Idioms and Expressions in Context

Drinking with Friends
Drinking with Friends. Hero Images / Getty Images

It's important to learn and use idioms and expressions in context. Of course, idioms are not always easy to understand. There are idiom and expression resources that can help with definitions, but reading them in short stories can also provide context that make them come more alive. Try reading the story one time to understand the gist without using the idiom definitions. On your second reading, use the definitions to help you understand the text while learning new idioms.

After you understand the story, take the quiz at the end of each reading to test your knowledge. Teachers can print out these short stories and use in class in combination with teaching ideas provided at the end of this resource list.

Idioms and Expressions in Context Stories

Party Animal
Three friends meet up after not having seen each other for a long time. It's time for a party!

John's Keys to Success
A story about a man was an accomplished businessman and happily gives advice to young people he mentors.

An Unpleasant Colleague
A story about a man who took himself a little too seriously and, as a result, was quite unpopular with his colleagues.

Odd Man Out
A story about a man who gossiped a little too much at parties making him the "odd man out" anytime he joined the fun.

Life of the Party
Bill was known as the life of the party for a good reason. Learn why he was asked to everyone's party.

The Economy is Tough
Idioms appropriate for talking about the economy when it's having difficulties.

This story makes good discussion material in business English classes.

The Inventor's Lesson
A story about a friend who invented a gadget that made him a millionaire. It's the perfect story for engineers and those involved in business.

Young and Free
A short story about an what it takes to be successful in a small company.

It's good preparation for young adult English learners who are college age.

Advice from a Content Grandfather
Grandfather has some wise advice about how to lead a happy life. This is a good story for classes with older adult learners.

A Very Difficult Boss
Here is a story about a boss who makes the life of his employees difficult. This is a great story for classes that include lots of young professionals. They can complain and not get in trouble!

My Successful Friend
Here is a story about a man's friend who has had a very successful career.

Missed Chance of a Lifetime My uncle made a huge mistake because of his big mouth. Learn more.

A Night on the Town
Here is a story about a friend who had a night on the town with his friend. Unfortunately, they overdid it and would up feeling pretty bad the next morning.

Wise Guy
This wise guy bothered everyone at the party.

The Road to Success
Here is a short essay on how to succeed in today's difficult economic environment. It makes good reading for business English classes.

My Cousin Crazy Eddy
Crazy Eddy a businessperson with some success, who also knows how to defend himself and is not afraid of authority.

Will You Marry Me?
A story about a man who's soon going to ask his loved one to marry him.

It's great for anyone who likes romance.

Licensing a Car
A man recounts the difficulties he had when licensing his car. This story includes many idioms used when speaking about dealing with agencies. 

For teachers:

Use these idioms in context stories with your advanced level classes to provide context for learning common idioms in English. Each short story of two to three paragraphs provides approximately 15 idioms. These idioms are then defined following the story followed by a short quiz testing a number of idioms from the selection. Following this introduction to the idioms in context you can practice use of the idioms in a number of ways. Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask students to write their own short stories using the idioms in context.
  • Have students write dialogues using the idioms to act out in class.
  • Group students together to create their own gap fill quizzes for other groups.
  • Write up questions using the idioms presented and discuss as a class or in groups.
  • Make up situations that fit each idiom on-the-fly and ask students to choose the idiom that fits best.