Put two and two together

The phrase put two and two together is an idiom. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase or phrasal verbs that have a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. These figures of speech often use descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often colloquialisms or descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression 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 or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, beat a dead horse, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, 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 phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. It is possible to memorize a list of idioms, but it may be easier to pay attention to the use of idioms in everyday speech, where peculiar imagery will tell you that the expressions should not be taken literally. We will examine the meaning of the idiom put two and two together, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To put two and two together means to collate the information that one has and draw a conclusion or arrive at an answer. To put two and two together means to infer something from the data at hand, to make a guess based on the available information. The expression put two and two together has been in use since the mid-1800s and is as popular as it has ever been. The idiom is an abbreviation of a longer maxim that dates back to the 1600s: “The notion is as clear as that Two and Two makes four.” This sentiment appears in a book of essays, Essays on Several Moral Subjects in Two Parts, published by the theater critic, Jeremy Collier, in 1697. Today, the expression put two and two together may be used humorously by adding an addendum like, “and got five.” This is a way to say that one came to an erroneous conclusion by a poor interpretation of the available data.


“I guess no one had ever put two and two together and realized the severity of the issue,” Lynn said. (The Washington Post)

“She had never put two and two together, so I said, ‘You know, that’s Daddy’s voice’ . . . Maui starts singing, and then I start singing, and within 10 seconds she’s trying to put a pillow over my mouth and says, ‘You’re ruining the song!’ ” (New York Times)

“The defendant immediately produced a handgun, at which point (the semi driver) put two and two together and realized he had just been shot at,” records say. (The Seattle Times)


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