In a nutshell

In a nutshell is an idiom with its roots in Greece, nearly two thousand years ago. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. An idiom can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will define the phrase in a nutshell, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The phrase in a nutshell describes something that is brief or to the point. The expression in a nutshell may refer to an explanation that is given in a concise and precise manner, without referring to extraneous details. An argument that is delivered in a nutshell avoids confusion by explaining the fundamental points that sum up the speaker’s idea. Someone may explain the plot of a book or a movie in a nutshell, leaving out elements that do not contribute to understanding the main action. However, explaining things in a nutshell may sometimes leave out important information that may make a difference in one’s opinion or course of action. Usage of the phrase in a nutshell was first seen around 77 A.D. in the work Natural History by Pliny the Elder: “Cicero hath recorded, that the poem of Homer called the Iliad, written on parchment, was enclosed within a nutshell.” In this instance, the phrase within a nutshell was used to illustrate something that literally happened. Natural History was translated into English in the 1600s. By the 1800s the idiom in a nutshell was in general use. Synonyms of the idiom in a nutshell that may be found in a thesaurus are: briefly, concisely, succinctly. Note that the word nutshell is sometimes seen rendered as two words, as in nut shell. This is incorrect. In a nutshell is a prepositional phrase as it begins with the preposition in.


In a nutshell, the farmers have learned when to plant these salad crops so that they grow just big enough to harvest, and by November the plants enter a state of stasis. (The Ravalli Republic)

In a nutshell, USB-C is a new standard that uses one cable to connect everything from headphones, to external monitors, to flash drives, and even to wall chargers — it all uses one port that’s standard across devices. (Business Insider)

In a nutshell, it involved upgraded facilities, hiring a coach with a national profile, scheduling winnable non-league games, creating a culture allowing players to thrive and coaches who would want to stay in Pullman. (The Oregonian)

In a nutshell, we will convert Reynolds Place into a 260-seat black-box theater with retractable seating, like that in the Hanesbrand Theatre, so it can continue to be a multi-faceted events venue. (The Winston-Salem Journal)

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