The Reading Comprehension section can be tricky even for those with good vocabulary skills. Idioms and Adages used in RC create trouble for candidates in comprehending the passage, as they are not meant to be taken literally but figuratively. Many candidates, not acquainted with English, would not understand the meaning of, ‘the cat is out of the bag’ for instance, and would take in the literal sense rather than its figurative meaning which is to reveal a secret. The challenge for the candidates, then, is to identify the real meaning of these idioms and adages in the context of the passage.
The first step to identify idioms and adages, which are a special expression of the language, is to familiarize yourself with them. An idiom is a phrase or a fixed expression that has a figurative, or sometimes, literal meaning. An idiom’s figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning. An adage, on the other hand, is an old, short proverb that is generally accepted to have some truth to it. While dealing with them, one needs to partially suspend one’s literal understanding of the expression and allow one’s mind to process the expression in an alternate way, beyond the literal. The idea is to use the words already mentioned in the idiom or an adage and try to relate it to the context in which it is being used.
To understand the idiom or adage, one must learn to decode the expression systematically. For example, the idiom, ‘it takes two to tango’ can be decoded thus: Tango is a dance form that requires two people. This gives a fair bit of idea to the candidates, the meaning of the idiom- that both parties involved in the situation are equally responsible, can be deciphered using the context. Adages, on the other hand, refer to an age old wisdom or truth and can be decoded comparatively easily, for instance, the adage ‘God helps them who help themselves’ refers to the truth that for God to be on your side, or luck for that matter, you need to help yourself by working hard.
More often than not, the meaning of the idiom or adage can be derived from the context in which the idiom or adage has been used in the passage. For instance, the idiom, ‘curiosity killed the cat’, would be used in the passage to capture the thought that being curious and asking questions could prove to be dangerous. You need to read the lines before and after the expression to understand the true meaning of the idiom.
While preparing for the entrance exam, it is advisable that candidates look at a list of idioms and adages, especially the ones, whose meanings are not so obvious. Memorizing these will not improve their language skills but also help them save time while reading the passage. They are more likely to know the meanings of the idioms and adages and their understanding of the passage will not be obstructed.
The idioms and adages make English language interesting. Learning how to work around them will improve your spoken and writing skills and also help you in the entrance exam.
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