On the house

On the house is an idiom that came into use about 150 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. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, 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. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words, or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom on the house, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

On the house means that a drink, meal, or other goods or service is provided at no charge. On the house means that something is free. The idea is that the “house,” meaning the establishment or business, is paying for the goods or service–the charge is on the “house’s” tab. Usually, something will be offered on the house when a customer is celebrating a milestone like a birthday, when a customer is a good patron and the proprietor wants to show his appreciation, or when something goes wrong with the goods or service provided. The expression on the house came into use in the 1880s.


When customers at Afghan Village restaurant can’t afford a meal, our waiters make them an offer they can’t refuse: It’s on the house. (Houston Business Journal)

And, even though Mikayla’s birthday has passed, her mom said a trip to Foxwoods is still in the cards – and it’s on the house. (Fall River Herald News)

If you can eat this gargantuan meal in 20 minutes, it’s on the house. (Brandenton Herald)

Plus, if you know it’s a company policy, surely that ruins the thrill of a barista’s wink that means “it’s on the house”? (The Guardian)

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