Idiom

An idiom is a combination of words functioning as a unit of meaning, as in "to take the subway [bus, streetcar] home." Often one or more of the words has a special sense different from its usual meaning and confined to that idiom. Thus to take here means "to get on and travel in." In its idiomatic sense such a word cannot be replaced by any of its usual equivalents: we cannot "carry, bring, or fetch the subway home."

Idioms are always a difficulty in learning foreign languages. They are not easily reduced to rules and each must be orized. Even native speakers make mistakes with idioms. The most frequent errors involve verb-preposition combinations:

I complained with my parents about their attitude. IDIOMATIC: complained to

She concluded in saying IDIOMATIC: concluded by

That is where we fool ourselves of our efficiency. IDIOMATIC: fool ourselves about

They can't decide what to do with their problem. IDIOMATIC: do about their problem

Errors like these probably come from confusing two idioms {complain about and argue with, for example), or from selecting an inappropriate one of several possible verb-preposition idioms (we do with physical shall we do with this we do about problems, difficulties, abstractions of various shall we do about that crack in the vase?").

Although they are most likely with verbs and prepositions, mistakes in idiom occur with other grammatical patterns. Some verbs, for instance, do not combine idiomatically with certain objects:

People only look out for prestige. (Prestige is looked for, valued, esteemed.)

Robert Frost gives the image of a silken tent in a field. (Poets create or develop images.)

Adjectives and nouns also enter into idiomatic combinations:

We have a great standard of living. IDIOMATIC: high

The English prefer dining-room comedy. IDIOMATIC: drawing-room comedy

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