Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Today you’ll learn the differences between expressions, idioms and slang for IELTS.

In our course’s closed Facebook group, students challenge me with interesting and thought-provoking questions all the time.

One recent post started a delightful conversation about linguistic terms, so today I’ll share these ideas with you!

A student asked about the difference in meaning between the terms ‘expressions’, ‘idioms’ and ‘slang’.

She said that differentiating between them was even difficult in her first language.



Expressions’ is the umbrella term for ‘phrase’- a group of words commonly put together.

A ‘saying’ is a particular kind of expression that is older and often has advice in it.

Idioms’ are another kind of expression. These are groups of words whose literal meaning is not the same as the meaning of the phrase as expressed.

For instance, if I say something is a ‘piece of cake, I’m not talking about dessert. I’m saying something is easy.


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Idioms are established– they’ve been a part of the vernacular for a long time, and are often used by native speakers.

It is important for you to know some of these because, in order to get a 7 or higher for vocabulary on your IELTS Speaking Exam, you have to show ability to use some idiomatic language.

Most idioms are considered informal, so it is not appropriate to use them in your essays.

However, some are more formal, but make sure to ask a native speaker before you use them.

Slang’, on the other hand, is newer language. It changes a lot over time, and region.

I would say, ‘Dude, you’re killin’ it!’ if someone is doing something really well.

My mom, however, would never utter this sentence!

On IELTS, you should try to include some slang in your Part 1 and Part 2 answers, because this qualifies as interesting language that natives use, but most students do not.

Again, for a 7+, you must use interesting, native vocabulary.

Slang is not appropriate for essays.

What do you think of today’s advice?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


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