A Brief Explanation of Idioms and Clichés

Posted by on Mar 03 2019

Do Clichés and Idioms Trip You Up?

English Evolution

As writers, we’re in the business of communication. Words are our weapons, our tools; a balm for troubled waters, our call to arms. Writing in the English language is a unique privilege. It’s complex, tricky and constantly evolving; altering endlessly in response to our ever-changing world.

The Backstory

Modern English, described by some as the global lingua franca, originally came to light in medieval England and promptly underwent centuries of tinkering and tweaks.

The result is now the most widely used language around the world. And it’s a monster. A living, growing mass of complexity, adding new words and rules as fast as it discards the old and outmoded.

And, as you may expect from such an evolutionary process, English can be awash with confusions. As a native English speaker, you’d think there wouldn’t be a problem writing in the language I’ve spoken all my life?

Sometimes, even seasoned professionals get flummoxed and dive for their references.

If the natives find it confusing, what is it like for others?

Don’t let this trip you up. For example, consider the following question and its simple answers.

The Big Question

Are idioms and clichés the same?

No, they’re not.

Idioms and clichés are two different things, but idioms can be clichés and clichés can be idioms. Even so, they should be kept separate.

Confused yet?

So, what’s the difference between them?

The Idiom

An idiom is a phrase in common use (in any language) where the words mean something other than the standard definition.

For example, the phrase “It’s raining cats and dogs,” has nothing to do with cats or dogs but means it’s raining hard. Idioms are tricky to learn unless you are a native speaker or have spent time in the country.

The Cliché

A cliché is a phrase or expression that has been used so much over the years that it has lost its freshness, even becoming trite or annoying. A cliché can be an idiom, simile or metaphor.

Using a cliché in writing or debate is commonly thought to show inexperience and writers should avoid them.

An example of a cliché would be “All’s well that ends well,” an overused phrase meaning that as long as the outcome is positive, the problems encountered along the way are irrelevant.

Final Words

Then again it can be a matter of opinion. What is considered a cliché in one place is not necessarily a cliché elsewhere. And, since so many idioms are clichés somewhere or another, realistic dialogue naturally includes some clichés; the ones your characters would normally use.

There’s an epitaph to this story

This is a brilliant take on favorite business clichés–it’s not very long–but it (and the comments) give a humorous overview of just how invasive clichés can be.


Homophones: Twins, Triplets or Quintuplets

Posted by on Feb 04 2019

An Essential Writer’s Tool

When one is different to another


Seem the Same, Sound the Same, but Very Different.

Here’s another fun English eccentricity. The humble homophone, pesky words that sound the same, with different meanings and slightly different spellings.

We writers, no matter how lyrical our prose or cutting our critique, are capable of committing the most embarrassing mistakes sometimes. These tiny blunders often go unnoticed until it’s too late, making a mess of good writing and leaving the grammar trolls baying for blood.

As I’m an offender myself, I’m not trying to be judgmental but there is one faux pas I’m seeing more and more often. Few errors spoil a bit of excellent writing faster that tripping over common homophones. You know those “terrible twins” that we were all supposed to learn about in fifth grade. Well, now they’re everywhere.


Don’t Let Them Catch You!

This tiny epidemic can seriously spoil a good read. Browsing around, looking for interesting stuff online, you’ll get smacked in the eyeballs by any one of a host of misused, misspelled words. And after a day spent trawling the internet, even perfectly good words can start looking a little strange – or is it just me?

The Achilles heel of many a writer is accepting what MS Office gives you when it auto corrects your text. As long as the word is spelled properly, “context” usually doesn’t count.

A while back, I started keeping a list of the problem words I came across most often. I’m sharing it here because maybe someone can use it as a basis for their own list of annoying homophones.


Lots of homophones – in alphabetical order

Of course, it won’t help you if you make mistakes like this one on the internet, which is not a homophone;

Glutton versus Gluten (In an article debating the merits of the “glutton free” diet).

But that’s phonetics for you!

Us writers have to keep the internet honest. Here’s a FREE resource.


Homophone List

A: accept, except | accessary, accessory | ad, add |adieu, ado | advice, advise | affect, effect | ail, ale | air, heir | aisle, I’ll, isle | all, awl | allowed, aloud | alms, arms | altar, alter | arc, ark | aren’t, aunt | ate, eight | auger, augur | auk, orc | aural, oral | away, aweigh | axe, acts | awe, oar, or, ore | axel, axle | Aye – eye – I


B: bail, bale | bait, bate | baize, bays | bald, bawled | ball, bawl | band, banned | bard, barred | bare, bear | bark, barque | baron, barren | base, bass | bay, bey | bazaar, bizarre | be, bee | beach, beech | bean, been | beat, beet | beau, bow | beer, bier | bel, bell, belle | berry, bury | berth, birth | bight, bite, byte | billed, build | bitten, bittern | blew, blue | bloc, block | boar, bore | board, bored | boarder, border | bold, bowled | bole, bowl | boos, booze | born, borne | bough, bow | boy, buoy | brae, bray | braid, brayed | braise, brays, braze | brake, break | bread, bred | brewed, brood | brews, bruise | bridal, bridle | broach, brooch | but, butt | buy, by, bye | buyer, byre


C: calendar, calender | call, caul | canvas, canvass | carat, caret, carrot | cash, cache | cast, caste | caster, castor | caught, court | caw, core, corps | cede, seed | ceil, seal | ceiling, sealing | cell, sell | censer, censor, sensor | cent, scent, sent | cereal, serial | cession, session | cheap, cheep | check, cheque | chews, choose | choir, quire | chord, cord | cite, sight, site | clack, claque | clew, clue | climb, clime | clique, click | close, cloze, clothes | coal, kohl | coarse, course | coign, coin | colonel, kernel | complacent, complaisant | complement, compliment | coo, coup | cops, copse | council, counsel | cousin, cozen | creak, creek | crews, cruise | cue, queue | curb, kerb | currant, current | cymbol, symbol


D: dam, damn | days, daze | dear, deer | descent, dissent | desert, dessert | deviser, divisor | devise, device | dew, due | die, dye | discreet, discrete | doe, doh, dough | done, dun | douse, dowse | draft, draught | dual, duel


E: earn, urn | eery, eyrie | ewe, yew, you


F: faint, feint | fah, far | fair, fare | farther, father | fate, fête | faun, fawn | fay, fey | faze, phase | feat, feet | ferrule, ferule | few, phew | fie, phi | file, phial | find, fined | fir, fur | fizz, phiz | flair, flare | flaw, floor | flea, flee | flex, flecks | flew, flu, flue | floe, flow | flour, flower | foaled, fold | for, fore, four | foreword, forward | fort, fought | forth, fourth | foul, fowl | franc, frank | freeze, frieze | friar, fryer | furs, furze


G: gait, gate | galipot, gallipot | gallop, galop | gamble, gambol | gays, gaze | genes, jeans | gild, guild | gilt, guilt | gin, djinn | giro, gyro | gnaw, nor | gneiss, nice | gorilla, guerilla | grate, great | greave, grieve | greys, graze | grisly, grizzly | groan, grown | guessed, guest


H: hail, hale | hair, hare | hall, haul | hangar, hanger | hart, heart | haw, hoar, whore | hay, hey | heal, heel, he’ll | healed heeled | hear, here | heard, herd | he’d, heed | heroin, heroine | hew, hue | hi, high | higher, hire | him, hymn | ho, hoe | hoard, horde | hoarse, horse | holey, holy, wholly | hour, our


I: idle, idol | in, inn | indict, indite | it’s, its |immanent, imminent


J: jewel, joule


K: key, quay | knave, nave | knead, need | knew, new, gnu | knight, night | knit, nit | knob, nob | knock, nock | knot, not | know, no | knows, nose


L: laager, lager | lac, lack | lade, laid | lain, lane | lam, lamb | laps, lapse | larva, lava | lase, laze | law, lore | lay, ley | lea, lee | leach, leech | lead, led | leak, leek | lean, lien | leaver, lever | lessen, lesson | levee, levy | liar, lyre | licence, license | licker, liquor | lie, lye | lieu, loo | links, lynx | lo, low | load, lode | loan, lone | locks, lox | loop, loupe | loot, lute


M: made, maid | mail, male | main, mane | maize, maze | mall, maul | manna, manner | mantel, mantle | mare, mayor | mark, marque | marshal, martial | marten, martin | mask, masque | maw, more | me, mi | mean, mien | meat, meet, mete | medal, meddle | metal, mettle | meter, metre | might, mite | miner, minor, mynah | mind, mined | missed, mist | moat, mote | mode, mowed | moor, more | moose, mousse | morning, mourning | muscle, mussel


N: naval, navel | nay, neigh | nigh, nye | none, nun


O: od, odd | ode, owed | oh, owe | one, won


P: packed, pact | packs, pax | pail, pale | pain, pane | pair, pare, pear | palate, palette, pallet | pascal, paschal | paten, patten, pattern | pause, paws, pores, pours | pawn, porn | pea, pee | peace, piece | peak, peek, peke, pique | peal, peel | pearl, purl | pedal, peddle | peer, pier | pi, pie | pica, pika | place, plaice | plaintiff, plaintive | plain, plane | pleas, please | plum, plumb | pole, poll | paw/pore/pour, poor | poof, pouffe | practice, practise | praise, prays, preys | principal, principle | profit, prophet


Q: quarts, quartz | quean, queen


R: rack, wrack | rain, reign, rein | raise, rays, raze | rap, wrap | raw, roar | read, reed | read, red | real, reel | reek, wreak | rest, wrest | retch, wretch | review, revue | rheum, room | right, rite, wright, write | ring, wring | road, rode | roe, row | role, roll | roo, roux, rue | rood, rude | root, route | rose, rows | rota, rotor | rote, wrote | rough, ruff | rouse, rows | rung, wrung | rye, wry


S: saver, savour | spade, spayed | sale, sail | satire, satyr | sauce, source | saw, soar, sore | scene, seen | scull, skull | sea, see | seam, seem | sear, seer, sere | seas, sees, seize | sew, so, sow | shake, sheikh | shear, sheer | shoe, shoo | shoot, chute | sic, sick | side, sighed | sign, sine | sink, synch | slay, sleigh | sloe, slow | sole, soul | some, sum | son, sun | sonny, sunny | sort, sought | spa, spar | staid, stayed | stair, stare | stake, steak | stalk, stork | stationary, stationery | steal, steel | stile, style | storey, story | straight, strait | suit, soot | sweet, suite, suet | swat, swot


T: tacks, tax |tacked, tact | tale, tail | talk, torque | tare, tear | taught, taut, tort | tea, tee | team, teem | tear, tier | teas, tease | terce, terse | tern, turn | there, their, they’re | threw, through | throes, throws | throne, thrown | thyme, time | tic, tick | tide, tied | tire, tyre | to, too, two | toad, toed, towed | told, tolled | tole, toll | ton, tonne, tun | tor, tore | tough, tuff | troop, troupe | tuba, tuber


U: Undo – undue |


V: vain, vane, vein | vale, veil | vial, vile


W: wail, wale, whale | wain, wane | waist, waste | wait, weight | waive, wave | wall, waul | wander, wonder|war, wore | ware, wear, where | warn, worn | wart, wort | watt, what | wax, whacks | way, weigh, whey | we, wee, whee | weak, week | weary, wary | we’d, weed | weal, we’ll, wheel | wean, ween | weather, whether | weaver, weever | weir, we’re | were, whirr | wet, whet | wheald, wheeled | which, witch | whig, wig | while, wile | whine, wine | whirl, whorl | whirled, world | whit, wit | white, wight | who’s, whose | woe, whoa | wood, would


X: no x


Y: yaw, yore, your, you’re | yoke, yolk | you’ll, yule


Z: no z


Etc. – etc. – etc.

Do you know any homophones I’ve forgotten? Are you a kindly soul, wanting to make life a easier for your fellow writers, or simply want to strut your stuff? Share any missing homophones  with us in the comments Lets grow this list into a kick-a** resource.

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