Difference Between Idiom and Proverb

Main Difference – Idiom vs Proverb

Idioms and proverbs are unique cultural components of a language. Idioms are fixed expressions that are used in day to day communication, and proverbs are sayings that give advice. The main difference between idiom and proverb is that proverbs contain a message or advice, unlike idioms.

What is an Idiom

An idiom is a fixed group of words or a phrase that has a figurative meaning. Oxford dictionary defines idiom as “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words”  The meaning of an idiom can not be deduced by looking at the individual meanings of the words because the phrase has an established meaning in usage. For instance, look at the expression ‘raining cats and dogs’, this does not literally  mean that cats and dogs are falling from the sky. This refers to heavy rain. Idioms are a special feature of a language, and they add color to the language. Each language has unique idioms that can not be literally (word to word) translated into another language. Given below are some examples of popular idioms.

Put foot in mouth – to say or do something embarrassing

Kick the bucket – to die

Spill the beans – to reveal a secret unintentionally

To let the cat out of the bag – reveal a secret carelessly

Take the edge off – reduce the intensity or effect of

Play by ear – improvise

Wash dirty linen in public – revealing private matters in public

If you have not read or heard these sayings before, it is difficult to understand their meaning. Therefore, idioms prove to be a perplexing area when you are learning a new language.

Often, there are interesting stories behind the formation of these sayings, as the time goes on the story, or the origin is forgotten, but the idiom remains in the usage. For example, let’s look at the idiom ‘poor as a church mouse’. In the 17th century, European Church buildings  had no place to store or prepare food. Therefore, a mouse in a church had no source of food. Similarly, there are stories or historical facts behind many idioms.Difference Between Idiom and Proverb

What is a Proverb

A proverb is a short, famous saying, giving a piece of advice. A proverb generally states the general truth based on common sense or practical experience of humanity. Almost every language has their own proverbs, and some proverbs can be observed in many languages. Even if are hearing a certain proverb for the first time, it is not very difficult to interpret its meaning by looking at the context. However, different people can interpret a proverb in different ways, especially when the proverb is borrowed from a foreign culture. Given below are some proverbs in the English language.

Honesty is the best policy.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

All that glitters is not gold.

Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Main difference -  Idiom and Proverb

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Difference Between Idiom and Proverb


Idiom is a fixed phrase having a figurative meaning.

Proverb is a brief, well-known saying, giving advice.


Idiom does not give out a moral or advice.

Proverb always gives a moral or advice.


Idioms do not give a complete meaning alone.

Proverbs have a complete meaning.

Grammatical Structure

 Idioms are phrases.

Proverbs are statements.


You can understand the meaning of the proverb, even if you have not heard it before.

You can not understand the meaning of an idiom if you have not heard it before.Difference Between Idiom and Proverb - infographic

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