When I study probability theory in school, they flip coins mostly to generate some events. But when I read some articles on sports, they seem to use 'toss a coin' mostly for decision.

And I tend to imagine that flipping coin is done more easily(such as throwing lower into the air or flipping without throwing) than tossing a coin as multiple experiments have to be done for probability calculation. However, this might be just my own preconception.

Is there any difference between two phrases?

  • 1
    Both of these phrases mean the same thing. I do believe that "toss a coin" is more common in British English, while "flip a coin" is more common in American English, except for the case of team sports, where for some reason lost to history, "toss" has remained the preferred verb. I'm hoping some other contributor knows some of this history! Jun 11, 2020 at 2:12
  • I think it's interesting that the Wikipedia entry on coin flipping can't decide on a standard: it switches back between flip[ing]/toss[ing] completely at random, which suggests that each person editing the article is probably using their preferred verb without even noticing that it's inconsistent with the paragraph preceding or following. Jun 11, 2020 at 2:17

1 Answer 1


They are both used as names for the same thing, but it is worth noting that the verbs do have different meanings:

  • To "toss" means to throw in the air.

  • To "flip" means to turn over.

When you toss (or flip) a coin to produce a random result, the idea is that the coin will turn over mid-air a number of times, so really the paractice involves both tossing and flipping.

I have observed various different methods of this practice - some coins are thrown high into the air and allowed to land on the ground where the result is observed; in other cases a coin is thrown only a couple of feet into the air, caught in one hand and then quickly placed on the back of the other hand, removing the catching hand to reveal the result. I don't think the method dictates what the process is called, it just seems one name has become more idiomatic than another in different varieties of the English language.

"Coin toss" is more commonly used in British English, I believe "coin flip" is chiefly North American. In Britain it is also sometimes called "heads or tails", referring to the two engravings on a coin (one side has the queen's head on it, the other a crest containing feathers).

  • Actually, it's only some 2p coins that have the Prince of Wales's Feathers on the obverse; 'tails' is used simply as the opposite of 'heads'. Oct 30, 2020 at 16:54

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