Idiom vs. Saying

Both idioms and sayings are common phrases used in everyday language. The words may often be used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between the two.

An idiom is a phrase or expression whose meaning cannot be understood from the literal definition of its individual words. Instead, the meaning of an idiom is based on cultural or historical context, and it may have a figurative or metaphorical meaning. For example, “kick the bucket” is an idiom that means “to die.” If you didn’t have some handy site to reference though, you likely would never figure it out but maybe from context.

A saying, on the other hand, is a well-known phrase that conveys a message or a piece of advice, often in a straightforward manner. Unlike idioms, the meaning of sayings can usually be understood from the literal definition of the words used. For example, “actions speak louder than words” is a saying that means that what people do is more important than what they say. They are still typically repeated verbatim, but they are not as figurative as idioms.

Sayings are also more standalone phrases. They are often whole sentences on their own, giving common advice or commentary on a situation, while an idiom is often just a few words used as just a noun or verb phrase. Saying “the early bird gets the worm” is a complete thought, while “barking up the wrong tree” is just a verb phrase. Sayings are commonly proverbs, aphorisms, or maxims with their own wisdom or moral lesson, while idioms are more just colorful language used to express a thought in a more memorable way.