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A. What are idioms? An expression like turn up (meaning arrive), break even (meaning make neither a profit nor a loss) or a can be difficult to understand, because its meaning is different from the meanings of the separate words in the expression. (if you know break and even, this does not help you at all to understand break even.) Expressions like these are called idioms. Idioms are usually special to one language an can not be translated word for word (though related languages may share some idioms).

B. Situational language The expressions that are used in typical everyday situations are often idiomatic in the same sense. With the help of a dictionary and grammar, one could invent various possible ways of expressing a particular idea, but generally there are only one or two ways that happen to be used by English speakers, and one has to know what they are in order to speak or write naturally. Some examples: Could you check the oil? (More natural than could you inspect the oil? Or could you see how much oil there is in engine?) Is it a direct flight or do I have to change? (More natural than does the plane go straight there or another one?) Sorry I kept you waiting. (More natural than sorry I made you wait.) Could I reserve a table for three for eight oclock? (More natural than could you keep me a table for three persons for eight oclock?)

C. Using Idiom Idiom are common in all kinds of English, formal and informal, spoken and written. However, informal spoken language is often very idiomatic. Students should not worry because they do not know all the collections and other idiomatic expressions that are commonly used by English speakers. If they use non idiomatic ways of expressing ideas, they will normally be understood, and English speakers do not expect foreigners to speak perfectly idiomatically or correctly. It is therefore not necessary for students to make a special effort to learn and use idioms: they will learn the most common idiomatic expressions naturally along with the rest of their speech and writing with idioms the effect will probably be every strange. Note that books of idioms often contain expressions which are slangy, rare or out of date, and which students should avoid unless they understand exactly how and when the expressions are used. This is particularly true of colourful idioms like raining cats and dog, hit the nail on the head,eat like a horse or as old as the hills.