Idiom vs Expression: Difference and Comparison

When speaking, it is typical to hear frequently used phrases like “Beat around the bush”, “Challenge accepted”, etc.

These are only a few examples of people expressing their own views or thoughts; some use idioms, while others make up their own phrases.

As a result, the terms “idioms” and “expressions” are commonly used interchangeably and conflated. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Idioms are fixed phrases with non-literal meanings understood through common use.
  2. Expressions convey a specific meaning or idea but may not necessarily have a fixed structure.
  3. Idioms have a cultural or historical basis, while expressions can be universal.

Idiom vs Expression 

The difference between an idiom and an expression is that an idiom is an expression made with a combination of words that has a meaning that differs from the actual meaning, whereas an expression is a way or manner of expressing ideas or feelings through words. 

Idiom vs Expression

An idiom is a group of words that have a meaning that is different from the actual meaning of the words being used. It comprises words, phrases, or expressions that cannot reflect the literal meaning.

It is an example of figurative language. 

An expression can be defined as the act of expressing something or the process of making your views, feelings, etc., known by speech, writing, or any other medium. It might be regarded as a single word or as a phrase.

It’s a proper noun. 

Comparison Table  

Parameters of Comparison Idiom Expression
Definition It is an expression made with the help of a combination of words with the meaning differing from the literal translation. They are a specific way of expressing ideas or feelings through words. 
Functionality They are not functional. They are functional. 
Understanding. Difficult to understand. Easier to understand. 
Considered as Colloquial metaphors. They are a polite way of saying a particular thing. 
Similarity They are all considered expressions. They are not all considered idioms. 
Meaning They don’t tend to reflect the literal meaning of the phrase. They reflect the literal meaning. 

What is Idiom? 

The term “idiom” is defined as a tiny group of words with meanings wholly distinct from the meanings of the words being used.

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It’s made up of words, phrases, or expressions that aren’t meant to be taken literally. It’s a figure of speech with a metaphorical connotation.

Furthermore, the figurative meaning of the words used in an idiom differs significantly from their literal meaning. 

The meanings of classic idioms have remained unchanged over time, making these expressions easy to comprehend.

Although some idioms have changing meanings, most of them still have their original connotations. 

“A blessing in disguise” is an idiom that refers to a fortunate event that appeared to be unfavourable at first. Another example is “Beat about the bush,” which implies “to avoid saying what one really intends because it may be painful.” 

When specific words are joined, they form an idiom with a figurative meaning that differs from the literal definition of the separate words.

Let’s imagine something like, ‘Don’t worry, driving out to your house is a piece of cake.’ We would realize that the phrase “piece of cake” refers to a simple task.

Normally, we would not link the word ‘cake’ with anything other than dessert when it is used alone. However, it is a well-known idiom in this context. 

Figurative language, which includes the use of words in unexpected or innovative ways, includes idioms. 

What is Expression? 

‘An expression’ is described as a style or method of expressing thoughts through words. It is the act of expressing one’s thoughts or feelings through speech, facial expressions, and even body language.  

In general, an expression is similar to a phrase in that the words are combined to express or convey a feeling, an idea, or a notion. They’re also frequently referred to as ‘slangs.’ 

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In comparison to an idiom, which can have multiple interpretations, one’s message will be easier to understand while using expressions.

Some argue that the native speaker’s location (country, state, city, etc.) has an impact on the use of idioms and expressions.  

The meaning of these terms can be influenced by the speech patterns or behaviours of those who use these idioms or expressions. 

“Challenge accepted” is an example of an English expression that signifies that someone is stating that they can complete whatever task is being discussed.  

Another example is “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” which suggests having numerous possibilities rather than relying on just one. 

Main Differences Between Idiom and Expression 

  1. The term ‘idiom’ is used to refer to an expression made with the help of a combination of words with the meaning differing from the literal translation. On the other hand, the term ‘expression’ is used to refer to a specific way of expressing ideas or feelings through words. 
  2. Idioms serve to particular functionality and aren’t direct, whereas an expression tends to be functional and direct. 
  3. Idioms can be fairly difficult to understand, whereas an expression tends to be easier to understand. 
  4. An idiom can be considered a colloquial metaphor. An expression is considered to be a polite way of saying something. 
  5. All idioms can be considered expressions. On the other hand, all expressions are not considered idioms. 
  6. An idiom does not reflect the literal or actual meaning of the words or the phrase, whereas expressions tend to reflect the literal meaning behind the words. 
Difference Between Idiom and

Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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16 thoughts on “Idiom vs Expression: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The article effectively conveys the essential disparities between idioms and expressions. The focus on idioms as figurative language and expressions as a form of communication is enlightening. The real-life examples of these language elements add depth to the content.

  2. The ability to distinguish between idioms and expressions is central to understanding the intricacies of language. It’s fascinating to see how idioms have remained consistent in meaning over time, while also acknowledging that some evolve to have varying connotations.

    • The examples used to illustrate idioms and expressions clearly depict their distinct differences. The explanation of the metaphorical and literal meanings allows for a comprehensive understanding of these language elements.

    • This article effectively highlights the main differences between idioms and expressions. It provides valuable insights into the functionality, understanding, and origin of these linguistic components.

  3. The difference between idioms and expressions can greatly impact the understanding of a language. It is crucial for non-native speakers to comprehend these variances.

  4. It is interesting to learn how certain phrases or words are unique to the speaker’s location and how idioms have multiple interpretations. The impact of native speakers’ behaviour and speech patterns on the meaning of these idioms and expressions is an intriguing concept.

  5. Idioms and expressions are language treasures that reveal cultural peculiarities and historical references. Understanding them is key to understanding the language. Great article!

    • An important aspect of the article is the ability to differentiate between idioms and expressions, and the impact these variations have on the interpretation of language and communication.

    • Completely agree! It’s fascinating to decode these linguistic nuances and learn about the origins of these phrases.

  6. A thorough comparison of idioms and expressions is provided in the article, emphasizing their definitions, functionality, and understanding. The references cited support the credibility of the content and provide further opportunities for learning.

  7. It’s good to understand the differences between idioms and expressions, but the vast amount of information might be overwhelming to some.

  8. It’s interesting to know the distinction between an idiom and an expression, as this could help bridge cultural gaps


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