ESL English Tips

Proverbs, Idioms, Cliches, Slang, English Expressions

The following words define the different types of expressions often found in English – in single words or (more often) in phrases.

Some of them are almost interchangeable. Usually the meaning is not obvious by the individual words…… which may be confusing!!!

Proverbs (noun)

A short, well-known pithy saying, stating a general truth or piece of advice. (see also adage and pithy below) e.g.

    “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”
    “A stitch in time saves time”
    “Make hay while the sun shines”
    "All that glitters is not gold"
Sayings (noun)

a short, pithy, commonly known expression which generally offers advice or wisdom, e.g.

    “You know the old saying about all work and no play?”... “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”

Proverbs are "Sayings".

Pithy (adjective)

(usage of language or style) meaning: terse and vigorously expressive: e.g. “his characteristically pithy comments” ..... that is: his comments were straight to the point and colourful.

Adage (noun)

A proverb or short statement expressing a general truth.

Idiom (noun)

A group of words or an expression established by usage as having a meaning which is not obvious from the meaning of the individual words (e. g. “over the moon,” “see the light”).

It also can mean: a mode of expression, or style of speech/music/art.

Idioms are words, phrases or expressions that are not to be taken literally.

New English students may know the words “to rain” and they may know what a “dog” and a “cat” are. Those words are quite straightforward, and easy to learn.

But do they know what “It’s raining cats and dogs” means? They probably would not be able to guess the meaning. It’s not really raining cats and dogs, is it? It’s raining hard. That’s what makes it an idiom.

Our speech is full of idioms that we may not be aware of. Students all know the value of learning idioms, and they need and want to use them in their English speech.

When is the last time you heard of a company that was in the red? Have you ever bitten off more than you can chew? Do you like to go with the flow?

More Examples of Idioms:

  • "Have a heart to heart talk"
  • "A piece of cake"
  • "All thumbs"
  • "Feeling blue"
  • "Bring home the bacon"
  • "Have cold feet"
  • "Got up on the wrong side of the bed"
  • "Wet behind the ears"
  • "Two Faced"
  • "Sleep on it"
  • "Rub someone the wrong way"

Cliche (noun)

A 'saying' that is true – but has become less effective through over use. It is a phrase, expression, or idea that has been overused to the point of losing its intended force or novelty, especially when at some time it was considered distinctively forceful or novel. The term is most likely to be used in a negative context.

Aphorism (noun)

A pithy observation which contains a general truth e.g.

    “To err is human, to forgive divine”

Colloquialisms (noun)

A word or phrase that is not formal or literary and is used in ordinary or familiar conversation. Informal colloquialisms can include words such as ("y'all" or "gonna"), phrases (such as "ain't nothin", "dressed for bear" and "dead as a doornail")

Expressions (noun)

A word or phrase, especially an idiomatic one, used to convey an idea: such as the expression: 'You don't get nothing for nothing.' The old expression ‘curiosity killed the cat’ - that is: too much curiosity can be dangerous!

Slang (noun)

A type or style of language consisting of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people: e.g. grass is slang for marijuana; cool is slang for hot or fashionable or ‘that’s OK’. Swear words are considered slang – though not all slang is acceptable in general conversation. Patois is a mixture of slang and normal speech. Slang is common in our daily speech. The Cambridge Dictionary defines slang as “very informal language that is usually spoken rather than written”.

Is it correct speech? Not really, but it is a part of everyday English and, as such, it is important for all new English speakers to learn.

English is oozing with slang. When we to English lyrics in songs or watch English TV, we are being thrown slang.

Remember phrasal verbs too such as:

  • calm down
  • cool off
  • bring up
  • try on
  • put back
  • looks like
Phrasal verbs are simply phrases which consist of a verb in combination with a preposition or adverb, or both.

A lot of slang is formed from them.

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Peter Damien Ryan, Platinum Author

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