What's the difference between "put on a show" and "put on an act"? Are they interchangeable? They look similar in meaning to me. Is there any nuanced difference?

Examples sentences from dictionaries:

  1. They put on a show of affection for the sake of the children.
  2. Be natural. Don’t feel you have to put on an act.

1 Answer 1


The important thing to realize here is that 'put on a show/act' aren't different idioms, they are manifestations of the same phrasal verb:

From oxford:

Put on (sense 5.1) - Behave deceptively:

she doesn’t feel she has to put on an act

There is a subtle difference. 'Put on a show' is also widely used without the negative connotations, in the more literal sense of organizing something grand. See this.