What does the idiom "have time on one's hands" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does have time on one's hands mean? In what situations is have time on one's hands used?

Meaning of "have time on one's hands"


The idiom "have time on one's hands" is used to indicate that one has a lot of free time, typically due to being unemployed or having nothing to do. It is also used to describe someone who has a lot of free time and is therefore able to entertain themselves or their friends.


This idiom originated from the 16th century and has its roots in the ancient Greek notion of time. The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that time was a gift from the gods, and that “Time is the most precious of all goods”. So when someone was said to have time on their hands, it meant that they had a valuable and plentiful resource.


This idiom is most often used in a negative context, to convey feelings of boredom or lack of ambition. Someone might say, “I’m so bored, I have too much time on my hands” or “I feel like I’m just wasting my life away because I have too much time on my hands.” It can also be used with a more positive connotation; for example, “Now I have time on my hands, I can finally take up that new hobby”.

Example Sentences

  • John has been unemployed for a few months, and he's starting to feel like he has too much time on his hands.
  • Since the kids left home, I've had a lot of time on my hands and I've been trying to fill it with volunteer work.
  • With all this extra time on my hands, I can finally learn a new language.

The meanings of the words in the "have time on one's hands" idiom

From One Language to Another: Idioms in Translation

Translating idioms from one language to another can be a tricky task, as the cultural context behind an idiom can be difficult to capture. For example, the French phrase "avoir le cafard" translates to "to have the cockroach," which means to feel down or depressed. Similarly, the Chinese idiom "????" (j?ng d? zh? w?) translates to "frog at the bottom of a well," which refers to someone with a narrow view of the world.


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