Unless I've forgotten everything about English, the term "phrase" seems to cover two concepts:

  1. A combination of words to make up a noun, such as coal plant.
  2. A fairly fixed combination of words that is almost an entire sentence, or is an entire sentence, such as thank you in advance

Does that make the term ambiguous? If so, does that make the tag a bit ambiguous, leaving question-askers confused as to whether they should use the tag or not?

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I think not; rather, I think it could refer to either of those things. The tag wiki says:

This tag is for questions seeking a phrase that fits a meaning. If you are looking for a word, or don't care, see the "word-request" tag too.

The idea, then: if you have a concept or idea, and want to know how to express it in English, you either want a single-word response or one longer than that. If you want a single word, use . If you want something longer, use .

As a side note, I'm not sure I agree with the tag wiki when it says we ought to be double-tagging questions with both and . But I suppose that's another meta discussion!

(Also I believe your definition #1 is specifically referred to as a noun phrase. I think in practice, if a user requests a word and only a noun phrase is available, they weren't going to know that from the start, so they lack this knowledge to decide which tag to use. Either way I don't think it's a big deal; if you request a word and only a phrase exists, someone will tell you, and vice versa. :) )

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