In Terms Of – Usage & Meaning

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

The English language is full of idioms or phrases that have been used for so many years. They have become synonymous with a meaning different than what their words may initially indicate.

This can be very confusing to English language learners in both speech and writing.

The phrase “in terms of” is a perfect example of an idiom that has been used for many years to describe something else. It is used to create clarity pertaining to an explanation of something despite the frustration it causes for people unfamiliar with its use.

Knowing how to define and use in terms of properly is the first step towards using it correctly in your own communication with others.

What Is the Meaning of “In Terms Of”?

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The phrasein terms of” is an idiom. An idiom is a group of words that have a non-literal meaning that is undecipherable when looking at the individual words. In many cases, idioms originated with literal meanings but lost them through usage.

When you use in terms of in a sentence, it means you are talking about something in a particular term. This use indicates that you are being specific about a particular aspect of a discussion or from a certain point of view.

Its use explains precise relationships between things in relation to or regarding something specific.

For example:

  • In terms of quality, the coffee roasted in small batches almost always has superior flavor and aroma compared to larger, commercial batches.
  • The overall success of our students is measured in terms of graduation rates rather than standardized testing scores.

An older use of the phrase is related to mathematics to allude to numerical units and is more literal in its use.

For example:

  • When you draft your maps, can you specifically provide distances in terms of miles rather than kilometers?

Synonyms of “In Terms Of”

To help you better understand how in terms of is used, consider the synonyms of the phrase to help you use it correctly.

  • With (or in) regard to
  • Concerning
  • Regarding
  • As to

For example:

  • I’m not sure what you are asking me regarding your grades. Can you clarify?
  • This documentary offers many examples of mysterious events concerning old historical artifacts.
  • I know you asked me to review your essay, but in regard to what, exactly?

Origin of “In Terms Of”

In Terms Of Ngram
In terms of usage trend.

The usage of in terms of seems to have originated in mathematics. Its use alluded to numerical units to mean as measured or indicated by.

For example:

  • How far is your farm from the road in terms of the time it takes to walk there?

However, the word term is from the 12th-century terme, meaning limit in time, set, or appointed period and referred to a measurement of time. The Medieval Latin terminus was rendered from Greek horos, or boundary, and was used in explanations of mathematics and logic.

To state in terms of something has been recorded for centuries in writing. It just didn’t become popular outside physical measurements until the late 1800s when it became more acceptable to use as a replacement for “in relation to.”

Let’s Review

In terms of is an idiom that has long been used to help highlight the relationships between things. Originally used in mathematics, it has become a popular way to indicate that you are speaking specifically about a particular aspect of something larger or speaking from a particular point of view.

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