The difference between alliance and coalition


Please explain for me the difference between two words alliance and coalition

As far as I can understand, the first word is about the content while the second word is about the organization. Is it right?

Thank you in advance!

Hi gianglt,

You asked:

They both suggest a coming together. If you relate both words to politics, alliance suggests that two or more political parties agree to support a common policy. They form an alliance over this or that issue but only with reference to that or this issue. Coalition again suggests that political parties come together to agree on certain issues but when they form a coalition, it is formalised and they work together as a combined political force.


The Oxford American Dictionary defines coalition as “an alliance for combined action”, so the words must be more or less synonymous. In the thesaurus portion, this dictionary does list the two as synonyms of each other.

I think the main difference between the two words is who chooses to use them. In the US, if you hear of an organization with coalition in its name, it’s almost certainly a group with radical leftist aims, whereas alliance will appear more in the the names of moderate or right-wing groups.

Hi gianglit,

Jamie wrote:

It is interesting to note that the forces supplied by those countries that invaded Iraq are known as coalition forces.


Yes. When you get into military actions or parliamentary governments, coalition doesn’t have the same tone. I was thinking more about other types of organizations.

Thank you for your explanations. I, indeed, still don’t see the difference clearly.

I’ve found the followings in Longman Active Study Dictionary :

an agreement between countries or groups of people to work together or support each other
Examples :

  1. an alliance between an American and a Japanese company
  2. The Liberals formed an alliance with the new Social Democratic Party.

when two or more groups work together, usually in politics:

Examples :

  1. The two parties have decided to form a coalition.
  2. a coalition government

From above examples, I think that when we talk about the fact, or the content of the agreement, we use alliance, and when talk about the new orgranization, formed by the agreement, we use coalition.

Is it right ?

There’s not really a rule. Note that the group of countries fighting against the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II were called an alliance, while the group fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan are called a coalition. They involve the same kind of agreement, but the same word is not used to describe them.

Beware of neat, clear rules for differentiating various words, because there may be no clear rule.

As I mentioned before, which word is used often depends on who has formed the organization. In the US, if I hear of an organization called the “Food Coalition”, I assume that this is a group of socialists or other leftists who may or may not be providing food to the poor, but are definitely using food issues to agitate against the government. If I were to hear “Food Alliance”, it may be the same type of group, but I’d assume that it’s a group of companies, individuals and maybe churches who have grouped together to provide food to the poor.

I think the only way to learn the correct usage of these words is to look at a lot of examples. Google searches are wonderful for this.

Thank you very much, Jamie !

I think it is clear now for me.

One thing may remain in dispute. An organization may be called “Coalition” in one country and it is called “Alliance” in another country at the sametime, really :lol: ?

What I was talking about here was the preference of Americans holding various political or social beliefs to prefer one of the words or the other. I wasn’t talking about the same organization in two different countries. What I was saying was that in the United States, Americans who are part of a socialist or communist party, or who just hold those beliefs, seem to give their organizations names that include the word “coalition” more often, and other Americans don’t use it as much. Therefore, if I hear of an American organization that has “coalition” in its name, I immediately assume that it is part of some socialist or communist movement. It doesn’t have to be, but it often is.