Are English idioms important in academic essays?

This is the third and final chapter about Idiomatic Phrases (Idioms). To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Review the basics about English idiomatic phrases

– Understand the academic, written context in which idioms are occasionally used in EAP

– Study example academic-English idioms, including example sentences and idiom meanings

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Chapter 3

In this third and final chapter about idiomatic phrases in English, we next turn our attention to the use of idioms in academic contexts, such as ‘on the other hand’. While it’s true that figurative expressions such as idioms are less formal than many other types of phrase, this does not mean that they are not used in highly formal academic contexts such as essays. In fact, we provide a number of useful idioms for students below, alongside an example of their use and a helpful definition. After completing this short reader, you may wish to unlock, download and complete our Chapter 1 to 3 worksheets to check understanding of these expressions and improve proficiency.

What are the key points about idioms?

As a quick review of Chapters 1 and 2, remember that idioms are:


  • particularly common in spoken English, with other 25,000 possibilities
  • phrases of two or more words which when combined create new meanings
  • figurative expressions which attach a non-literal meaning to an otherwise literal phrase
  • different to other types of figurative language like metaphors (“man of steel”), similes (“brave as a lion”), hyperbole (“I’ve told you a million times”) 
  • and proverbs (“haste makes waste”)


Are idioms common in EAP?

While idiomatic phrases are not common in English for academic purposes (EAP), this doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Students in the social sciences, arts and humanities might use idioms more frequently than those studying the STEM sciences, but figurative phrases are in truth employed by authors in all disciplines, with idioms reportedly accounting for almost one in every thousand academic words.

Which are the most common academic idioms?

Seeing as most EAP students are concerned with the use of academic idioms in the written context such as in essays and dissertations, we’ve compiled a list of the most frequent written idioms below in alphabetical order. Notice how many of these idioms are not as figurative or creative as the expressions we provided in Chapter 2, such as ‘raining cats and dogs’ or ‘spill the beans’.

across the board [“Scientists across the board are encouraging governments to react to the situation before it becomes too dire.”] Something that applies to all within a group.

along the lines of [“The methodology we are using is along the lines of that which Smith (2020) used in her study.”] Similar to something without being precisely identical.

at the end of the day [“At the end of the day, whether governments invest the money or not, if significant change is not soon enacted, the result will be the same.”] After taking everything into consideration; the most important point.

bear in mind [“Governments should however bear in mind the exorbitant effects that a lack of such policy would ultimately create.”] To remember to consider something important.

beg the question [“All this evidence begs the question of whether the significant change that the world needs will indeed come.”] To raise an obvious question that has for some reason not been dealt with.

bridge the gap [“Smith’s (2019) study bridges the gap between previous investigations.”] A reduction of the differences that separate two things.

come into play [“When external variables come into play, the results can be viewed somewhat differently.”] Something that helps to influence or produce a result. 

driving force [“Increasing infant mortality rates are one of the driving forces in the recent investment into healthcare infrastructure.”] A primary motivation for something happening.

from scratch [“Due to the incorrect hypotheses we made early on, our investigation had to be started again from scratch.”] To begin from the beginning without relying on a previously used method. 

go hand in hand with [“An increase in industrialisation goes hand in hand with an increase in air pollution.”] To be closely associated with something.

gold standard [“While lab tests are certainly the gold standard for providing empirical evidence, they are not infallible.”] The most prestigious or reliable thing in its category.

golden age [“The industrial revolution was, when compared to previous centuries, a golden age in innovation.”] When a particular skill or art or industry is at its zenith.

in light of [“This change in governmental focus is in light of recent global events.”] To take information from something or to take something into consideration.

in its own right [“Smith’s (2019) study is, in its own right, a resounding success.”] A result of one’s own efforts rather than through association.

in the long run [“In the long run, governments will have to invest in clean energy.”] After a considerable period of time; eventually.

last resort [“Although the closing of national borders is a last resort for governments, this is indeed what happened in many countries during COVID-19.”] A final option, one which is used when all other options have been exhausted.

on the one hand [“On the one hand, global warming is clearly having a negative impact on global health.”] Used to show contrast between two facts, points of view or situations, focussing on the first point.

on the other hand [“On the other hand, global warming can sometimes have a positive impact too.”] Used to show contrast between two facts, points of view or situations, focussing on the second point.

rule of thumb [“As a rule of thumb, laboratory experiments should be conducted under strictly controlled environments.”] A guiding principle, usually based on practice.

state of the art [“The equipment used to conduct the experiment was state of the art.”] Belonging to the most modern form of technology.

the big picture [“Governments are clearly not seeing the bigger picture when it comes to the effects of capitalism on the environment.”] Seeing the whole perspective of something; taking everything into account.

the bottom line [“The bottom line is that governments must react swiftly.”] The final outcome of a situation.

trial and error [“The most recent set of experiments were a matter of trial and error.”] Experimenting with various methods until success is reached.


Well done on completing this short reader on idiomatic phrases in English. If you’ve already unlocked, downloaded and completed our Chapter 1-3 worksheets, why not consider taking another reader on word meaning?

3 of 3 Chapters Completed


Once you’ve completed all three chapters in this short reader about Idiomatic Phrases (Idioms), you might then wish to download our Chapter Worksheets to check your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

Chapter 1 explores the topic: What are idiomatic phrases in English grammar? Our Chapter 1 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Chapter 2 explores the topic: Which idioms are most common in general English? Our Chapter 2 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Chapter 3 explores the topic: Are English idioms important in academic essays? Our Chapter 3 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

To save yourself 2 Marks, click on the button below to gain unlimited access to all of our Idiomatic Phrases (Idioms) Chapter Worksheets. This All-in-1 Pack includes every chapter, activity and answer key related to this topic in one handy and professional PDF.

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Spring 2022