Idioms and Equivalents

What is an idiom? An idiom is a combination of words which, when taken together, have one meaning that is different from the meaning of each word in that combination.

Idioms can have a regular, irregular or even a grammatically incorrect structure. Whether the combination is grammatically correct or not does not always matter because the meaning does not always depend on 'grammatical correctness'. For example:

  • Irregular, meaning is clear, as in give someone to understand, do someone proud.
  • Regular, meaning unclear, as in have a bee in one's bonnet, cut no ice, bring the house down.
  • Irregular, meaning unclear, as in be at large, go great guns, be at daggers drawn.

Most idioms fall under the second group. Sometimes, idioms in this group can have clear meanings. For example, to give someone the green light is 'to give someone permission to start'. People associate 'green light' with "go" so it's a clue to this idiom. But other idioms in this same group are difficult to guess because you can hardly find a clue from the meaning of the individual words. Examples are: to tell someone where to get off, to carry the can, to drop a brick, to call the shots.

There are fixed idioms which have parts that cannot be changed(except the tense of the verb). For example, to paint the town red, to fight shy of something, to get down to business. Others allow variants. Example,to know one's onions/stuff, a hard/tough nut to crack, to take/ have/ enjoy forty winks, to come to a bad/ nasty/ sticky/ no good/ untimely end.

Here, we translate some commonly used English idioms. Examples are taken from English Idioms, fifth edition, Jennifer Seidl and W.McMordie: Oxford University Press. The back translations are literal.

Note that in translation, any part of speech does not always transfer into the same part of speech category. That is, an adjective or adverb for example may translate into a noun etc. 


  • eI means near equivalent idiom
  • Le means Literal equivalent
  • eP the meaning in non-idiomatic form

BAD - masama - pangit 

1 bad blood - unfriendliness or enmity between two people or families
magkaaway - (eP) enemies
Bad blood runs between those two politicians. Magkaaway ang dalawang politikong iyon.

2 bad language - bad words - swear words or taboo words 
masamang salita - (Le) - bad words
mura - (eP) - curse
Don't say bad words. Huwag kang magmura.

3 a bad lot - a person with bad personal qualities, someone who is dishonest etc.
walang kuwentang tao - (eP)man who doesn't matter
Be careful that you don't associate with that man. He's in and out of prison. He is a bad lot. Huwag kang makikibarkada sa taong 'yon. Labas masok 'yan sa kulungan. Walang kuwentang tao 'yan.

4 bad news - a person, often with criminal tendencies, who brings trouble to others. 
masamang tao - (eP) bad man
The police raided our neighbor's house. They found shabu in his closet. That man was bad news. Niraid ng pulis ang kapitbahay namin. May nakita silang shabu sa aparador. Masama ang taong 'yon.

5 bad news travels fast - (saying) bad news is spread more quickly than good news.
mabilis kumalat ang tsimis - (eP) gossip travels fast
may pakpak ang balita - (eI) news has wings
kung may usok, may sunog - (eI) if there's smoke there's fire 
Everybody knows that she is having an affair. Bad news travels fast. Alam ng lahat na nakikisama siya sa may asawa. May pakpak ang balita.

6 a bad patch - a period of difficulty or unhappiness; problems. 
[dumadaan sa] pagsubok - (eP) going through a trial
may [konting] problema - (eP)has a little problem
We have been married for twenty years and right now, I admit that we're in a bad patch.But we'll get through it, I'm sure. Dalawampung taon na kaming kasal, at ngayon, inaamin ko, may problema kami. Pero malalampasan din namin ito, sigurado.

7 come to a bad end - become a criminal, have to go to prison, suffer disgrace. Said of someone who leads a wild life and perhaps has criminal tendencies.
sinayang ang buhay - (eP) wasted life
buhay na patapon - (eP) throws away one's life
In spite of his foster parent's love and care, that boy still came to a bad end. Sa kabila ng pag-aalaga ng nag-ampon sa kanya, sinayang pa rin ng batang 'yon ang kanyang buhay.

8 give someone a bad/hard time - treat someone badly or unfairly, make someone suffer/ be treated badly or unfairly suffer.
pinahihirapan - (eP)is being made to go through a hard time
In my last seminar, my co-facilitator gave me a hard time. Nung nakaraang seminar, pinahirapan ako ng kasama kong facilitator.

9 go from bad to worse - deteriorated still further.
palala nang palala - (eP) getting worse and worse
pahirap nang pahirap - (eP) getting more and more difficult
papangit nang papangit - (eP) getting more and more ugly
palugi nang palugi - (eP) getting more and more bankrupt
pabagsak nang pabagsak - (eP) falling and falling
His business is going from bad to worse and may close in due time. Pabagsak nang pabagsak ang kanyang negosyo at baka magsara na.

10 that's too bad - it's a pity/ unfortunate. 
sayang - (eP) it's a waste
It's a pity that you can't come to my party tonight. Sayang naman na di ka makakapunta sa party ko mamaya.

11 not so bad - relatively good, satisfactory.
okey lang - (col - eP) just ok
mabuti naman - (eP) good
How's the laboratory test result? Not so bad. Kamusta ang resulta ng laboratory? Okey naman.

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