Difference Between Phrase and Idiom (With Table)

Words alone do not contribute or have no definite meaning, therefore words are paired up together to make sentences and further used in such manners to make them more bewitching. Best examples of such tools can be phrases and idioms. Both of them are sometimes misunderstood and considered the same, which is not right at all.

Phrase vs Idiom

The difference between Phrase and Idiom is that Idiom is a type of phrase with figurative meaning and it is understandable only if the person is familiar with it, whereas the phrase is understandable by everyone as it has a literal meaning. Another difference could be that the idioms are fixed whereas so such fixation is with the phrases.

Phrases are small collections or groups of words with some literal meaning. They are very easy to understand and each word of it contributes to its meaning. They can be changed easily without any errors. They cannot be understood by looking at individual words.

Idioms are words/word that is not easily understandable, and cannot be changed. It can be a group of words or even one word. Translating idioms words by words in the literal meaning are not possible will give wrong results. Therefore it is important to understand the idiom as a whole.

Comparison Table Between Phrase and Idiom

Parameters of ComparisonPhraseIdiom
DefinitionGroup of wordsGroup of words or a word with no literal meaning.
MeaningsLiteral in meaningFigurative in meaning
InterchangeabilityAll phrases are not idiomsIdioms can be phrases
Words includedIt is a group of wordsIt can be a single word.
ExamplesThe glass was on the tableBurn the midnight oil

What is Phrase?

It is a group of words usually small that has some meaning. There are different types of phrases:

  1. Noun Phrase: it is a type of phrase that has a main single noun which can either be subject or even compliment. For example, Reading a Storybook is a good habit – a subject.
  2. Adjective Phrase: it consists of a single adjective. For example, Roopal is a well-behaved woman.
  3. Adverbial Phrase: this modifies verb or adjective, working as an adverb. For example, the car runs at a good speed.
  4. Prepositional Phrase: always starts with a preposition and joins nouns. For example, he sacrificed his lifetime opportunity for the sake of his friendship.
  5. Conjunctional Phrase: it performs as conjunction. For example, everyone has to work hard so that they can get good marks.
  6. Interjectional Phrase: it has more than one word. For example: what a pleasure! I scored the highest in maths.
  7. Verb Phrase: it has two types of verbs, the main verbs and the helping verb (auxiliary verb). For example, you must call your dad at once.
  8. Infinitive Phrase: it includes infinite along with a simple verb. For Example: to attend evening class, I set my alarm for 5 pm (noun form).

What is Idiom?

Idioms are a group of words that does not have a definite meaning (of their literal words) and usually act as a common expression. The most common Idioms used daily with their meanings are:

  1. A blessing in disguise: it is used in a situation where a misfortune turns to be having some benefits.
  2. Beat around the bush: it is used when a person is avoiding the important things by thinking about the unnecessary things.
  3. Break a leg: it used to wish a person the best of luck.
  4. Call it a day: it used when the person is saying to stop the activity or work
  5. Get out of hand: it used for someone who is being very difficult to control.
  6. Get your act together: it used to say to a person to start participating in activities or to start organizing his things appropriately.
  7. Hang in there: it used to motivate a person and means to be more determined and having patience in a tough situation.
  8. No pain, no gain: it is used to indicate that there is no success without a little suffering.
  9. Pull yourself together: it means to gain control over oneself things or emotions.
  10. Spill the beans: it means telling some secret or something that someone is heading desperately.

Main Differences Between Phrase and Idiom

  1. Understanding a phrase is very easy it is very transparent and doesn’t have any hidden meaning, whereas the meaning of idioms is slightly difficult to understand if the person is not familiar with it.
  2. Changing the words in the phrase is easy and will not change the meaning of the whole phrase, synonyms of words can be used for this, and it cannot be done with the idioms, they are fixed in nature no synonyms of anything can replace the words otherwise the meaning of it will be changed.
  3. All phrases have a literal meaning that means all phrases have basic meaning and idioms have no-literal meaning they are figurative and also known as colloquial metaphors.
  4. The main rule with the phrase is that there must be groups of words that mean more than 2 words to be a phrase, whereas there is no such rule with the idioms although it falls under a category of phrases it has an exception where a single word can be idioms for example moonlight.
  5. Phrases can be idioms or have idiomatic meanings but most of the idioms are phrases (having more than 2 words) but there are exceptions.


Both phrases and Idioms are used for making the content more attractive and meaningful. Both of them contribute to making the literature unique and fascinating. But one difficulty that can arise is if a person is not familiar with the meaning and nature of either a phrase or an idiom. This can lead to misinterpretation and misconception.

Also, the author or poet should know properly where and when to use any of these to enhance the content quality, usage at the wrong place or excessive usage can make a negative and bad effect on the literature/content


  1. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-009-7707-5_5
  2. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/452933/summary
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0749596X9290025S
Noun vs Verb video