What does the idiom "don't hold your breath" mean?

The phrase don't hold your breath is often used in English, but what does this idiom mean? When idioms are used in the right situations, they strengthen communication and enrich the language. You can communicate more effectively by learning the meaning of don't hold your breath.

Meaning of "don't hold your breath"


The idiom 'don't hold your breath' is typically used to suggest to someone that they should not expect a particular outcome or result anytime soon. The idiom is often used as a way of expressing how unlikely it is that something will happen, especially when someone has asked for something and the response they receive is not very promising.


The origins of the phrase 'don't hold your breath' are believed to date back to the 1800s. It is thought to come from the literal meaning of holding one's breath; this would imply that a particular request would take a very long time to fulfill. The phrase was first published in a book called 'The Life and Times of St. Francis of Assisi', which was published in 1867.


The phrase 'don't hold your breath' can be used in both a literal and figurative sense. In a literal sense, it suggests that one should not expect something to happen immediately; one should not expect to get a response on a request right away, or that the process of achieving something will take a long time.

In a figurative sense, the phrase is used to express doubt in a particular outcome or result. The phrase is often used as a way of saying that something is highly unlikely to happen. In some cases, the phrase can even be used to express disbelief in a particular situation.

Example Sentences

  • George: "Do you think I will get a promotion this year?"

    John: "Don't hold your breath."

  • John: "Do you think they will fix the broken window anytime soon?"

    Mary: "I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you."

  • Jane: "I'm sure I'm going to get an A on this test!"

    Tom: "Don't hold your breath."

  • Samantha: "Do you think the weather will clear up in time for the picnic?"

    Pete: "Don't hold your breath."

The meanings of the words in the "don't hold your breath" idiom

Idioms have a common language

"The early bird catches the worm" is an English idiom that means that those who wake up early and start their day early are more likely to succeed. A similar idiom in Spanish is "El que madruga, Dios le ayuda," which translates to "God helps those who rise early." This idiom emphasizes the importance of starting the day early in order to achieve success.


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