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  1. #1
    luketime is offline Newbie
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    Default Idiom or Non-diom?

    Idioms usually don't bother my too much, but I'm puzzled when a teacher classifies "behave yourself" and "set the table" as idioms.
    I thought these expressions are plain and straightforward enough and never saw them as idioms.
    When I actually looked, I did find "set the table" listed as an idiom in McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs and Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms, as per thefreedictionary.com

    On second thought, I understand why "set the table" is considered an idiom, because it means setting knives and forks etc. on the table instead of fixing the table itself.
    But I can't find "behave yourself" listed as an idiom.

    I see idioms as phrases that mean something else rather than the meanings of its individual words added together. It takes quite a while for me to recognize "set the table" as such, and it surely undermined my confidence in recognizing idioms.
    Is there any way I can be sure of to distinguish an idiom from a non-idiom?

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Idiom or Non-diom?

    I can't see any reason for calling behave yourself an idiom- the meaning is strictly literal, so if you know the meaning of the two words, you can put them together and work out the meaning of the phrase. I am not that convinced by set the table either, but can see why some could argue its case, but it's not like I'll eat my hat, where you really do need to know the meaning of the phrase to understand it.

  3. #3
    luketime is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Idiom or Non-diom?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    I can't see any reason for calling behave yourself an idiom- the meaning is strictly literal, so if you know the meaning of the two words, you can put them together and work out the meaning of the phrase. I am not that convinced by set the table either, but can see why some could argue its case, but it's not like I'll eat my hat, where you really do need to know the meaning of the phrase to understand it.
    Thank you Tdol, for the clarification. I noticed set the table is not included in the idiom glossary on this site. Maybe there is a blurred line between idioms and other phrases, but mostly the difference is distinctive enough.
    I think I'll avoid listing set the table as an example of idiom, not a typical example anyway.

  4. #4
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Idiom or Non-diom?

    The list is a work in progress and we add them all the time, but I wouldn't add set the table as it's not idiomatic enough for me. We do include some items like prepositional phrases that some argue aren't really idioms, but we look at them from the perspective of a learner and include them.

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