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What is a Phrase Thesaurus?

Updated on May 30, 2013

What are phrases?

The definition of the word ‘phrase’ is a sequence of words intended to have meaning. A phrase can standalone or be part of a sentence.

In the English language there are an estimated 100,000 commonly used phrases. This includes 25,000 idioms and 16,000 proverbs.

Phrases provide humour, interest and wisdom in a compact and memorable way.

The phrases include:

  • proverbs - 'never judge a book by it's cover'
  • idioms - 'a fish out of water'
  • similes - 'eat like a horse'
  • metaphor - 'the elephant in the room'
  • cliches - 'all bets are off'
  • catchphrases - 'nice to see you, to see you nice'
  • quotations - 'who took the cork out of my lunch'
  • euphemisms - 'a few cards short of a full pack'
  • text - 'LOL - lots of love/laugh at load'
  • puns - 'I used to have a fear of hurdles, but I got over it'
  • oxymorons - 'deafening silence'
  • tongue twisters - 'Peter picked a pickled pepper'
  • slogans - 'go for it'
  • jargon - 'think outside of the box'
  • slang - 'you dirty dog'
  • memorable book titles - 'Catch 22'
  • memorable film titles - 'some like it hot'
  • memorable song titles - 'all you need is love'

What is a Phrase Thesaurus?

A phrase thesaurus provides a list of phrases which are related to a single word.

It is similar to a synonym thesaurus such as Roget’s Thesaurus, but instead of listing the synonyms for a word, it lists related phrases.

There are lots of resources which list phrases by type such as:

  • The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Euphemisms
  • The Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms
  • Brewster's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
  • Chambers Slang Dictionary

However there is not a complete printed phrase thesuarus because the book would be too big to be practical.

Therefore all the phrase thesauri are online. The two most popular are:

  • PhraseHQ - - 52k phrases
  • PhraseFinder - - 16k phrases

Example of a Phrase Thesaurus

When a phrase thesaurus is searched the reader is provided with a list of phrases related to the noun they are investigating.

For example, if you look up the word ‘dog’, the phrases listed would include

  • let sleeping dog’s lie
  • a barking dog never bites
  • a dog is a man’s best friend
  • a dog-eat-dog world
  • dog tired
  • shaggy dog story
  • double dog dare
  • not fit for a dog
  • dirty dog
  • mean as a junkyard dog

It should also include associated phrases. These are phrases which do not contain the searched noun, but the phrases are clearly related to the noun. For example, the search for 'dog' could include the following phrases in the results.

  • his bark is worse than his bite
  • barking up the wrong tree
  • run with the hare and hunt with the hounds
  • the hounds of the Baskerville
  • barking mad
  • one sick puppy
  • frisky as a puppy
  • walk to heel

Who uses a Phrase Thesaurus?

Phrase thesauri are used by different groups of people for different purposes.

  • Authors and journalists find new and unusual phrases to add interest and fun to their prose
  • Copywriters create funny or inspirational headlines to grab the attention of audiences with short attention spans
  • Marketers and advertisers use phrases to come up with ad headlines, marketing slogans and clever domain names
  • Universities and schools encourage students, particularly those whose first language is not English, to broaden their vocabulary and understanding
  • Song writers and speech writers can add spice and interest to their work
  • People interested in the variety of the English language


The internet has enabled the introduction of a number of phrase thesauri and they are likely to become an essential resource for everyone involved with creative writing.

The English language is so rich and varied, yet it is so under-utilised by most people. Now there is an opportunity to start adding interest, fun and intelligence to everything you write and the conversations you have.

How many phrases can you add to your vocabulary today?


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