What is the Difference Between Phrases and Idioms? Meaning, Usage, & Examples

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Have you ever failed to understand the meaning behind someone saying, “he kicked the bucket”? If yes, you need to be aware of the basic difference between idioms and phrases. So, the next time you hear about someone kicking a bucket you know that it is a figurative speech or idiom about death and avoid making a fool out of yourself. After all, when phrases act as a building block of sentences; idioms add a layer of figurative language and cultural understanding. 

This blog will further guide you through the similarities and differences of idioms and phrases, making you grammar nazi in no time!

Difference Between Idioms and Phrases

Although both idioms and phrases refer to a chain of words that may or may not have a specific meaning. They still have different sets of rules when it comes to usage in English grammar. To understand those distinguishing criteria, you would need to learn their meanings separately and how to read between the lines. 

What are Idioms? – Meaning with Examples

Idioms are expressions that have a figurative meaning, different from the literal meaning of their words. They often convey cultural or contextual significance and may not be easily understood by individuals who are not familiar with the language or culture. 

Let’s take a look at the following idiomatic examples and their meanings for reference:

Every cloud has a silver liningBlessings always come in disguise
Once in a blue moonSomething that happens very rarely
Happy wife happy lifeA contained life partner is the foundation of a happy marriage
To be in the same boat Facing the same challenges as others

What are Phrases? – Meaning and Examples

Whereas phrases are groups of words that function as a single unit within a sentence. They lack both a subject and predicate and do not express a complete thought on their own. Instead, phrases serve specific grammatical roles, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, or prepositional phrases. Some common phrases examples are:

  • How are you doing today?
  • Could be better?
  • I appreciate that…
  • Can’t complain
  • The best of both worlds

Idioms vs Phrases

Now, take a look at the following table to closely observe the differences between idioms and phrases depending on different parameters: 

Idioms vs Phrases
MeaningIt is derived from the combination of its individual words. It may be figurative and may not be directly related to the literal meanings of its component words.
StructureStructured group of words that serve specific grammatical functions.Fixed expressions with unique meanings that may not be deduced from the literal meanings of their words.
UsageFixed expressions with unique meanings that may not be deduced from literal meanings of their words.Idioms are used to add colour, expressiveness, and cultural significance to language.
ExampleThe sky is very cloudy today. Every cloud has a silver lining 

Difference between Idioms and Phrases through Examples 

Here are some more examples of both idioms and phrases that will help you widen the horizons of this grammatical tool of English. The phrases have been underlined and idioms are in bold for easy comprehension: 

  1. The student with the bright red notebook (Phrase) aced the exam. 

They must have been burning the midnight oil (Idiom) studying all week.

  1. We decided to take a break during the lecture (Phrase) to stretch our legs. 

The professor kindly gave us the green light (Idiom) to step outside for a few minutes.

  1. Feeling a bit under the weather (Idiom) today, I decided to stay home and curl up with a good book. 

The intriguing mystery novel (Phrase) kept me on the edge of my seat all afternoon.

  1. The delicious aroma of freshly baked cookies (Phrase) filled the kitchen. 

My brother couldn’t resist and jumped the gun (Idiom), grabbing a warm cookie before they even cooled down.

  1. Feeling nervous before the presentation, I took a deep breath and visualized success (Phrase).  

Remembering my practice sessions helped me hit the nail on the head (Idiom) and deliver a clear and confident presentation.

  1. We volunteered at the animal shelter after school (Phrase), helping to walk the dogs and clean the kennels. 

It was a heartwarming experience to see the animals wag their tails (Phrase) with joy.

  1. The teacher explained the complex concept clearly and concisely (Phrase).  

Using real-life examples (Phrase)  helped us understand the material much better.

  1. Feeling inspired by the speaker’s talk on environmental conservation, we decided to do our part (Idiom) and reduce our carbon footprint.
  1. We explored the ancient ruins (Phrase) on our trip to Greece.  

Standing amidst the historical landmarks, we could almost hear the whispers of the past (Idiom).

  1. Determined to improve their writing skills, the students participated in a creative writing workshop (Phrase). 

The workshop helped them think outside the box (Idiom) and explore different writing styles.

Find more exciting grammatical reads below!

Idioms Phrases
29+ Idioms for Cooking55+ Phrases to Boost Your Vocabulary
15+ Idioms for Celebration15 Phrases Examples (with Usage)
10+ Idioms for Achieving Goals5 Important Types of Phrases
15 Idioms for LoveWhat are Adverbial Phrases (& Clauses)
9 Idioms about Education35+ Email Phrases You Should Start (& Stop) Using

This was all about the basic difference between phrases and idioms. Hope you understand the concept and know how to proceed. You can also follow the Learn English page of Leverage Edu for more exciting and informative blogs related to grammar. 

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