Run for your Life (Idiom) – Meaning, Origins & Examples

run for your life meaning and examples, explained below

The idiom “run for one’s life” is used to describe a situation where someone is fleeing in terror or running away as fast as possible, usually from an imminent threat. The expression carries a connotation of urgency and desperation, illustrating a scenario where one’s survival is dependent upon the swiftness of their escape.

The phrase is commonly utilized in contexts where individuals find themselves in perilous situations, necessitating rapid escape to evade danger.

For example, one might say, “When the fire broke out in the building, everyone had to run for their lives.”

chrisAbout the Author: has a PhD in Education. He has been a teacher in schools and universities and has taught English as a Second Language in Colombia. He is former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.

Run for One’s Life Idiom Origins

The term is an instance of hyperbole, where there are certainly instances where the act of running is quite literally tied to preserving one’s life. But over time, it’s been used for less literal purposes.

Here’s a deep dive into its origin:

  • Historical Contexts: Throughout history, there have been numerous circumstances, such as wars, natural disasters, and encounters with predatory animals, where individuals were forced to flee hastily to avoid imminent peril. These high-stakes scenarios wherein a person’s life truly depended on their ability to run away swiftly have woven this phrase into linguistic usage.
  • Literal to Figurative: While initially used to describe literally life-threatening situations, “run for one’s life” gradually transcended into a metaphorical idiom, being used in various contexts where urgent action is required, even if one’s life is not literally in danger.

Currently, “run for one’s life” is utilized in a myriad of contexts, both literally and figuratively, indicating situations of urgency and the necessity of prompt action. As you can see from Google’s historical data, this idiom has been popular since at least the early 19th Century, and probably longer:

10 Examples in a Sentence

  • “When the earthquake started, people began to run for their lives.”
  • “I had to run for my life when I saw the swarm of bees heading my way.”
  • “When the bank robbers pulled out their guns, everyone in the vicinity ran for their lives.”
  • “The movie scene depicted soldiers running for their lives from a massive explosion.”
  • “He ran for his life when he saw the approaching tornado.”
  • “During the volcanic eruption, residents of the town ran for their lives to escape the flowing lava.”
  • “In the horror movie, the protagonist ran for her life from the terrifying creature.”
  • “Upon hearing the gunshots, people in the crowded square began to run for their lives.”
  • “The hikers had to run for their lives when they noticed the landslide starting above them.”
  • “She ran for her life after the threatening figure emerged from the shadows.”

Practice Questions Worksheet for Students

Question 1: If you are “running for your life,” how might you feel?

  • a) Relaxed and unbothered
  • b) Terrified and urgent
  • c) Jubilant and excited
  • d) Curious and intrigued

Question 2: Which of the following scenarios best describes someone running for their life?

  • a) Jogging in a park on a sunny day
  • b) Escaping from a burning building
  • c) Running in a friendly race
  • d) Training for a marathon

Question 3: When might someone metaphorically “run for their life”?

  • a) During a leisurely stroll
  • b) While escaping a dangerous animal
  • c) When trying to meet a tight deadline
  • d) While sleeping

Question 4: In a metaphorical sense, if you have to “run for your life” to catch a bus, what does it mean?

  • a) The bus is very far away
  • b) You have plenty of time before the bus leaves
  • c) You must hurry immensely to catch it
  • d) You are driving the bus

Similar Idioms

1. A close shave

Definition: A situation where danger or problems are narrowly avoided.

In a Sentence: “We had a close shave when the car almost hit us.”

2. By the skin of one’s teeth

Definition: Barely managing to succeed at something.

In a Sentence: “He passed the exam by the skin of his teeth.”

3. Escape by the skin of one’s teeth

Definition: To narrowly avoid disaster.

In a Sentence: “The hiker escaped the bear by the skin of his teeth.”

4. Dodge a bullet

Definition: To narrowly avoid a bad situation.

In a Sentence: “She dodged a bullet when she missed the flight that later crashed.”

5. A narrow escape

Definition: Managing to avoid danger or undesirable outcomes by a small margin.

In a Sentence: “We had a narrow escape when the burglars left just minutes before we arrived home.”

6. In the nick of time

Definition: Just at the last possible moment; just in time.

In a Sentence: “He turned in his assignment in the nick of time.”

7. A race against time

Definition: Acting fast to prevent something bad from happening.

In a Sentence: “The rescue team was in a race against time to find the lost climbers.”

8. A close call

Definition: A situation where harm or trouble is narrowly avoided.

In a Sentence: “The near-accident was a close call.”

9. On thin ice

Definition: In a precarious or risky situation.

In a Sentence: “After that mistake, he’s really on thin ice with the boss.”

10. Play with fire

Definition: To act in a way that is very risky or dangerous.

In a Sentence: “Investing all your money in a single stock is like playing with fire.”

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