British English Idioms: Improve Your Spoken English Fluency
Learn the nuances of British English with our audio lesson! Improve your English comprehension by listening to native English speakers explain British English idioms. Train your brain to understand English more automatically and become more fluent in spoken English with our approach to language learning.
✔Lesson transcript: https://adeptenglish.com/lessons/english-idioms-about-horses/
Today's English language lesson is all about British idioms. So, what are idioms? An idiom is a phrase or saying that has a meaning that is different from the literal meaning of the words. For example, the phrase "it's raining cats and dogs" is an idiom. It does not really mean that cats and dogs are falling from the sky! Instead, it means that it's raining very heavily.
If you are speaking with native English speakers from the UK, you will encounter lots of British idioms in everyday speech. In today's lesson, we will focus on some of the most common British idioms. With just a little listening practice, you will be able to use these idioms in your own conversations.
When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars people said, 'Nah, what's wrong with a horse?' That was a huge bet he made, and it worked.
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Most Unusual Words:
Gallop Trough Lead Suitcase
Most common 2 word phrases:
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Transcript: Fluent In British English Idioms-Audio Lessons That Are Easy And Fun
Hi there and welcome to this podcast. Today let’s continue learning some more idioms. That’s IDIOMS and these are sayings, expressions that English speakers use which don’t make sense at all until you know them. There are hundreds and hundreds of idioms in English - so what I like to do is just keep working at them, introducing ones which have a theme. A few at a time! You’ll hear these idioms in everyday English, so watch out for them. Let’s learn three ‘horse idioms’ today - and at the end of this podcast, you can test how well you’ve remembered them with my quiz!
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Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.
Today - horse idioms
OK so today horse idioms. Let’s choose three commonly used ones. They are:-
- Straight from the horse’s mouth
- Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
- You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!
Have you heard of these idioms? Well, listen on and find out what they mean and how to use them.
Let’s just make sure first of all you know the word ‘horse’ - HORSE. It’s an animal - and it’s an animal that you can ride. You can sit on a horse’s back and ride along. Horses can trot, TROT and gallop, GALLOP. You see a lot of horses in Western type movies. CLIP CLOP. Horses are also an animal that are raced - that’s RACED.
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Horse idiom number one - ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’
So the idiom first of all, ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’. Well, this is usually said about a piece of information ‘I got it straight from the horse’s mouth’. And it means that ‘I got that information directly from the source, from the person with authority’, ‘from the person who would know most about it’. So an example of ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’ might be on a school trip. ‘Someone said that we were going ice skating this evening?’ ‘Yeah, I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth - the teacher said so on the way to breakfast this morning’.
Why do we say this, ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’? Well, my research revealed two possible origins for this expression. The first one - horse racing is a very popular sport in the UK. Certainly the late Queen Elizabeth II was very keen on it - and there are lots of conversations, lots of talk in horse racing about which horses are looking to be running well. Which horses are ‘on form’ - which might win the race. Well, the nearer your source of information is to the horse, the more reliable that information is likely to be. And ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ would indicate ‘very close’ - so true, reliable information about a horse’s ‘form’ and whether it’s likely to do well in a race. You might want to ‘put money on it’, if it is! That’s one possible origin for this phrase. The other possible explanation for ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’ - is related to the idea that you can tell the age of a horse from its teeth, that’s TEETH. If you look inside a horse’s mouth, the teeth will reveal the horse’s age. So to ‘get it straight from the horse’s mouth’ may mean that the most reliable information about a horse’s age - and form - comes from looking at its teeth. Either of these seem plausible - that’s PLAUSIBLE meaning ‘believable’ explanations for this idiom. Some examples?
‘The shop is starting its sale tomorrow - I know someone who works there so I got it straight from the horse’s mouth’.
‘My cousin is definitely getting married in the summer. She phoned me last night - so I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth’.
Horse idiom number two - ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’
And this idea that looking at a horse’s teeth will tell you the age of a horse - well, that’s also behind the next horse idiom today. And this one is ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’. So a ‘gift’, GIFT - that’s an item that someone gives you, ‘as a present, as a gift’ - perhaps for your birthday. And if you ‘look a gift horse in the mouth’, it means you’re questioning the age of the horse you’ve been given. So that might look a bit ungrateful, it might look unappreciative, if you’ve been gifted something and then you are looking to be critical of it.
‘My daughter complained about the age of the car we bought for her. I said ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’’. So ‘to look a gift horse in the mouth’ means to find fault with, or to complain about something which someone gave you for free. Another example? ‘Those who were given a free lunch were complaining that there was no pudding. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, I say!’.
Horse idiom number three - ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’.
The final saying of our three today ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’. Again? ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’. If you ‘lead a horse’, that’s the verb ‘to lead’, LEAD - that means you gently pull on its reins, REINS - those are the leather straps around its head. So you can ‘lead’ a horse - though of course, the horse has to be willing as they’re much bigger and stronger than you. And you can take a horse over to its water, probably in a trough, that’s TROUGH, a water trough. But what you can’t do is make the horse actually have a drink. That’s up to the horse. So when we say in English ‘to make someone do something’ - it means to enforce it, to force them to take an action. That’s ‘to make them’. To give them no choice but to do it. We can’t ‘make it drink’’, we can’t force the horse to have a drink of water.
A photo of horse drinking. Listen to native English speakers explain the nuances of British English phrases and idioms, and learn how to understand English more automatically.
So why do we say this as an idiom - ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’? Well, we use this in situations where we’ve done everything possible to get someone to proceed in the right direction - but they have to make the last step themselves. You’ve put the horse by the water trough, but it’s up to the horse to drink. You might have bought your child all the books for a subject at school, but it’s only the child who can do the studying. In other words, you can give someone a good opportunity, but you can’t make them take it! Another example? ‘I spoke to my friend who works for the company and he gave me a phone number for my nephew to call, if he would like a job. But my nephew so far hasn’t called.’ You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
Quiz to help you practise these three horse idioms - which one fits?
Shall we practise with a quiz? I’ll describe a situation - and you’ve got to select which of these three idioms fits best with what I’m describing. Let’s just practise your pronunciation first of all. Say these after me:-
- Straight from the horse’s mouth.
- Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
- You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
OK, so I’m going to describe a situation and I want you to say which of these three idioms would fit. OK?
- I told him that I’ll give him the job and he can start on Monday, but I just haven’t heard back from him!
- My neighbour spoke to the people whose house was on fire - and they said that it was an electrical fault.
- Her mother paid for her gym membership, but she’s still not been there once!
- My friend’s son got an iPhone for his birthday, but he was complaining it wasn’t the latest one!
- Her grandparents bought her a suitcase, but she didn’t like it because it wasn’t made of leather!
- I got it straight from the manager of the store - they’re going to start opening on Sundays.
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Answers to the Horse Idioms Quiz
OK that was a vocabulary test, as well as a test that you remembered the ‘horse idioms’ from today’s podcast. If you want to listen again to the quiz - stop and go back now. Otherwise, let’s quickly run through the answers.
- I told him that I’ll give him the job and he can start on Monday, but I just haven’t heard back from him! I would say here ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’.
- My neighbour spoke to the people whose house was on fire - and they that it was an electrical fault. I think that’s ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’.
- Her mother paid for her gym membership, but she’s still not been once! Again ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’.
- My friend’s son got an iPhone for his birthday, but he was complaining it wasn’t the latest one! That’s ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’.
- Her grandparents bought her a suitcase, but she didn’t like it because it wasn’t made of leather! I think that’s the same - ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’.
- I got it straight from the manager of the store - they’re going to start opening on Sundays. The clue’s in the word ‘straight’ perhaps? ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth.
OK, that’s it for today. I hope that quiz helped you identify which idiom in which situation? Listen to this podcast a number of times, until you understand all of it - and until you remember the three idioms!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
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