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77 Sayings and Phrases Related to the Passage of Time

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Ben has enjoyed a life-long interest in the use of idioms and phrases in everyday language.

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Time Passes and Idioms are Generated by Human Experience

We cannot touch, smell, or taste time, so is it a real—tangible thing? Or is it merely an illusion, a concept devised to explain the unexplainable?

I don't pretend to have the answer. However, I know that we construct calendars and clocks to mark it's passing and that we learn from an early age that we are all traveling, inextricably towards a future when we will no longer be here.

I also know that we construct stories, phrases, and sayings that help us identify and make sense of times influence our day-to-day activities—not only to remind ourselves of these life lessons but also to pass them onto the next generation.

1. More Times Than I've had Hot Dinners

Meaning: that something has occurred more times than you can remember.

Example sentence: "Young Jimmy has given detention for his behavior more times than I've had hot dinners. I am at my wit's end."

2. Times Without Number

Meaning: to say that something has occurred numerous times. Mainly said in a negative tone.

An example being: "Look, I have told you times without number that it is important to make sure you check that you have your keys on you before you leave the house. I have lost count of the times I have had to pop round with your spare set of keys to let you back into the house."

3. Time is of the Essence

Meaning: to state that time is the critical element to the successful conclusion of a problem or project.

Example sentence: "We must get the patient to the hospital quickly. Time is of the essence to him making a full recovery."

4. Big-time Spender

References a person who spends a lot of money (usually to impress others). Again, as with many idioms, this can also have a negative or derogatory meaning as it can be said ironically about someone who is more frugal with their money.

Example (positive): "Michael certainly splashes his money around. He is a big-time spender, but at least he gives a fair wedge of cash to good causes."

Example (negative): "Don't expect Simon to buy his round of drinks—you will have a long wait; he's the last of the big-time spenders."

5. Big-time Operator

Usually refers to an organization or business that is powerful in its chosen field of operations. It can also be said when describing a person who is or thinks they are an important and influential figure.

Positive example: "The business has grown exponentially in the last two years, and is now a big-time operator in the field of computing."

Negative example: "If you are such a big-time operator, how come I have a better car than you."

6. Big-time Spender

References a person who spends a lot of money (usually to impress others). Again, as with many idioms, this can also have a negative or derogatory meaning as it can be said ironically about someone who is more frugal with their money.

Example (positive): "Michael certainly splashes his money around. He is a big-time spender, but at least he gives a fair wedge of cash to good causes."

Example (negative): "Don't expect Simon to buy his round of drinks—you will have a long wait; he's the last of the big-time spenders."

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7. Make The Big Time

Someone is said to have made the big time when they have achieved prominence in some way.

Example sentence: "Carol's hard work has finally paid off. She has landed a leading role in a musical and is likely to sign for a record label as well. She has certainly made the big time."

8 Time on My Hands

Meaning: that you have an abundance of free time.

Example sentence: "If you need a helping hand with your decorating, I am able to assist, after all, I have plenty of time on my hands."

Keeping time can be a tricky thing to achieve. You will need to keep a tight hold of it.

Keeping time can be a tricky thing to achieve. You will need to keep a tight hold of it.

9. The Sands of Time

An expression that tells us that irrespective of who you are, the passage of time will always march on regardless.

A reference to the passage of time, as seen by grains of sand in an hourglass.

10. An All-time High

Meaning: that something is at its highest level ever.

Example sentence: "We broke all records with our sales last month. Sales are at an all-time high."

11. Time Works Wonders

To say that the passage of time resolves all problems.

Example sentence: "Try not to worry. It will be okay in the end. Time works wonders."

12. Since Time Immemorial

To say that something has always been there for as long as anyone can remember. The term "Immemorial" means something existing beyond the reach of memory.

13. Devil of a Time

A phrase used to describe a difficult period. It can be said to indicate that a person is going through an ordeal.

Example: "I was close to despairing that I would never get Susan back into school following her illness. It was a devil of a time."

14. A Race Against Time

Meaning: trying to accomplish a task within a limited amount of available time.

Example sentence: "It was a race against time to get that my book finished. The publisher only gave me six months to finish the draft, and time was very tight."

There are always times when we face a looming deadline.

There are always times when we face a looming deadline.

15. At No Time

Meaning: never.

Example: "At no time did I enter that building. Your witness is mistaken."

16. Living on Borrowed Time

Meaning: to suggest a person should have already died. Often said about a person having multiple ailments making it unlikely to have survived as long as they already have.

17. Before One's Time

The opposite meaning to the phrase above. A situation in which someone passed away unexpectedly or at an early age.

18. Time Flies

To suggest that time passes by very quickly. The expression time slips by is sometimes in the same context.

Example sentence: "I can't believe how quickly the winter is approaching. Time flies by these days."

19. Caught in a Time Warp

Can refer to seeing people seemingly stuck in a different era through their choice of fashion or behavior.

20. Third Time's a Charm

This expression has a similar meaning to the phrase "third time lucky." An example sentence being: "I have tried to pass my driving test twice now without success, but I feel more confident this time, after all, third times a charm."

21. Time After Time

Meaning: that something is repeated over and over again.

Example sentence: "Why do I have to repeat myself time after time? Will you please tidy the garage?"

22. A Stitch in Time, Saves Nine

This proverb is a way of saying that it is better to fix a problem when it first occurs rather than to let the situation become worse—requiring a bigger fix later on.

23. Run That by Me One More Time

Put simply; please say that again.

24. Time and Tide Wait for No Man

A phrase that tells us that no person is in control of time; it marches on relentlessly. Historically, tide was a word meaning time, and so the original phrase literally meant time and time wait for no man. However, over the years, it has come to be associated with the tide of the sea.
An ancient saying reputed to have used in the 13th Century in England by Saint Marher.

25. In the Nick of Time

Meaning: the completion of a task at the last available moment.

The use of the word "nick" in this context has its origins in the 16th Century—a time when "nick" described the critical moment in an event.

26. At the Appointed Time

To meet or complete a task at a previously agreed time.

27. In the Right Place at the Right Time

To be fortunate enough to take advantage of a situation by being well prepared for some eventuality.

28. It's About Time

Usually said in a frustrated or impatient way. To say that something has finally happened.

Example sentence: "I see that John has finally finished decorating the house. I told him that it was about time he got that job completed."

29. Keep Time

Meaning: to maintain or keep time to the beat in music.

30. Lose No Time

An expression used to say that something needs to be done immediately, without delay.

Example sentence: "The patient is in danger. We must lose no time in getting him to the operating theatre."

31. Out of Time

To say that there is no time left to complete a task. The opportunity has passed.

32. Pressed for Time

To suggest that there is not enough time to do something.

Example: "I'm sorry I can't stay and chat. I am a bit pressed for time at the minute."

33. To the End of Time

Meaning: that something is forever.

Example sentence: "I will love you to the end of time."

The Big Bang is thought to have started everything. Perhaps the end of time will be brought about in the same way.

The Big Bang is thought to have started everything. Perhaps the end of time will be brought about in the same way.

34. It's High Time

An idiom that tells us that the time has come when any further delay is no longer possible.

Example sentence: "It's high time you got moving, or we will never make it to the airport."

35. For Old Times Sake

This idiom, used when we want to remember or honor past friendships, is often said when we want to do someone a favor out of respect for previous memories or actions.

Example sentence: "I can't afford to lend out this sum of money, but I will for old times sake."

36. Whale of a Good Time.

To have an exciting or fun experience.

Example sentence: "The fairground was amazing; we had a whale of a time there."

37. The Time of One's Life

Similar in meaning to the phrase above. Usually refers to a memorable experience.

Example: "The holiday was truly amazing, and not something easily repeated. We had the time of our lives."

38. Behind the Times

To be out of date with one's ideas.

Example: "Grandfather, surely it is time you had a mobile phone? I know you don't like the idea, but everyone has them these days."

Do you feel that you are behind the times? Take a look in the rear view mirror—do you see a dinosaur?

Do you feel that you are behind the times? Take a look in the rear view mirror—do you see a dinosaur?

39. Time Out of Mind

A way of saying that something is from the long distant past. From a time beyond the recall of human memory.

Example: "These lands have been held within our family from times out of mind."

40. Time Was

Refers to a time when something happened.

Example sentence: "Time was when I used to have put cardboard in my shoes to try and keep my feet dry. They were certainly tough times back then."

41. Rare Old Time

To say that something was an enjoyable experience.

Example: "I thoroughly enjoyed the school reunion. We all had a rare old time."

42. To Take One's Time

To do something at your leisure, or your own pace without being hurried.

Example: " I know that the builder has an excellent reputation for the quality of his work, but he sure does take his own time. He has been a month on that job already."

43. Bide One's Time

Meaning: to be patient. Similar in some ways to the idiom above. This idiom suggests that a person is dwelling on something, perhaps being canny and waiting for the opportune moment to act.

Example: "I was desperate to ask my boss for a raise, but I decided to bide my time and wait for the appropriate moment to ask."

44. Have Time on One's Side

Meaning: that you don't have to hurry.

Example sentence: "There is no hurry to get to the airport. It's just a mile up the road, and we don't fly until late tonight. Time is on our side."

45. In the Fullness of Time

To say that in the end, something will happen. It may just be a matter of enough time passing.

Example: "I know it seems confusing right now, but don't worry, everything will become clearer in the fullness of time."

46. Mark Time

A term often associated with a military march or step where the soldier marches in one place without moving forward. This idiom means to wait while something happens.

Example: "Don't be so eager. You should consider just marking time on this for a while. The problem will surely resolve itself soon enough."

47. When the Time is Ripe

To say when the time is appropriate for something to happen.

Example: "The time is ripe for the development of that plot of land."

48. Play For Time

This phrase suggests that someone is purposely delaying doing something. It is used in a negative sense to suggest that a person is delaying something in the hope of circumstances changing that may prevent them from doing something that they don't want to do.