“Idea” vs. “Concept”- How are they different?

Idea and concept, both, are creations of the human mind. This similarity has tricked many of us into using idea and concept interchangeably. In fact, if you search for concept on Google, idea will pop up as one of its synonyms.

However, there is a subtle difference in their meanings that often goes unnoticed and leads to incorrect usage of these words.

So, the first step in untangling these two words is to dive into their meanings!

What is an idea?

An idea is a rough mental impression. It could be a thought, suggestion, opinion, belief or intention. With such a wide range of interpretations, it is no surprise that idea features in the list of commonly used, important English words.

Let us explore how idea is used in a sentence through some examples.

  • She has been pondering over the idea of writing a travelogue.
  • I had no idea that the approval would come through so soon.

In all these examples, we see that idea denotes a mere impression in the mind.

What is a concept?

Concept and idea share the same meaning, but concept has other meanings too. It stands for an understanding drawn from a particular fact or logic. A concept could also be an established procedure.

For instance,

  • Concepts taught at school must be applied in daily life.
  • The new restaurant in our neighborhood introduced the concept of comfort food.

Here, concept is used to suggest a well-thought-out procedure or an abstract principle.

What is the difference?

In a nutshell, an idea stands for a rough mental construct, while a concept is a refined notion that is developed from extensive analysis.

Another striking difference between these words comes from their inventors. An idea is usually an individual effort. On the other hand, a group is needed to establish a concept.

In academic writing, concepts are elaborately discussed, formulated and revised. These concepts are based on evidence and a series of investigations. Hence, using a word as generic as an idea to denote something as solid as a concept is an absolute no-no!

Let us learn this difference through some examples:

Incorrect: Temporal logic is based on the idea of ​​time intervals.

Correct: Temporal logic is based on the concept of time intervals.

A time interval is an established principle. Hence, we used the word concept in this sentence.

Incorrect: Watching the birds fly, we got a concept to build a plane and conquer the skies.

Correct: Watching the birds fly, we got an idea to build a plane and conquer the skies.

Here, humans had just thought of building a plane, but not sketched out a design or conceptualized the detailed functions. In such cases, idea is a better word choice.

Hope now the concept of using these words correctly is clear to you! We are wondering which confusing words we should take up next. Any ideas?

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