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Idioms and Expressions Print E-mail
Written by David Holmes (Anagarika Tevijjo)   


I wrote this model as a teaching device during the time I was working in Bangkok, Thailand, as a legal editor and language consultant, with one of the Big Four Legal and Tax companies, KPMG (during my afternoon job) after teaching at the university.

When I had no legal documents to edit and no individual advising to do (which was quite frequently) I would sit at my desk, (like some old character out of a Charles Dickens' novel) and prepare language materials to be used for helping professionals who had learned English as a second language—for even up to fifteen years in school—but who were still unable to follow a movie in English, understand the World News on TV, or converse in a colloquial style, because they'd never had a chance to hear and learn common, everyday expressions such as, “It's a done deal!” or “Drop whatever you're doing.”

Because misunderstandings of such idioms and expressions frequently caused miscommunication between our management teams and foreign clients, I was asked to try to assist. I am happy to be able to share the materials that follow, such as they are, in the hope that they may be of some use and benefit to others.


The simple teaching device I used was three-fold:

  1. Make a note of an idiom/expression
  2. Define and explain it in understandable words (including synonyms.)
  3. Give at least three sample sentences to illustrate how the expression is used in context.

For instance,
Idiom: “It's a done deal.”
Definition: “We agree. Everything has been decided. We're ready to sign the contract.


  1. “The bank has confirmed the loan agreement, so It's a done deal.”
  2. “The court has approved the restructuring plan, so it's a done deal.”
  3. “The Senior Partner has signed my promotion papers, so it's a done deal.”

If a student came to me with an idiom he wanted explained, like “a rotten egg ” or “a little stinker,” we would follow the above formula, and we would work it through together, discussing and explaining the words and situations as we went along, to the point where we could finally get the student using the expression in sample sentences referring to life situations of his own.

If a student was anxious to learn idiomatic expressions, on a broader range, in general, I would often encourage him just to open the book at any page and put his finger on the first expression which caught to his eye, and we would talk about that, often getting into a lively conversation on the topic, sharing related incidents, anecdotes and stories, and discussing the main issue or moral point of the day's lesson—just letting itself roll out, like a ball of wool down a gentle incline.

A word to the wise, however, is that students should learn only one idiom/expression at a time, because (as research indicates) if they learn seven in a row in fifteen minutes, they won't remember anything at all later on. It is better to do one thing well and hammer it home until the learner has it clearly in his head and will be able to use it when he needs it.

It is best for the student to use this book together with a native-speaking teacher because working together is ten times easier than working alone. Some advanced students, however, may find that they can work with the text to their benefit on their own.

The list of idioms and expressions below is by no means complete, and, indeed, as the reader will see, if he works far enough into the text, many idioms are merely noted and only partially defined and explained,* as our website is still under construction. This need be no problem, however, because the method we are practicing is a process intended as a device for learning rather than a long list of idioms and definitions and examples to be memorized in the old-fashioned way.

This technique is a working tool rather than a finished product. Indeed, in discussing words which describe human situations, the best examples will be those that arise out of student-teacher interaction, picking up on and developing the ideas that interest them. As with many things, once you are practicing the technique, you no longer need the book.

Incidentally, the opinions and attitudes herein cited represent no unified point of view, but are, rather, quoted quite at random, the way different kinds of people talk in the world different ways—sometimes sensibly and sometimes arbitrarily—sometimes ignorantly and sometimes wisely. So please feel free to agree or disagree with anything anyone says or does in any situation depicted in this book. Please, don't blame the present writer for the way people talk or the things they say. Language is just a crude cultural convention. Who is to blame me for the ignorant and abusive things common people customarily say?

Note also that every boxed-idiom can be used and expanded into a lesson in itself containing a main idea, with related vocabulary, and issues to define explain and discuss. The slower you go and the more you converse together on any single matter of interest at a one time, the better it is.

Teachers should note that just even reading the sentences, phrases or words aloud can be good pronunciation and rhythm practice. Learning a language also means speaking so the less the teacher talks and the more he listens and prompts the better the results should be.

At the very least, the text will provide a wide range of ideas to choose from for teaching vocabulary and related, real-life, conversation-discussion topics. If you see an idiom you don't want to teach, or is not appropriate for your audience, don't bother with it. Do one you prefer instead.

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