Colloquialism vs. Idiom — What's the Difference?
By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on September 18, 2023
Colloquialism refers to informal language used in everyday speech, whereas an idiom is a phrase whose meaning isn't deduced from the individual words.
Difference Between Colloquialism and Idiom
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Colloquialism represents informal speech patterns or terms that are often specific to a certain region, group, or age demographic. Conversely, an idiom is a phrase or expression with a figurative meaning distinct from the literal meaning of its individual words.
While colloquialisms may or may not be universally understood outside their specific context, idioms can be more broadly recognized, even if their literal meanings might seem nonsensical.
It's important to note that while colloquialisms are informal and might not be found in formal written works, idioms can make their way into both casual and formal discourse.
Some colloquialisms might become so ingrained in a language that they're accepted in all forms of communication. However, the unique nature of idioms means that, without prior knowledge, they can be confusing to non-native speakers.
Both colloquialisms and idioms enrich a language, making it more colorful. They reflect cultural nuances, historical events, or societal changes which might influence the way people communicate.
Informal speech patterns or terms
Phrases with figurative meanings
Often specific to region, group, or age
Universally recognized, but meaning isn't clear from individual words
Use in Formal Writing
Can be found in both casual and formal discourse
Might not be universally understood outside specific context
Relation to Culture
Reflects linguistic and societal nuances
Reflects cultural, historical, or societal influences on language
Compare with Definitions
Reflects societal or group-specific language usage.
Dude is a colloquialism often used among friends.
Reflects the rich figurative nature of language.
It's raining cats and dogs is an idiom meaning it's raining heavily.
Informal language characteristic of casual conversation.
Wanna is a colloquialism for want to.
Used in both formal and informal contexts.
Break a leg is an idiom used to wish someone good luck.
A regional speech pattern or term.
Y'all is a southern colloquialism meaning you all.
Often culturally specific language expressions.
Bite the bullet is an idiom meaning to face a difficult situation.
Language not typically found in formal writing.
Gonna is a colloquialism for going to.
Can be confusing for non-native speakers.
Spill the beans is an idiom meaning to reveal a secret.
Colloquialism or colloquial language is the linguistic style used for casual communication. It is the most common functional style of speech, the idiom normally employed in conversation and other informal contexts.
A phrase with a meaning different from its literal interpretation.
Kick the bucket is an idiom meaning to die.
A word or phrase that is not formal or literary and is used in ordinary or familiar conversation
The colloquialisms of the streets
An idiom is a phrase or expression that typically presents a figurative, non-literal meaning attached to the phrase; but some phrases become figurative idioms while retaining the literal meaning of the phrase. Categorized as formulaic language, an idiom's figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning.
Colloquial style or quality.
A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g. over the moon, see the light).
A colloquial expression.
A characteristic mode of expression in music or art
They were both working in a neo-impressionist idiom
A colloquial word or phrase; a common spoken expression.
A speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements, as in keep tabs on.
Colloquial style of speaking.
The specific grammatical, syntactic, and structural character of a given language.
A colloquial expression, not employed in formal discourse or writing.
Regional speech or dialect.
A colloquial expression; characteristic of spoken or written communication that seeks to imitate informal speech
A specialized vocabulary used by a group of people; jargon
Can evolve with time and become standard language.
Cool as a colloquialism for good has become widely accepted.
A style of artistic expression characteristic of a particular individual, school, period, or medium
The idiom of the French impressionists.
The punk rock idiom.
A manner of speaking, a mode of expression peculiar to a language, language family, or group of people.
In English, idiom requires the indefinite article in a phrase such as "she's an engineer", whereas in Spanish, idiom forbids it.
Some of the usage prescriptions improved clarity and were kept; others that yielded discordant violations of idiom were eventually revised.
(programming) A programming construct or phraseology that is characteristic of the language.
A language or language variety; specifically, a restricted dialect used in a given historical period, context etc.
In the idiom of the day, they were sutlers, although today they'd probably be called vendors.
An established phrasal expression whose meaning may not be deducible from the literal meanings of its component words.
She often spoke in idioms, pining for salad days and complaining about pots calling the kettle black.
An artistic style (for example, in art, architecture, or music); an instance of such a style.
The idiom of the expressionists
The syntactical or structural form peculiar to any language; the genius or cast of a language.
Idiom may be employed loosely and figuratively as a synonym of language or dialect, but in its proper sense it signifies the totality of the general rules of construction which characterize the syntax of a particular language and distinguish it from other tongues.
By idiom is meant the use of words which is peculiar to a particular language.
He followed their language [the Latin], but did not comply with the idiom of ours.
An expression conforming or appropriate to the peculiar structural form of a language.
Some that with care true eloquence shall teach,And to just idioms fix our doubtful speech.
A combination of words having a meaning peculiar to itself and not predictable as a combination of the meanings of the individual words, but sanctioned by usage; as, an idiomatic expression; less commonly, a single word used in a peculiar sense.
It is not by means of rules that such idioms as the following are made current: "I can make nothing of it." "He treats his subject home." Dryden. "It is that within us that makes for righteousness." M. Arnold.
Sometimes we identify the words with the object - though by courtesy of idiom rather than in strict propriety of language.
The phrase forms peculiar to a particular author; as, written in his own idiom.
Every good writer has much idiom.
Dialect; a variant form of a language.
A manner of speaking that is natural to native speakers of a language
The usage or vocabulary that is characteristic of a specific group of people;
The immigrants spoke an odd dialect of English
He has a strong German accent
The style of a particular artist or school or movement;
An imaginative orchestral idiom
An expression whose meanings cannot be inferred from the meanings of the words that make it up
Are colloquialisms acceptable in formal writing?
Typically, colloquialisms are avoided in formal writing in favor of more standard language.
What is a Colloquialism?
A colloquialism is informal language used in everyday conversation, often specific to a region or group.
How does an Idiom differ from a Colloquialism?
An idiom is a phrase with a figurative meaning, while a colloquialism is informal language or slang.
Can colloquialisms be found in literature?
Yes, colloquialisms can be used in literature, especially in dialogue to depict realistic speech.
Why might idioms be challenging for non-native speakers?
Idioms' meanings aren't directly derived from their words, making them hard for those unfamiliar with the cultural context.
Do all regions or countries have their own colloquialisms?
Yes, colloquialisms can be region-specific, reflecting linguistic and cultural nuances.
Can idioms be found in formal contexts?
Yes, idioms can be used in both formal and informal contexts, as long as they're widely understood.
Are idioms universal across languages?
While some idioms might have equivalents in other languages, they often reflect unique cultural or linguistic traits.
Are idioms always several words long?
While many idioms are phrases, some can be shorter or even single words with figurative meanings.
How do colloquialisms evolve over time?
Colloquialisms can change or emerge with societal shifts, trends, or influences from media and pop culture.
Can a colloquialism ever become standard language?
Yes, some colloquialisms become so widely accepted that they integrate into standard language.
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Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.