The main difference between phrasal verbs and idioms is that phrasal verbs are a combination of verbs and prepositions or adverbs, whereas idioms are a group of words that convey a meaning different from the meaning of individual words.
It’s difficult to guess the meaning of both phrasal verbs and idioms from looking at their individual words. This is why some people find it difficult to understand the difference between phrasal verbs and idioms. However, you can easily identify the difference by looking at their structure or composition.
Key Areas Covered
1. What are Phrasal Verbs
– Definition, Features, Examples
2. What are Idioms
– Definition, Features, Examples
3. Similarities Between Phrasal Verbs and Idioms
– Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Phrasal Verbs and Idioms
– Comparison of Key Differences
Phrasal Verbs, Idioms
What are Phrasal Verbs
Phrasal verbs are phrases that consist of a verb and an adverb or preposition. This addition of the adverb or preposition changes the entire meaning of the verb. For example, the verb ‘look’ refers to directing one’s gaze towards someone, but the phrasal verb ‘look for’ (adding the preposition ‘for’ to the verb ‘look) refers to searching for something. Some more examples of phrasal verbs include:
Get away – escape
Look into – investigate
Hand in – submit
Call off – to cancel
Break into – enter forcibly
Phrasal verbs are very common spoken language and informal writing. We generally form phrasal verbs with transitive verbs, but this is not to say that intransitive verbs cannot form phrasal verbs. We can also categorize phrasal verbs into two categories as separable phrasal verbs and non-separable phrasal verbs.
In separable phrasal verbs, the object occurs between the verb and the preposition/adverb. Therefore, the verb and the particle can be separated. For example,
I talked him into lending me money.
Mr. Anderson has called the meeting off.
My brother will pick me up tomorrow.
In non-separable phrasal verbs, the verb and the preposition/adverb cannot be separated. Therefore, the object occurs after the phrasal verb.
We ran into your ex-husband last night.
I came across an interesting letter in her drawer.
What are Idioms
Idioms are phrases or expressions whose meaning cannot be determined from the literal meanings of their words. In other words, they are fixed expressions having figurative meanings different from their literal meanings. The figurative meaning of an idiom becomes established with time and usage. However, the literary meaning of the idiom may often sound meaningless or absurd. For instance, if you don’t know the figurative meaning of the expression raining cats and dogs or kick the bucket, they might sound really silly when used in context. This is because the individual meaning of the words in idioms is not at all relevant to their figurative meanings.
Idioms are a unique feature of a language; different languages have different idioms, and it’s difficult to literary translate them into another language. Language learners often face challenges because of this uniqueness.
Examples of Idioms
Beat around the bush – avoid talking about the important thing
Hit the sack – go to sleep
Raining cats and dogs – raining a lot
Kick the bucket – to die
Cry over spilt milk – regret over the past
Keep an ear to the ground – staying informed about everything
Similarities Between Phrasal Verbs and Idioms
- It’s difficult to guess the meaning of both phrasal verbs and idioms from looking at their individual words.
- The meanings of both phrasal verbs and idioms are established with time and usage.
Difference Between Phrasal Verbs and Idioms
Phrasal verbs are phrases that consist of a verb and an adverb or preposition and indicate an action, whereas idioms are phrases or expressions whose meaning cannot be determined from the literal meanings of their words.
Phrasal verbs only contain a verb and a preposition or an adverb. Sometimes they can also include a verb and a combination of an adverb and a preposition. However, idioms generally contain other elements like nouns.
Look into, break off, pass out, use up, call off, and run away are some examples of phrasal verbs. Kick the bucket, hit the sack, hold your horse, and through thick and thin are some examples of idioms.
Phrasal verbs are a combination of verbs and prepositions or adverbs, and they always indicate an action. Idioms, on the other hand, are fixed phrases whose meaning cannot be determined from the literal meanings of their words. This is the main difference between phrasal verbs and idioms.
1. “Phrasal verbs.” Learn English. British Council.
1. “Raining Cats and Dogs” (CC0) via Free SVG