An idiom is a phrase where the words together have a different meaning than the dictionary definitions of the individual words.
Here are three common idioms related to time:
- Burning the midnight oil: This means working late into the night or early morning hours.
- Once in a blue moon: This means an event that happens very rarely.
- Against the clock: This means to do something as fast as possible and try to finish it before a certain time.
Of these three, burning the midnight oil is the most commonly used, as shown in the following Google historical data graph:
Idioms for Time
1. Time flies when you’re having fun
Meaning: This idiom indicates that time seems to pass very quickly when one is engaged in an enjoyable activity or is with people they enjoy.
When to use: Use this term when expressing how quickly time can seem to pass during pleasurable moments or experiences.
In a sentence: “I can’t believe we’ve been at this amusement park for five hours already; time flies when you’re having fun!”
2. Beat the clock
Meaning: This term refers to accomplishing a task or goal before a deadline or in a limited amount of time.
When to use: Employ this phrase when talking about racing against time to finish something or overcoming time constraints.
In a sentence: “With only minutes left, the team managed to beat the clock and submit their project on time.”
3. A stitch in time saves nine
Meaning: This idiom suggests that addressing a small problem immediately can prevent it from becoming a bigger issue in the future.
When to use: Use this term when emphasizing the importance of being proactive or taking timely action to avoid further complications.
In a sentence: “By fixing the small leak now, we can avoid a major repair later. As they say, a stitch in time saves nine.”
See Also: Metaphors for Time
4. Once in a blue moon
Meaning: This idiom refers to something that happens very rarely or infrequently.
When to use: Use this phrase when describing an event or situation that doesn’t happen often or is exceptional.
In a sentence: “I don’t indulge in desserts often, but once in a blue moon, I treat myself to a decadent chocolate cake.”
5. Time is of the essence
Meaning: This idiom emphasizes the importance of acting quickly and without delay.
When to use: Employ this term when there’s a sense of urgency or when it’s crucial to act swiftly to achieve a particular outcome.
In a sentence: “We need to finalize this deal today; time is of the essence if we want to beat our competitors.”
6. Killing time
Meaning: This phrase refers to engaging in an activity to make the time pass more quickly, especially while waiting for something.
When to use: Use this one when someone is doing something to occupy themselves during a period of inactivity or waiting.
In a sentence: “My flight was delayed for three hours, so I was just killing time reading a novel at the airport.”
See Also: Similes for Time
7. The eleventh hour
Meaning: The phrase “The eleventh hour” denotes the last possible moment before a significant event or deadline.
When to use this phrase: One should use this phrase when they wish to describe a situation in which an action or decision is made just in the nick of time, often at the very last moment before it becomes too late.
Example in a sentence: “She managed to submit her assignment at the eleventh hour, narrowly avoiding a late penalty.”
8. Turn back the hands of time
Meaning: The expression “Turn back the hands of time” alludes to the desire or action of reverting to a previous state or revisiting past events.
When to use this phrase: This phrase is apt when expressing a longing to return to a past moment or to change decisions made in the past.
Example in a sentence: “Sometimes, I wish I could turn back the hands of time and relive those cherished memories with my childhood friends.”
9. Burn the midnight oil
Meaning: “Burn the midnight oil” signifies working late into the night or early morning, especially to study or complete a task.
When to use this phrase: This expression is suitable when describing instances of prolonged work or study sessions that extend beyond regular hours.
Example in a sentence: “Preparing for the final exams required me to burn the midnight oil for several consecutive nights.”
10. Against the clock
Meaning: The term “Against the clock” indicates doing something as fast as possible and typically under time pressure.
When to use this phrase: It’s appropriate to use this phrase when highlighting a scenario where there’s a rush to complete something within a limited timeframe.
Example in a sentence: “The team worked against the clock to finish the project before the end-of-day deadline.”
11. Time and tide wait for no man
Meaning: The adage “Time and tide wait for no man” emphasizes that certain forces of nature, like time and tides, are inevitable and unstoppable, and they do not pause for anyone.
When to use this phrase: This phrase can be invoked when stressing the importance of seizing opportunities, as delays might lead to missed chances.
Example in a sentence: “He realized he couldn’t wait forever to make his decision; after all, time and tide wait for no man.”
12. In the nick of time
Meaning: The phrase “In the nick of time” refers to something occurring at the very last possible moment, just before it’s too late.
When to use this phrase: Use this expression when describing an event or action that happened just in time to prevent undesirable consequences.
Example in a sentence: “The firefighters arrived in the nick of time, preventing the fire from spreading to adjacent buildings.”
13. Time heals all wounds
Meaning: The saying “Time heals all wounds” suggests that as time progresses, emotional pain and distress tend to diminish or become easier to cope with.
When to use this phrase: This phrase is apt when offering solace or perspective to someone going through emotional turmoil, implying that with time, they will find relief or acceptance.
Example in a sentence: “After the loss of her pet, her friends reminded her that time heals all wounds, and she would eventually find peace.”
14. Bide one’s time
Meaning: To “Bide one’s time” means to wait patiently for an opportune moment to take action.
When to use this phrase: Use this expression when referring to someone who is waiting for the right moment to act, typically with the expectation of a favorable outcome.
Example in a sentence: “She decided to bide her time and wait for the perfect opportunity to present her proposal to the board.”
15. Behind the times
Meaning: The phrase “Behind the times” denotes being outdated or not keeping up with current trends or advancements.
When to use this phrase: This expression is appropriate when referring to someone or something that seems old-fashioned or not in sync with contemporary standards.
Example in a sentence: “While many companies have adopted the latest technology, a few still seem behind the times, relying on older methods.”
16. Time flies
Meaning: The expression “Time flies” signifies that time passes quickly, especially when one is occupied or enjoying oneself.
When to use this phrase: This phrase can be invoked when emphasizing how swiftly time seems to pass, often during pleasant activities or events.
Example in a sentence: “It’s hard to believe we’ve been friends for a decade; time truly flies.”
17. Borrowed time
Meaning: To live or operate on “Borrowed time” means to continue existing longer than expected, especially when there’s an imminent end or danger.
When to use this phrase: This expression is suitable when discussing something or someone that has lasted longer than anticipated, often with an impending conclusion or risk.
Example in a sentence: “The old factory has been running on borrowed time; it’s a wonder it hasn’t shut down yet.”
18. Time is money
Meaning: The adage “Time is money” underscores the value of time, emphasizing that wasting time is akin to wasting money.
When to use this phrase: Use this phrase to stress the importance of efficiency and the potential cost of delays or procrastination.
Example in a sentence: “We can’t afford to wait any longer; as they say, time is money, and we need to finalize this deal now.”
19. A race against time
Meaning: The phrase “A race against time” describes a situation where someone is trying to accomplish something within a limited period, often under pressure.
When to use this phrase: This expression is fitting when highlighting urgent scenarios where time is a crucial factor, and there’s a need to act quickly to achieve a desired outcome.
Example in a sentence: “With the storm approaching, the rescue operation became a race against time to evacuate everyone safely.”
20. On borrowed time
Meaning: The expression “On borrowed time” conveys the idea that something or someone is continuing beyond the expected or usual period, especially when an end or cessation is imminent.
When to use this phrase: This phrase is appropriate when discussing something or someone that is extending its duration or existence, often with the understanding that it won’t last much longer.
Example in a sentence: “The old tree in our backyard, damaged by the storm, is living on borrowed time; we might have to cut it down soon.”
21. Time stands still
Meaning: The saying “Time stands still” alludes to moments when everything seems to pause, typically during significant or emotional events.
When to use this phrase: Use this expression when referring to moments of profound significance or instances where one is so engrossed that they lose track of time.
Example in a sentence: “On the day of their wedding, it felt as if time stood still, with every moment etched in their memories forever.”