In The Blink of an Eye: Time Idioms to Color Your Speech

Tori Tornreviewed byIryna Andrus / more about Editorial Process7 min
Created: Mar 22, 2023Last updated: Jan 23, 2024
In The Blink of an Eye

John F. Kennedy once said: "We must use time as a tool, not as a couch." And that is exactly what we are going to do today – use "time" as a tool to improve your English! Intrigued? That's great! Fortunately for you, we are not time thieves, so we are immediately introducing this article's subject. Today we are about to learn time idioms, phrases, and expressions! Are you excited to learn clock idioms, idioms about time passing, and idioms for wasting time? Then hop on board!

Time Idioms To Spice It Up

Every language has its own idioms about time, and English won't be an exception. However, there are many common idioms about time that add some color to our everyday speech. And if you want to seem like a pro-English learner, you definitely need to memorize some from the list below.   

Clock Idioms

Beat the clock 

Meaning: to finish something before a deadline

Example: My brother has no choice except to beat the clock before our mum returns from work. 

Work against the clock

Meaning: to work as fast and hard as possible to complete a task before a specific time

Example: The whole team works against the clock to launch the app in the morning. 

To clock on / off 

Meaning: to record the time when you come to and leave the workplace 

Example: Housekeepers in this hotel must clock on and off every day. 

Other Idioms About Time Passing

The eleventh hour

Meaning: when something happens at the very last minute

Example: I was fully dressed and leaving my apartment when she canceled a date at the eleventh hour. 

In the blink of an eye

Meaning: when something happens very quickly

Example: In the blink of an eye, they married and had their first child.  

Like sand through an hourglass

Meaning: life passes very quickly

Example: We all need to leave our mark in history because time is slipping by like sand through an hourglass

Time flies

Meaning: time passes by quickly

Example: It seems like we arrived here just yesterday. I guess time flies when you are with the right person. 

Wasting time

Meaning: time doing something meaningless or unimportant

Example: Studying in a medical college is too hard for you. Admit that, and stop wasting your time. 

Time Phrases Worth Adding to Your Glossary

Time-consuming

Meaning: when something takes a lot of time to be done

Example: I didn't expect this interview to be so time-consuming. 

One thing at a time

Meaning: to do or deal with one thing and move to another only when you finish with the previous

Example: You need to stop putting more things on your plate. Please, do one thing at a time, it's more effective. 

Give a hard time

Meaning: to make things difficult or someone's life miserable 

Example: Young parents are usually not ready for the baby to give them a hard time at night. 

Be short of time

Meaning: when someone doesn't have enough time

Example: Chop-chop, we are short of time because the shop closes in 15 minutes and you still haven't found a suitable pair of jeans. 

Play for time

Meaning: to delay something

Example: If you ever get caught, ask for a lawyer to play for time. 

Behind the times

Meaning: old-fashioned, out of touch

Example: The royal family was claimed to be behind the times. 

A devil/hell of a time

Meaning: an extremely difficult or unpleasant experience

Example: People got so used to COVID that every time it's a devil time to make them test when they feel symptoms. 

Only a matter of time

Meaning: something will happen at some time in future

Example: We all know what Emily did. It's only a matter of time before she gets what she deserves. 

The big time

Meaning: to a great extent 

Example: I've messed up big time, but I still want to be with you. 

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Expressions About Time For Everyday Use

On time

Meaning: when something happened when it was scheduled before, not sooner or later

Example: The meeting started on time, but Mike came 5 minutes later. 

In time

Meaning: a little before the scheduled time

Example: We agreed to meet twenty minutes before the show, but I arrived in time and made to order drinks for both of us. 

Just in time/ In the nick of time

Meaning: immediately before the scheduled time, right before it was too late

Example: I thought I would be late for that date, but I made it to get to the Green Village just in time. 

In good time

Meaning: with no risk of being late; when the appropriate moment arrives

Example: Mom, when will you buy me a car? Carry, you are not even 16 yet, all in good time. 

In one's own time

Meaning: during your personal time and not at work, without a hurry

Example: I wish I could finish this task in my own time, but James needs it done in an hour. 

About time

Meaning: expressing anger and feeling of being annoyed that something is late but should've happened sooner

Example: Camila is 42 weeks pregnant! It's about time for this baby to be born!

Time off

Meaning: to take a holiday or vacation to rest from work or studies

Example: You missed our office Mafia game on Friday night. Yes, I had some time off that week. 

Take your time

Meaning: not to harry and go at your own pace

Example: You can take your time in the store, honey. It is still a half-time show. 

Make time

Meaning: to find time to do something

Example: Girls, make time for everyday practices in your schedule for the next months because we will win this championship. 

Time will tell

Meaning: the truth or results will be known only in the future

Example: Chris believes that his tv show will be a huge success, but only time will tell. 

Time is money

Meaning: it's better to do something quickly because time is an asset

Example: I don't recommend asking these questions later as a lawyer. Time is money, so bring all your questions to the table now. 

To kill time

Meaning: to do something to make time seem to pass quicker

Example: The gym is still closed, but we can kill time at dinner across the street. 

Time after time

Meaning: again and again

Example: Why do I need to remind you time after time that you should go to school whether you like it or not? 

A whale of a time

Meaning: a really good time

Example: I couldn't be more grateful for the movie premiere tickets. We had a whale of a time. 

Learn Idioms About Time With Promova

As an English learner, you need to understand that memorizing time idioms alone won't help you to become fluent in English. Nonetheless, time phrases and idioms about time can become a part of your personalized learning plan if you start learning English with Promova. 

Promova is a universal one-stop multitool for learning languages with a personalized approach to achieving language proficiency. The app offers English courses for different learning purposes – General English, Travel English, Business English, and English with TV series. You can pass a quick test to determine your level, goals, and needs to prepare a guided course to improve your skills. We highly recommend you learn English through English to fully immerse in the language. In the General English Course, you will discover a bite-sized lesson with time phrases from this article. Our cute flashcards and the spaced repetition method will help you integrate time phrases into long-term memory. 

Also, Promova offers individual and group tutoring lessons with certified English teachers for different levels and needs. If you decide to go with individual classes, the tutor will create a personalized plan considering your preferences and learning methods that work best for you. For instance, if you want to learn idioms about time, just let your tutor know, and you will receive a lot of practice covering this topic. The first trial lesson is always free for new learners. 

Learning languages can be fun, easy, and goal-oriented if you learn with Promova!

Conclusion

This article was aimed to set you free from problems with time, at least those related to time idioms, phrases, and expressions. Now you know how to tap into idioms and expressions about time without concerns about misunderstanding something. Whatever you feel like your everyday speech gets a bit plain, you can spice it up with time phrases. So keep calm and learn English vocabulary to achieve your goals!

FAQ

What is an idiom?

The term "idiom" originated from the ancient Greek word "idioma," which means "peculiar phraseology." And that is a good way to explain the definition of the term. Nonetheless, to fully understand what an idiom is, we need to break down its meaning. 

An idiom is a fixed phrase or expression containing a figurative meaning that can't be deciphered by defining its individual words. Idioms can't be translated word-for-word from one language to another because they were formed due to different cultural events and reflects the sometimes relevant experience of a specific group of people united by the same language. The equivalents to some idioms might not even exist in particular languages because of the lack of cultural experience. Idioms are unique to their language of origin. 

What is the function of idioms?

As for any part of the language, the primary function of idioms is to help people communicate effectively. Nonetheless, idioms stand out from other words combined because of their figurative meaning. And that figurativeness is an essential component of someone's speech. Idioms aim to spice our everyday language out and add more color to it. Knowing and implementing idioms in your speech demonstrate higher English proficiency. In literature, they help to engage the reader and boost their imagination from thinking literally to abstractly. Idioms also help to integrate into the culture of the country whose language you are learning. When you start using idioms to express yourself, it indicates that you finally "feel" the language. 

What is the difference between a time idiom and a fixed time phrase?

Both idioms and fixed phrases are groups of specific words combined to convey words' meanings. And according to this, idioms belong to fixed phrases. However, not all fixed phrases can be idioms. The main difference is that idioms always have figurative meanings, while many fixed phrases have literal or close-to-literal meanings. For instance, "rain cats and dogs" can't literally mean anything. Instead, that is an idiom that means “rain very hard. ”

How do people say time in English?

It might seem pretty odd to the rest of the world, but there is no 24-hour system in English. In English-speaking countries, people use numbers from 1 to 11 and a.m. and p.m. to point out what half of the day they mean. The hours 12 and 24 are not pronounced as numbers. English speakers call them noon and midnight. So, if you tell a person you want to meet at 15:30, they will be confused. More likely, they still will be able to get what you wanted to say, but the feeling will be mixed because it's still incorrect in English. 

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