This is my first post ever. I am currently working hard on expending my English vocabulary as well as my spelling abilities.

There is a word that is causing me trouble at this time. The word is notion.

I would like to know what is the distinction between the following words:

  • notion,
  • idea,
  • belief,
  • and conception

Some people say notion means a loose concept or a loose idea. I mainly use the Oxford dictionary.Here are some definitions and examples from the oxford dictionary of English.

Origin: Late Middle English: from Latin notio(n-) 'idea', from notus 'known', past participle of noscere.

There are 3 definition for notion;nevertheless, I am concerned with merely one of them.

def1: (noun) conception of or belief about something: children have different notions about the roles of their parents. I had no notion of what her words meant.

for the above example, I feel that I could say: 

I had no idea of what her words meant.

The meaning would be the same, right?

example 1: Though the concept of beauty is timeless, notions of what constitutes the perfect physical form have changed over time.

I feel that I don't understand the use of "notion" in this sentence.

example 2: There are different notions of what public opinion is.

 This could be replaced with 'idea' or 'belief' or 'conception' right ?

example 3: Chinese people seem to have more affection for, and put more belief in, Western notions and practices.

 This looks like an example I would use. 
 I feel that I would have replaced notions with concepts or ideas.

Here are definition of the other words I am comparing notions to.



Merriam Webster definition for conception is "an idea or opinion"

full definition:

  • an individual's conception or impression of something known, experienced, or imagined
  • an inclusive general concept
  • a theory or belief held by a person or group

So opinion and impression is part of the merriam webster's definition.

The contexts in which I will use this word, I think is for everyday talk. I do work a customer service job where I troubleshoot mobile phones. I do want to write sociology and philosophy papers.

  • 2
    Welcome to English Language and Usage. Thank you for providing the necessary context and for mentioning the research you have done. P.S. You mean 'expanding' rather than 'expending'. Oct 31, 2015 at 21:10

2 Answers 2


Synonym Discussion of IDEA
(a direct quote from Merriam-Webster dictionary)

Idea, concept, conception, thought, notion, and impression mean what exists in the mind as a representation (as of something comprehended) or as a formulation (as of a plan).

Idea may apply to a mental image or formulation of something seen or known or imagined, to a pure abstraction, or to something assumed or vaguely sensed: "innovative ideas", "my idea of paradise"

Concept may apply to the idea formed by consideration of instances of a species or genus or, more broadly, to any idea of what a thing ought to be:
"a society with no concept of private property"

Conception is often interchangeable with concept; it may stress the process of imagining or formulating rather than the result:
"our changing conception of what constitutes art"

Thought is likely to suggest the result of reflecting, reasoning, or meditating rather than of imagining:
"commit your thoughts to paper"

Notion suggests an idea not much resolved by analysis or reflection and may suggest the capricious or accidental:
"you have the oddest notions"

Impression applies to an idea or notion resulting immediately from some stimulation of the senses:
"the first impression is of soaring height"

  • Thanks Farid. I will use your analysis in my research. But I still don't quite understand the distinction between idea and notion. Moreover, how can I properly use the word notion in a sentence; that is in the sense of (idea), which is what the etymology suggests (known)
    – kozi
    Nov 1, 2015 at 15:35

As generally used in the US, "notion" (in the non-sewing sense) means an idea which, while perhaps not fully formed, tends to "nag" the holder of it, insinuating it's presence into thoughts without being intentionally "called up".

If I have a notion to write a book, eg, the idea would be sitting there in the back of my mind and would make it's presence known at odd times when I was thinking about something else.

As such, a notion has a more powerful sway on the individual than does a regular thought or idea, even though it may not be (and in fact often isn't) all that well-formed and well-conceived. It can, I suppose, be a borderline compulsion. (I suspect that psychology has a term for this.)

(It should be said that the word is also used in a less specific fashion to simply mean an "inclination". "I have a notion to go shopping" might be said to by a wife to her spouse, meaning roughly "I think I will, unless persuaded otherwise.")

  • Thanks, I will add this to the research heheheh. I have been getting a lot of help from here and elsewhere. This is a word that will require a lot of practice for me to master.Nevertheless, I have the resources now.
    – kozi
    Jan 2, 2016 at 5:56

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