Difference Between Idioms and Phrases

Idioms vs Phrases

English language makes use of phrases in sentences that are building blocks of sentences. Two or more words connected in a grammatical fashion and having a meaning is said to constitute a phrase. A phrase is a brief expression that has a meaning but cannot stand alone as a sentence. There is another linguistic tool called idiom that is very similar to a phrase. In fact, many believe the two tools to be interchangeable. However, idioms and phrases are not synonymous, and there are differences that will be highlighted in this article.


Idiom is a linguistic tool used by writers, to make their text more beautiful. It is actually use of figure of speeches, to create a meaning that is different from the meanings of the individual words of the phrase. This is the reason why non-natives and other students of English language find it hard to grasp the meaning of an idiom.

For example, he is trying to pull my leg does not mean what it says as there is no one holding the leg and pulling it. Rather, teasing is the literal meaning of pulling my leg, which is not clear to those who are trying to learn English language. Similarly, if someone says he is finding it hard to keep his head above water, he really does not mean to say that he is drowning or something like that. He only means to say that it is proving difficult for him to keep things under control or manage a situation. Following are a few examples of idioms where dictionary meanings of individual words in the phrase do not add up to the figurative meaning of the phrase.

1. Make my day

2. Caught with pants down

3. Shot in the arm

4. Lose heart

5. Go easy on


A phrase in a sentence is a group of words that can stand alone as a distinct unit of the sentence. This group of words has a meaning that is clear to the readers as there is no hidden meaning. A phrase has a group of words connected to each other in a grammatical manner. A phrase is not a sentence in its own right and is contained in a sentence. A phrase is similar to a clause in a sentence though it stands hierarchically at a lower level than a clause.

What is the difference between Idioms and Phrases?

• All idioms are phrases, but not all phrases are idioms.

• Both idioms and phrases are basic units of sentences.

• Idiom is a linguistic tool that allows writers to say something in the garb of another.

• Idioms are like figures of speeches.

• Idioms have a meaning that is different from the dictionary meaning of the individual words in the idiom.

• Phrases are used by us in our daily lives in a functional manner whereas idioms are used for ornamentation of the language.