Английские идиомы

VI Международный конкурс научно-исследовательских и творческих работ учащихся
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Английские идиомы

Мишин З.В. 1
1МБОУ СОШ № 21
Бурлакова А.В. 1
1МБОУ СОШ № 21
Автор работы награжден дипломом победителя III степени
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To begin with I should notice I’m not the first and the only school student who has chosen English idioms for his research work. For many years idioms have been spoken about by native speakers and foreign students, by interpreters and writers, by linguists and philologists. And why have I chosen this topic for my research work? Now let me explain you my choice.

A well-educated person should speak a foreign language. Nowadays we have a lot of languages. According to the information published by UNESCO, there are about 3000 languages in the world.

Nowadays English is worth not just knowing, but it is worth really knowing. There is a great importance to understand up-to-date English. English is the chief language of international business and academic conferences, and the leading language of international tourism. English is the main language of popular music, advertising, home computers and video games. Most of the scientific, technological and academic information in the world is expressed in English. International communication expends very fast. People have to communicate with each other. It is very important for them to understand foreigners and be understood by them. That’s why English language iswidely studied in our country and all over the world.

Since secondary school children learn to express their thoughts using means of

English language immersing themselves into another culture. But is it possible to study a foreign language without studying idioms of this language? To answer this

question first ask yourself if you use idioms in your native language, I mean Russian. You may say that people can do without them, but you are mistaken as we’ve got used to use many expressions in our every-day speech and don’t even recognize them as idiomatic. Such expressions as сломяголову, беззаднихног, утеретьнос and many others make our speech more emotional and interesting for people we talk with.

And what about using idioms in English? Is it an important point of studying the English language? No doubt, it is. English is a language particularly rich in idioms. Idioms come to be a very numerous part of English: it is one-third part of the everyday speech. Knowledge of idioms provides better understanding of image and character of the nation, helps fully enjoy reading original English texts, clearly shows the speaker's speaking skill level. Sometimes a person uses much time and a lot of words to describe a situation which can be explained with just one proverb or word combination. In many causes knowledge of English idioms helps students to avoid “russicisms”.

Everybody sees that the purpose of learning and using idioms of English language is quite clear but however students who study a foreign language don't use its idioms. My suggestion is that this happens as it is very difficult to translate idioms from English into Russian because of their various sense and meaning and that they mostly cannot be translated literally, even though their grammatical structure is clear as day. So as a rule those who study the English language, especially the students are afraid of difficulties with their translations and try to avoid idioms in their speech for they could make no mistakes. But no language can do without idioms and proverbs and if you try to master your English you need to improve the knowledge of idioms of the English language. Besides,you shouldn’t also forget that the usage of idioms makes your speech clear understandable to a native speaker.

So,the object of my research is English idioms.

The subject of my research is the use of English idioms in our daily speech.

I also determined the following tasks in my research work:

- to denote the term «idiom»;

-to explore the variety of English idioms;

-to find out something interesting from the history of their origin ;

-and to compare them with their Russian equivalents.


1.My classmates mostly try not to use English idioms in their speech.

2. Some idioms of the English and Russian languages have the same origin and

there are no difficulties in translation and understanding them.

3.There may be a problem withthe translation of many English idioms into Russian.

I used the next methods in my investigation: analysis of English and Russian idioms, the work with different sources of information, comparison, survey and search.

Practical value of the work:

I hope to interest my classmates in learning English and Russian idioms. It will help them in future to improve their knowledge of English and make less mistakes in reading, translating and oral speech.

What is an idiom?

Different dictionaries offer various definitions of an idiom. However, they are basically similar. Some of the basic explanations are as following:

- According to Macmillan Dictionary Online an idiom is “an expression whose meaning is different from the meaning of the individual words”.

- From Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms (1998: Introduction) states you can learn that “Idioms are a colourful and fascinating aspect of English. They are commonly used in all types of language, informal and formal, spoken and written. (…) Idioms often have a stronger meaning than non-idiomatic phrases. (…) Idioms may also suggest a particular attitude of the person using them, for example disapproval, humour, exasperation or admiration so you must use them carefully.”

- In Oxford English Dictionary a more detailed definition is provided: A form of expression, grammatical construction, phrase, etc., used in a distinctive way in a particular language, dialect, or language variety; spec. a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from the meanings of the individual words.”

The word Idiom’ is derived from French ‘idiome’ or Latin ‘idioma’ from Greek ‘idioma-matos’=private property, idos=own or private. An idiom is a group of words which, when used together, has a different meaning from the one which the individual words have. In other words, an idiom is a phrase whose meaning cannot be understood literally. For example, when you say “it's raining cats and dogs”, you don't mean that cats and dogs are falling from the sky, but rather that it's raining heavily. Idioms are usually rather informal and include an element of personal comment on the situation.

They are sometimes humorous or ironic.

The history and the origin of English idioms.

Speaking about the meanings and origins of thousands of English idioms, phrases and sayings we should certainly point to the following sources:

- proverbs that give meaning to the English language like no other form of expression.

- American Idioms are the phrases that were born in the USA.

- Phrases coined by Shakespeare who gave Englishmen more words and expressions than anyone else.

- Nautical phrases which came from the nautical men .

- Phrases from the Bible - the single book that has given more sayings, idioms and proverbs to the English language than any other.

2.1 Proverbs.

Proverbs are popular sayings which depict a universal truth that has been realized through generations of experience. They may also represent a common-sensical view of the world.

In most cases proverbs carry a metaphorical meaning. At times they may present words of wisdom. As with idioms, a proverb has to be understood by looking beyond the words that compose it.

Here are some proverbs you must know about:

- Curiosity killed the cat. It’s meaning is: Being inquisitive can lead you into an unpleasant situation.

- Kill two birds with one stone. The proverb means: Accomplish two things with one action or effort.

- Strike while the iron is hot. It meanings: When you have a good opportunity, go for it.

- You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The meaning is: Older people don’t change their habits easily.

- Cake’s not worth the candle. It means: Something in which result as compared to the efforts are too less.

2.2 American Idioms.

No country has a closer association with the language of Old England than the USA. Of course, there are many American phrases which are used there but haven't been adopted outside the country; they are widely understood in the US, but would cause puzzled looks in other English-speaking countries.

Here's the list of some of the many English phrases there were 'coined in the USA' and now used around the world:

- Up in the air - you may have the idea that something’s floating or flying in the sky, perhaps an airplane or a balloon. But really if someone tells you that things are up in the air it means that these things are uncertain or unsure; definite plans have not been made yet.

Jen have you set a date for the wedding yet?”

Not exactly, things are still up in the air and we’re not sure if our families can make it on the day we wanted. Hopefully we’ll know soon and we’ll let you know as soon as possible.”

- Stab someone in the back - if we take this idiom literally we could find ourselves in a whole lot of trouble with the police, as it would mean taking a knife or another sharp object and putting it into a person’s back. However, as an idiom to

stab someone in the back means to hurt someone who was close to us and trusted us by betraying them secretly and breaking their trust. We call the person who does this a back stabber.

Did you hear that Sarah stabbed Kate in the back last week?”

No! I thought they were best friends, what did she do?”

She told their boss that Kate wasn’t interested in a promotion at work and Sarah got it instead.”

Wow, that’s the ultimate betrayal! No wonder they’re not friends anymore.”

- To be on the ball - if you look at this English idiom literally, it means to be either standing or sitting on a ball—but who would do that? If you’re on the ball it means that you’re very quick to understand certain things, very prepared for something or react quickly (and correctly) to a situation.

Wow, you’ve already finished your assignments? They are not due until next week,you’re really on the ball. I wish I could be more organized.”

- To be under the weather. - Can you be under the weather literally? Probably yes, if you think about standing under the clouds, rain and sun, but it makes no sense. If you’re feeling under the weather, you could be feeling a little sick. The sick feeling is nothing serious; perhaps it’s just having a bad headache because you’re starting to get the flu.

What’s wrong with Katy, mom?”

She’s feeling a little under the weather so be quiet and let her rest.”

- To lose your touch. - Literally this means to no longer have the ability to touch or feel with your fingers or hands. But to lose your touch actually means that you lose your ability or talent you once had when dealing with things, people or situations.

I don’t understand why none of the girls here want to speak to me.”

It looks like you’ve lost your touch with the ladies.”

Oh no, they used to love me, what happened?”

2.3Shakespeare’s idioms.

It was William Shakespeare who coined the phrases - he contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual, and most of them are still in daily use.

Here are only some of them:

- Heart of gold.

The king’s a bawcock, and a heart of gold, a lad of life, an imp of fame, of parents good, of fist most valiant.” – Henry V

This phrase means that someone who has a "heart of gold" is kind, good natured or generous.

- To kill with kindness.

This is a way to kill a wife with kindness, and thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humor.” – The Taming of the Shrew

This phrase means that you will get what you want by being very kind to another person.

- Green-eyed monster

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on." – Othello

Meaning: In Shakespear’s times the green colour was often considered to being unwell or sick. Shakespeare was the first person to introduce the concept of being sick with jealousy.

- Apple of my eye.

Flower of this purple dye, hit with Cupid’s archery, sinkin apple of his eye.” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

To say that someone is the apple of your eye means that you love and cherish them above all others.

- Wear your heart on your sleeve

But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at. I am not what I am.” – Othello

To "wear your heart on your sleeve" is to make your feelings well known to others.

Nautical phrases

Nautical phrases are phrases and sayings that have a nautical origin. Many phrases that have been adopted into everyday use originate from seagoing - in particular from the days of sail. Virtually all of these are metaphorical and the original nautical meanings are now forgotten, for example

- To know the ropes. It means to understand how to do something. To be acquainted with all the methods required.

Sailors had to learn which rope raised which sail and also had to learn a myriad of knots. There is also a suggestion that it comes from the world of the theatre, where ropes are used to raise scenery.

"The captain, who had been on the coast before and 'knew the ropes,' took the steering oar."

- Cut and run means to run away.

It refers to ships making a hasty departure by the cutting of the anchor rope and running before the wind.

"A ship cut away upon the yielding wave."

- On your beam ends means “ in a bad situation.”

What's the origin of the phrase 'On your beam ends'?

The beams here are the horizontal transverse timbers of ships. This nautical phrase came about with the allusion to the danger of imminent capsize if the beam ends were touching the water.

"The gust laid her upon her beam-ends."

2.5 Phrases from the Bible

No book in history has contributed more phrases to the English language than the King James Bible. Here are a few everyday phrases that have a biblical origin and have influenced everyday language.

- A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. - It's better to have a less but certain advantage than the possibility of a greater one that may come to nothing.

- A wolf in sheep's clothing - Someone who hides hellish aim under the look of kindliness.

- Forbidden fruit – means a prohibited item.

- Pearls before swine

Items of quality offered to those who aren't cultured enough to appreciate them.

2.6.Other categories of the idioms

The origin of English idioms can be also connected with


- As busy as a bee – to be very busy;

- A pig in a poke -- an offer or deal that is foolishly accepted without being examined first.

- Crocodile tears -- an insincere show of sorrow;

- Donkey work -- hard work; the least attractive part of any project.


- As white as snow – be pure white;

- Blue blood - The blood that flows in the veins of old and aristocratic families;

-Caught red-handed -- To be caught in the act of committing a crime with the evidence there for all to see.

The human body:

-A skeleton in the closet -- A secret item of shame, which a person or family tries to hide away.

-Achilles' heel -- A weak or vulnerable factor.

- Keep your hands clean -- stay out of trouble;

- Out of sight, out of mind -- The idea that something is easily forgotten or as unimportant if it is not in our direct view;

- Lose face -- lose one's reputation…

And many others things.

3. English idioms and Russian equivalents

So, analyzing English idioms and their translation into Russian I have found

out that their Russian equivalents can be divided into full and partial.

Full equivalents – English idioms which are identical with Russian idioms.

Here are some examples:

- on the seventh heaven – наседьмомнебе;

- burn one’s boats – сжечьсвоикорабли;

- as cold as ice – холодныйкаклед;

- as sharp as a razor –острыйкакбритва;

- as brave as a lion – храбрыйкаклев;

- as cunning as a fox –хитрыйкаклиса;

-betterlatethannever – лучше поздно чем никогда;

- there is no smoke without fire – нетдымабезогня;

- read between the linesчитатьмеждустрок;

- play with fireигратьсогнем.

Partial equivalent does not mean any incompleteness in the translation, but

only contains the lexical or grammatical differences.

The examples of partial equivalents are:

- kill the goose that lays the golden eggsубитькурицу, несущуюзолотыеяйца;

- a wolf in a sheep’s clothingволквовечьейшкуре;

- be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouthродитьсявсорочке;

And a lot of English idioms don’t have equivalents in Russian language. First

of all they are idioms which denote realities which don’t exist in our culture.

Idioms which don’t have Russian equivalents are:

-better a witty fool than foolish witлучшеумныйдурак, чемглупыймудрец (from W.Shakespear);

-He knocks boldly at the door who brings good newsгромкостучитвдверьтот, ктоприноситхорошиеновости;

-To stretch the truthпревращатьправдувложь;

- To have a green thumb – бытьхорошимсадоводом.

4. Analysis of the survey.

In the survey my classmates were asked to do three tasks: first, they had to write about what an idiom actually is. Second, they were asked about how often they use idioms in their speech. And finaly, the students had to translate three given idioms correctly. Results of the survey you can see bellow.

1. Do you know what an idiom is?

Yes – 8 students

No – 16 students

2.How often do you use idioms in your speech?

Never –18 students

Sometimes – 5 students

Always –0 students

3. Translate the next idioms into Russian, please:

- To play with fire – 8 students

- As busy as a bee – 5 students

- A pig in a poke – 3 students

It’s a pity, but as you can see from theresults of the survey, the knowledge of idioms and proverbs is very poor.


In conclusion, I can say that my hypotheses were confirmed. I suggested thatmy classmates rarely use English idioms in their speech.

Besides, I have found out that some idioms have no difficulty intranslation at all, while there are also a lot of idioms with hard translations and even without any Russian equivalents.

As for me, I’ll try to learn English Grammar and Vocabulary perfectly, read in English as much as possible to translate idioms without difficulties. I hope I will be able to do it soon due to English classes and my teacher of English, because it is very important for those who are learning a foreign language to study idioms and other phraseological units, as they give a chance to understand the culture of speaking language more deeply.


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2. Виноградов В.В. Об основных типах фразеологических единиц в русском языке // Виноградов В.В. Лексикология и лексикография Наука, 1986.

3.Ворно Е.Ф. , Кащеева М.А. и др. Лексикология английского языкаУчпедгиз, 1955, с.123

4. Каменецкайте Н.Л. Синонимы в английской фразеологии «Международные отношения», 1971 – 367 с.

5. Кунин А.В. Англо-русский фразеологический словарь . 3-е изд., стереотип. – М.: Русский язык, 2001

6. McCarthy & O’Dell F. English Idioms in Use [Текст]. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2003.

7.Halliday, M.A.K. An Introduction to Functional Grammar [Текст]. London: Arnold, 1994.

8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiom

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