Do you find English idioms difficult to understand? Helen in Ukraine asks about the expression ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ – and Dan gives some top tips on understanding idioms in English.

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Hi guys! Dan for BBC Learning English here with this week’s Learner Question. Find out what it is after this.

OK! This week’s learner question comes from Helen from Ukraine, who says: sometimes I find it difficult to understand idioms or proverbs. For example, every cloud has a silver lining. Could you please explain to me what this means. Helen, I’d be delighted.

Now, idioms are difficult to understand because the meaning of the expression is not necessarily the meaning of the individual words combined. Some of them are not so difficult. For example, once in a blue moon. A blue moon is a real thing and it happens in the sky only rarely. So once in a blue moon means rarely.

Sometimes you can understand an idiom through its context. For example, Charlotte got her dream job, so she was on cloud nine all day. Charlotte getting her dream job has made her very happy, so being on cloud nine means? Very happy. You got it!

Every cloud has a silver lining. Ok. Imagine a sky that’s full of dark clouds. But the sun is still shining. Now, dark clouds usually mean rain, or storms, or thunder, or snow and most people would say that that’s a bad situation. But the sun shining from behind them is a good thing. And it gives the clouds a silvery edge. So every cloud has a silver lining means that something good exists even in a bad situation. Do you see?

Here are some other idioms with clouds. Can you guess what they mean? The answers will be on our website. John is such a dreamer. He’s always got his head in the clouds. Business is going well at the moment, but the effect of Brexit is a cloud on the horizon. And finally, James has been under a cloud for the last few weeks because everybody found out that he’s been cheating on his wife.

I hope that answers your question Helen. Thank you very much for writing to us. If anybody else out there has a question for Learners’ Questions, you can email us on: Please remember to put Learners’ Questions in the subject box and your name and the place that you’re writing from. We can’t possibly answer all your questions, guys, we just get too many, but we do read every single one. And for more information, go to our website: That’s it for this week’s Learners’ Questions. I’ll see you next time. Bye!

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