burned after the truck caught fire. 2. The house just caught on fire. (All are from COCA) I’ve thought that ‘on’ gives the nuance of continuity. ...
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  • 24.1k
4 votes
4 answers
12k views

"Literally" Vs "In the true sense of the word"

The Cambridge and other dictionaries say that "literally" can be used as an emphasis on something. But there is another term: "in the true sense of the word", which to mea has a quite similar meaning ...
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  • 13.7k
3 votes
2 answers
5k views

Can "It is a shame that ~." and "It is a pity that ~." be used to describe the feeling when in a soccer game our ball misses the target by an inch?

I wonder whether I can use the expressions, "It is a shame that ~." and "It is a pity that ~." when during a soccer match our ball misses the target by a tiny distance. For example, can I say "It is ...
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2 votes
3 answers
11k views

Opposite of "When things go south"

I just wonder about this idiom. When things go south, ... Can I express the opposite way with When things go north, ... ?
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16 votes
4 answers
3k views

Are idioms not recommended in a formal situation?

This is what my English book[1] says (I've condensed the paragraphs so they're a bit shorter and straight to the point.): Fixed expressions, also known as idioms, are often rather informal. Never use ...
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  • 4,227
11 votes
6 answers
2k views

Why is there a definite article in the idiom "adding fuel to the fire"?

"adding fuel to the fire" Should there be no articles in this idiom? Can someone give an explanation as to why there is one?
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  • 111
11 votes
2 answers
10k views

Problem (with) doing something

When you want to say that you had or are having problems with something, what is the best way to express this: I'm having a problem with saying this correctly. I'm having a problem saying this ...
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  • 923
9 votes
4 answers
36k views

Difference and usage between "I dare say" and "dare I say it"

I dare say is defined on Dictionary.com as: to venture to say (something); assume (something) as probable. I've also heard of the expression dare I say it as well; however, I was unable to find a ...
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  • 1,937
9 votes
4 answers
2k views

How to understand "bomb the expletive out of something"? Is that an idiomatic expression?

I came across this sentence with a strange use of the word "expletive", Trump has variously expressed enthusiasm for outsourcing the fight against the Islamic State to Vladimir Putin and for ...
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  • 4,121
8 votes
2 answers
1k views

Does English have an expression for "Straw Enthusiasm"?

In Polish there's an expression Słomiany zapał which is a play on words, Straw enthusiasm and Straw going ablaze. The idea is that straw burns with a very bright flame but the fire dies out very ...
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  • 9,885
7 votes
5 answers
7k views

What does "For next to nothing" mean?

I will start with the example I know to make it clear. In a TV show this conversation happened: Guy1: This car is crap. I'll buy it for next to nothing? Guy2: How next to? I guess the fans of this ...
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