‘Freeway' vs 'Highway': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on November 7, 2023

Do you need to know the difference between 'freeway' vs. 'highway?' Here it is.

In case you are in a hurry, here is a short answer: 

  • 'Freeway' is a noun defined as an expressway with controlled access or a highway without tolls. 
  • 'Highway' is a noun defined as a main direct road between two or more locations.

Although the answer above gives you an overview, there is a lot more to learn about the way people use these terms. So, to learn exactly how and when to use each, keep reading!

What is the Difference Between 'Freeway' vs. 'Highway?'

If you are from a small town or area where there aren't any 'freeways,' you may have no idea what the difference is between a 'freeway' vs. 'highway.' That is because 'highways' are usually the major roads in rural areas.

Both 'highways' and 'freeways' have higher speeds than regular roads. However, 'highways' usually have traffic control features like stop signs and lights.

'Freeways,' on the other hand, usually do not have lights or other features that control the flow of traffic. Instead, they utilize overpasses and entrance and exit ramps to control the flow of traffic and create a faster route for travelers.

'Freeways' generally have higher speed limits than streets, boulevards, and highways. In fact, the average speed on 'freeways' in the United States is approximately 70 mph, and the average speed on highways is nearly 14 mph lower at approximately 56 mph.

The reason for the reduced speeds is that cars have the ability to turn off of 'highways' into businesses and directly onto other smaller streets. In contrast, you have to exit a 'freeway' and enter businesses off of a feeder road.

Definition of 'Freeway': What Does 'Freeway' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 'freeway' is a noun that means:

  • An expressway with controlled access

It can also mean:

Synonyms and Similar Words to 'Freeway'

Here are some synonyms and similar terms that you can use instead of 'freeway.'

  • Highway
  • Expressway
  • Thoroughfare
  • Boulevard
  • Avenue
  • Route
  • Artery
  • Turnpike
  • Drive
  • Interstate
  • Causeway
  • Thruway
  • Motorway
  • High road
  • Pike
  • Parkway
  • Corridor
  • Beltway
  • Drag
  • Byway
  • Main street
  • Autobahn
  • Superhighway
  • Bypass
  • Overpass
  • Autoroute
  • Alley
  • Switchback
  • Track
  • Crossroad
  • High street
  • Autostrada

Definition of 'Highway': What Does 'Highway' Mean?

The same source defines 'highway' as a noun that means:

  • A major direct road
  • A main thoroughfare through town

Synonyms and Similar Words to 'Highway'

Look at the synonyms for 'highway.' You will notice that many of them are the same as those for 'freeway.' So, many people use these terms interchangeably.

  • Road
  • Freeway
  • Expressway
  • Boulevard
  • Avenue
  • Causeway
  • Thruway
  • Pass
  • Corridor
  • Street
  • Pike
  • Rowe
  • Toll road
  • Laneway
  • Circle
  • Backstreet
  • Alley
  • Laneway
  • Parkway
  • Ring road
  • Byway
  • Bypass
  • Trace
  • Artery
  • Arterial
  • Track

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Freeway' vs. 'Highway'

Next, let's look at the pronunciation of 'freeway' vs. 'highway' because when you are learning the meanings and proper usage of terms like these, it is always a good idea to learn the pronunciation.

So, here is a pronunciation guide for 'freeway' and 'highway.'

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'freeway':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'highway':


How and When to Use 'Freeway' vs. 'Highway'

After learning the definitions of these words, you may be more confused than when we started. However, here are some tips for how and when to use 'freeway' vs. 'highway' that should help. 

  • Use 'freeway' when you are talking about a road that connects cities and states and has limited access.

So, you could say:

I know you do not like to drive on the freeway, but you can get her much quicker on I69. 

  • Use 'freeway' for a road that requires you to enter and exit via ramps.

For example, I might say something like:

After you get on the freeway at the Gessner/Fondren entrance, you will travel for three miles before taking exit 79 towards Chimney Rock. 

  • Use 'freeway' for a major expressway that connects to others via a network of connecting overpasses and exit ramps.

As an example, you might hear someone say:

If you have ever been to Houston, TX, you know that all of the freeways downtown look like a plate of spaghetti. 

  • Use 'highway' for a road that goes through town but does not require you to enter and exit at specific locations or ramps.

For example, you could say:

Our location is off Highway 6 and Eldridge on the right-hand side if you are traveling northbound. 

Sample Sentences Using 'Freeway' vs. 'Highway'

Here are some additional sample sentences using 'freeway' vs. 'highway.' Reading them should help you commit these terms to memory.


  • I hate driving on the freeway during rush hour.
  • Last Wednesday, I was stuck on the freeway for an hour and a half while hazmat crews cleaned a chemical spill.
  • If you want to be a delivery driver, you need to get comfortable driving on freeways.
  • Your house is just a twenty-minute drive down the freeway from my house.


  • I would never want to live directly off a highway. The sound of traffic all night would be annoying.
  • Do you want to come with me to my little sister's birthday party tonight? It is at the skating rink off Highway 3.
  • Did you see the people protesting along the sides of the highway yesterday? They were lined up as far as the eye could see.
  • Don't drive over 55 mph on this highway. The police have plenty of places to hide.


  • I have to travel on three freeways and a highway to get to my boyfriend's house.
  • If you do not want to drive on the freeway, you have the option of taking the highway all the way.

Final Review: 'Freeway' vs. 'Highway'

Finally, you are done with this lesson. But we covered a lot, so here is a quick recap of what you learned about the difference between 'freeway' vs. 'highway' in this post. 

  • A 'freeway' is an expressway between two or more cities, states, or regions that has limited entrances and exits and higher posted speeds than 'highways' and other roads. 
  • 'Highways' are roads that run through or around a city or town, but unlike 'freeways' there are usually traffic lights or other features that control the flow and speed of traffic and allow for vehicles to cross or make right and left turns. 

Hopefully, after reading this entire guide, you will remember the difference between these terms. However, you can always return to this page to review this lesson if you get mixed up.

You can also learn about hundreds of other commonly misspelled, misused, and mispronounced terms and phrases in the confusing words section here. So, if you have been wondering how to correctly use other English words, check them out before you go.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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