Difference between Phrase and Idiom

Difference between Phrase and Idiom

Words alone do not have a definite meaning. Some words paired together help to make a complete sentence. The Best examples of such words are phrases and idioms. While they are mostly confused to be the same, they have their differences. That is not right at all.

Phrase Vs. Idiom

An idiom is a phrase that carries a figurative meaning and is easy to understand by anyone familiar with it. A phrase on the other hand is easy to understand by anyone who sees its literal meaning. Idioms are fixed phrases, which is not the case for phrases alone.

Phrases on the other hand are a small collection of many words, which have a literal meaning. The good thing about phrases is how easy they are to understand as every word in it carries its meaning. Changing them is easy and will not necessarily contribute to errors. Looking at individual words alone will give you a very difficult time trying to comprehend them.

Idioms are words that are not easy to understand. They are rigid and give no room for change. Translating idioms word for word is tedious and will result in altering their entire meanings. Understanding an idiom as a whole is therefore the best practice.

Comparison between Phrases and Idioms

  • A phrase is a group of words while idioms are words with no specific meanings.
  • Phrases have literal meanings when put together. Idioms on the other hand are figurative in meaning.
  • Not all phrases are idioms. Idioms on the other hand can make phrases.
  • A group of words comprises phrases. Idioms can be a single word.
  • Phrases are straightforward. An example of a phrase is; The glass was on the table. Idioms on the other hand can be difficult to comprehend. An example in a sentence is ‘Burn the midnight oil’.

What is a Phrase?

This is a group of small words brought together and has a literal meaning. Phrases can be categorized into eight different types that include:

  • Noun Phrase: A noun phrase is a phrase with a single noun. The noun can be a subject or a compliment. An example is; Reading a storybook is a good habit. The noun phrase in this case is a subject.
  • Adjective Phrase: This consists of a single adjective. An example in a statement is, ‘Roopal is a well-behaved woman’.
  • Adverbial Phrase: The phrase in this case modifies the noun and the adjective and works as an adverb. An example in a sentence is; ‘The cut runs at a good speed’.
  • Prepositional Phrase: Phrases in this category always start with prepositions which later join nouns. An example is; ‘he sacrificed his lifetime opportunity for the sake of friendship’.
  • Conjunctional Phrase: The phrase in this case acts as conjunction. An example is, ‘everyone has to work so that they can get good marks’.
  • Interjectional Phrase: A phrase in such a situation has more than one word. An example is ‘what a pleasure! I scored the highest in math’.
  • Verb Phrase: The phrase in this case has two types of verbs. The verbs are the main one and the auxiliary verb. For example, ‘You must call your dad at once’.
  • Infinitive Phrase: This is a phrase that includes an infinite with a simple verb. AN example in a sentence is, ‘to attend the evening class, I set my alarm for 5 PM’.

What is an Idiom?

These are a group of words that do not have a definite meaning. Their meanings are termed figurative. You have to try and figure out what a statement containing idioms really means.

Below are examples of idioms and what they mean, figuratively.

  • A blessing in disguise: This idiom is used to show that the misfortune was not so bad after all, as it also came with its share of benefits.
  • Beat around the bush: This idiom is used to show that a person is dodging from telling the truth and missing out on the most important details.
  • Break a leg: This idiom is used to show someone that they can do exemplary well in a task that they have been assigned.
  • Call it a day: Used to show that one has had and done enough and can take up what is left another time or day.
  • Get out of hand: Used to show that a situation or a person is completely out of control.
  • Get your act together: Used to tell a person to start acting appropriately or leave what it is they are doing altogether.
  • Hang in there: Used to help someone have some hope in a difficult situation, assuring them that it will get better.
  • No pain, no gain: Used to express the fact that good things come to those that are willing to work tirelessly for them.
  • Pull yourself together: Used to ask someone to be strong.
  • Spill the beans: Used to ask someone to tell the truth about a certain situation.

Difference between Phrase and Idiom

  • Phrases are transparent which makes understanding them easy. Idioms on the other hand are complicated. They have no straightforward meaning and leave one to figure it out themselves.
  • Changing the words in a phrase is easy as the meaning is not altered. The same does not apply in idioms as changing the words makes the phrase completely lose its meaning.
  • All phrases have meanings while idioms are figurative.
  • Phrases must have a group of words that mean more than two words. Idioms on the other hand have no such rules. Idioms can also be phrases.
  • Phrases can also be used as idioms.


In conclusion, learning the language is a process and needs a lot of understanding. This makes it easy to use terms and phrases in speech as well as in writing. Taking time to understand the difference between phrases and idioms will help you know when to use them and where to use them. This is a great way to limit the confusion that keeps coming up regarding their differences.