Not being a native English speaker, sometimes, while reading a book, I find it hard to grasp the meaning of certain phrases: "to push to the limit", "as bad as it gets", "all hell breaks loose" - to name a few. The problem is that such phrases aren't translated the way they should by any translator software(like Google Translate) that I know of.

When I encounter such a phrase, I think, I might gain a better understanding of what this phrase is about if I were shown how given phrase can be used in other sentences.

So, the question is: "Do you think that such examples will help?".

Given that the Google Translate wouldn't help under these circumstances, the only option I am left with is to google the phrase. But it'll probably take up to several minutes to find real world phrase usages by googling. So, I'm pondering on creating software program, which will perform a search of the phrase I'm interested in over a library of books and some other online text repositories in just one browser window. Hence, I'd like to know, if I'm the only one annoyed by this problem. Or maybe you found some other way around this issue?

  • 1
    Such programs already exist. They are known as corpora. Check out Google Books or the COCA Corpus. Well-established idioms and set phrases like "push the envelope", can be looked up in standard dictionaries, which carry examples for every entry (whether word or phrase).
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 10, 2015 at 21:05

2 Answers 2


There already is such a facility. It's called google ngram. For example

Google ngram: as bad as it gets

Note that you can find examples at the bottom of the page below the graph.

These are examples from published books and articles so they are more likely to be correct than those found with a simple Google search.

You can use wildcards, choose from various corpora and access the raw data if you want to do your own analysis.


  1. Dan Bron's comment gives more possibilities.

  2. Yes I do think that seeing other examples will help. Often you will notice a similarity in the examples and start to recognise the pattern that they follow and the contexts where they usually appear.

  • But finding examples in ngram doesn't help the OP understand what that expression means, and to the OP's point, a literal word-for-word translation never adequately translates idioms. An expression or idiom website is probably going to be more useful in defining the meaning of the expressions IMO. Sep 10, 2015 at 22:39
  • @KristinaLopez - Well part of the original question was about how to find examples. I have now added my answer about whether examples are actually useful in understanding the phrases - I think they are. I agree with your final point though and that's one reason I referred back to Dan Bron's comment. Do ypu recommend any particular site for idioms? Sep 10, 2015 at 22:57
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    Personally, I'd include Dan's links in your answer so that everything is one place because comments can go away and then the answer would only be half-helpful. ;-) You've acknowledged Dan so I think that would be ok. Sep 10, 2015 at 23:00
  • For the record: it's definitely ok. (In general, if you see me offer a comment but not an answer, then you're welcome to post an answer based on my comment. The risk is that sometimes when I do this, it's because I don't believe the question is on-topic for the site, and so it's possible you'll end up answering a question which gets closed or even deleted.)
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 10, 2015 at 23:05

Focusing on the actual question posed here.

I believe a collection of such examples would most definitely help, because a lot of human learning and knowledge acquisition is done in terms of relations between two or more events or stimuli, and if you can't have a confirmed translation that conveys something in the same spirit as a specific phrase, it makes it very difficult to every perfectly interpret it, as a direct 1:1 translation is not always semantically or contextually possible due to the Metaphorical nature of idiomatic expression, and the cultural versimilitudes and memories that contributed to forming a specific, linguistic awareness of what that phrase means (i.e., converting it from concrete linguistic representation, to abstract, internal representation, the form of knowledge).

hope this helps you make a decision, and my opinion interests you, friend. :)

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