Difference Between Idiom and Cliché


Main Difference

The main difference between Idiom and Cliché is that Idiom bears a positive impression, whereas Cliché bears a negative impression.

Idiom vs. Cliché

An idiom is a fixed phrase, while cliché is a mutative phrase. The expression having a symbolic meaning different from its precise meaning is called idiom, whereas an overused opinion that shows the absence of original thought is called cliché.

Idiom has a figurative or abstract meaning; it lacks factual meaning. On the other hand, cliché has symbolic as well as accurate meaning. Idiom usage is considered positive, while cliché usage is deemed to be negative.

Idioms are used as they are created, while clichés have become dreary and repetitive due to their overuse. Idioms cannot be changed into another language, whereas clichés can be transformed into any language according to their hunches.


An idiom can also be presented as the unique and peculiar characteristics of every language, culture, and society. On the other hand, clichés are the terminologies or phrases that were considered novel earlier in times but now are considered draggy and exhausting because of extreme usage of them.

The idiom “It’s no skin off my nose” means it doesn’t affect me at all. It cannot be interpreted as if it is related to skin or nose. This example implies that idioms have figurative meanings hidden in them but no literal meaning at all. Conversely, in cliché, the phrase “Last but not least” is a very nice saying, but due to its excessive misuse in daily grunge of life, it has lost its novelty and freshness.


Comparison Chart

A fixed phrase or saying with its figurative meaning different from its apparent meaning is called an idiom.An overused statement lacking the original meaning is called cliché.
Complete Sense
Conveys complete senseDoes not convey a complete sense
Used with needExcessive misuse
Figurative Meaning
Has figurative meaningHas figurative meaning
Literal Meaning
No literal meaningHas literal meaning
Original Meaning
Expresses original meaningNo original meaning at all
Irritation Factor
Does not existExists

What is Idiom?

Fixed expressions having abstract meaning, but no exact meaning are called idioms. Idioms describe things in a distinctive way that makes them interesting. An idiom’s meaning cannot be inferred from its constituent words.

An idiom does not mean the way its words are describing. The concealed meaning behind them is abstract and literal. i.e., “Ali was pulling his brother’s leg.” This idiom does not mean that Ali was pulling the leg; it means Ali was deceiving his brother.


  • At the drop of a hat – means quickly
  • Cry over spilled milk – means good luck
  • Break a leg – means good luck
  • Hold your horse – means wait
  • Running cats and dogs – means raining heavily
  • Piece of cake – means an easy way
  • Cost an arm and leg – means very expensive
  • Bite your tongue – means confusion


  • Opaque Idiom: The idioms whose literal meaning is not linked with the real meaning are called opaque idioms. A person cannot understand the real meaning of opaque idioms by their words. i.e., “To smell a rat” means something is mistaken.
  • Transparent Idiom: The idioms which are understandable a bit and their apparent meaning can be related to their real meaning, are called transparent idioms. i.e., “laying the cards on the table” means to make everything revealed, which makes sense with the literal meaning.

What is Cliché?

A cliché is a very typical and common expression that was originated at the changing times having situation related meaning in it. Over time, frequent usage of these phrases makes them lose their newness and uniqueness.

Some clichés refer to the thoughts which are true somehow. Some clichés refer to the ideas which are stereotypes and unlogical. Some cliches may point toward facts and figures, but the point is whatever kind of they are, they are still in use in our daily lives.

It is considered that clichés mostly convey negative intellect. Clichés can be understood easily as compared to idioms as they are commonly used.

Examples are; As fit as a fiddle, A matter of time, Mum’s the word, Beauty is only skin deep, Frightened to death, Read between the lines, Fall head over heels, As brave as a lion, etc. All these examples are easily understandable as they are used commonly.


  • Figurative Cliché: The clichés having no literal meaning are called figurative clichés. These types of clichés do not make sense at all, even if they are translated into another language. i.e., “It is raining cats and dogs.” The meaning of heavily raining is not clear by this cliché, so it’s a figurative cliché.
  • Literal Cliché: The clichés having literal meaning are called literal clichés. If these clichés are translated to any other language, they can convey their meaning. i.e., “All is well that ends well.”

Key Differences

  1. An idiom can be taken as a constant phrase, whereas a cliché can be considered as a variable phrase.
  2. An idiom is defined as an expression that possesses its apparent idea different from its real idea, while a cliché is defined as an expression that possesses its apparent idea relating closely to its real idea.
  3. An idiom cannot be assumed as they have strong logic behind them, but a cliché can be understood relatively easier as it is commonly used phrase in daily routine.
  4. An idiom maintains its freshness and novelty all the time. On the other hand, clichés have become dull and dreadful due to their exhaustive and extreme usage in everyday language.
  5. An idiom does not lack original thought. Conversely, a cliché is devoid of common sense and meaningful notions.
  6. Idioms take figurative meaning but no literal meaning, while cliché possesses both figurative as well as literal meaning.
  7. Idiom’s usage gives positive vibes; on the flip side, cliché’s usage gives negative vibes.
  8. Idiom’s types include transparent and opaque idioms, whereas cliché’s types include figurative and literal clichés.
  9. Using idioms in writing is reflected as a sign of good quality writing. Contrarily, using clichés in writing, is taken as a sign of poor quality writing.
  10. Some idioms can be deliberated as figurative clichés, but no cliché can be referred to as an idiom.


The phrases needing vocabulary skills to understand them and are not commonly used in language are called idioms. In contrast, the phrases which have lost their innovation and peculiarity due to extreme practice in common language are called clichés.

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson