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I'm trying to decide what tags I should be using and realized I did not know the difference between these terms.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Simply put, an expression is more like a saying, an idiomatic way of expressing something in less literal, less familiar terms:

How do you do? is just an expression: you don't expect someone to actually tell you how he is doing; he should just say how do you do? back, because it means little more than "hello".

A phrase is just any sequence of words, usually less than a sentence:

  • rip them out
  • even the Aztec women
  • before the Spaniards
  • reloading muskets
  • because they could never have continued their rituals without capturing large numbers of enemy soldiers (this one is dubious, because "clause" would be a more specific and thus better name)

A great many expressions are also phrases, like put behind bars or heaven forbid.

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