Difference Between Idiom and Cliche

Main Difference – Idiom vs Cliche 

Idiom and cliché are phrases and clauses that are commonly used by many people. An idiom is a phrase whose figurative meaning is different from its literal meaning. A cliché is a phrase or opinion that is overused and indicates a lack of original thought. Both have been in the usage for a long time. The main difference between idiom and cliche is that idiom is viewed in a positive sense whereas clichés are viewed in a negative sense.

What is an Idiom

Idiom is a fixed phrase or an expression that has a figurative meaning different from its literal meaning. The figurative meaning of an idiom becomes established with time and usage. The literary meaning of the idiom may often sound absurd and silly. For example, look at idioms like raining cats and dogs, kick the bucket, spill the beans, etc. If you don’t know the literal meaning of the idiom, they may sound absurd when used in a sentence. This is because the individual meaning of the words of the idiom is not at all relevant to its figurative meaning. For example, look at the expression ‘spill the beans”, this does not really refer spilling some beans but refers to the revealing of a secret.

Idioms are a unique feature of a language; oftentimes different languages have different idioms and they cannot be literary translated into another language. Language learners face a challenge because of this uniqueness.

Following examples are some common idioms in the English language.

At the drop of a hat – Instantly

Cry over spilt milk – Repent about the past

Break a leg! – Good luck

Hold your horse! – Wait!

Raining cats and dogs – Raining a lot

Cock and Bull Story – An unbelievable story

Piece of Cake – Easy

Cost an arm and leg – Very expensive

It takes two to tango – more than one person is responsible for a situationDifference Between Idiom and Cliché

What is a Cliche 

A cliché is a phrase or opinion that is overused and indicates a lack of original thought. We all use clichés in our daily life. However, in a literary work, clichés can often be annoying to a reader since they portray the writer’s lack of originality.

All clichés were once fresh and innovative ideas and thoughts. But they have been used so extensively that they have lost their freshness and originality. Clichés have become boring and repetitive because of their overuse.

They all lived happily ever after.

As fit as a fiddle

A matter of time

Frightened to death

Mum’s the word

Beauty is only skin deep.

Read between the lines

Fall head over heels

As brave as a lion

Since clichés are overused phrases and clauses, idioms that have been in the usage for a long time can be taken as clichés. However not all idioms are clichés, and not all clichés are idioms. In addition, we often use the term cliché in a negative sense to indicate the loss of originality, but idioms that are commonly used are not referred to as idioms.Main Difference - Idiom vs Cliché

Difference Between Idiom and Cliche 


Idiom is a fixed phrase or an expression that has a figurative meaning different from its literal meaning.

Cliché is phrase or opinion that is overused and indicates a lack of original thought.


Idioms have a figurative meaning, not a literal meaning.

Clichés may have both figurative and literal meaning.


The use of idioms is considered positively in writing.

The use of cliché is considered negatively in writing.Difference Between Idiom and Cliché - infographic

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“raining cats and dogs 12-march-2007″ via

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