Apples and Oranges – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you tired of people comparing your work to someone else’s in a different field? Perhaps your partner keeps suggesting that you act or do something in the same way as someone else. If so, you should tell them to stop comparing apples to oranges. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


Apples and oranges of course are two popular fruits in the food pyramid. While they mean exactly what they are, there is also a phrase that carries a separate meaning. Apples and oranges, or apples to oranges mean comparing two things that are not similar in any way. It can also mean comparing situations, places, or people that are in no way similar to each other. Comparing unlike things, or entities that are not similar means the same as comparing apples to oranges.

The intention of the phrase was for comparing two people, or things, but it can also be used when multiple subjects are involved. It only applies when there are vast differences between what is being compared, not when there are 50% or more similarities. For example, comparing the reading ability of a toddler and an adult would be comparing apples and oranges. However, comparing the ability of a male and a female of the same age would be a more apt comparison. More information can be found in the video (here).

Example Usage

“Comparing me and my friend in terms of appearance is like apples and oranges”.

“Judging Drake on his star power versus Michael Jackson and his start power is the same as pitting apples and oranges against each other”.

“The rules in our country and those in another country are as different as apples and oranges”.

“You can’t expect the same performance from people at different levels of their fitness journey, it’s like apples and oranges”.


The phrase or idiom apples and oranges first showed up in print in 1670. John Ray, who was a well-known writer at the time published a series of proverbs. One such proverb, written in English, had the phrase “apples to oysters”. As the phrase spread all over the world, it transformed into “apples to oranges” or “apples and oranges” depending on where you are located.

The idiom goes on to explain that things that are not able to be compared to each other, should not be. In French, apples to oranges is popular, while in Spanish, apples to pears are popular, though the meaning is the same. Since 1889, the common phrase has remained apples to oranges worldwide.

Phrases Similar to Apples and Oranges

  • Contradictory
  • Contrary
  • Alike as chalk and cheese
  • Incompatible
  • Completely different
  • Disparate
  • As different as night and day

Phrases Opposite to Apples and Oranges

  • Two peas in a pod
  • Nearly identical
  • Strikingly similar
  • Analogous
  • Bearing a likeness
  • Comparable

What is the Correct Saying?

  • The correct saying is – apples to oranges.

Ways People May Incorrectly Say Apples and Oranges

Most people mix up the context or the meaning when using the phrase apples and oranges. Some ways that Apples and Oranges are used incorrectly are:

  • Getting apples and oranges from the market is simple.
  • Those two look exactly the same, just like apples and oranges.
  • You and your sisters are apples and oranges, that’s why I expect you to perform similarly.
  • The life of a pilot and that of a caption are like apples and oranges.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Apples and Oranges

It is very simple to use the phrase apples to oranges in a sentence in modern-day life. Some ways that Apples and Oranges are used correctly are:

  • My parents are just like apples and oranges, that’s why they work so well together.
  • Thinking about marketing for medication and for cosmetics is like thinking about apples and oranges.
  • Fiction writing and research writing is like apples and oranges, so you can’t expect the same turnaround times.
  • We have two different career paths, just like apples and oranges. Yours is nursing while mine is law enforcement.

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