What does the idiom "have words with sb" mean?

Are you using the idiom have words with sb but not sure about its meaning? Using idioms, which are important elements of spoken and written language, in the right place strengthens your language skills. Examine the meaning of the have words with sb idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "have words with sb"


The phrase “have words with” is an idiom meaning to have a discussion or argument with someone. This discussion or argument is usually done in a very serious and intense manner accompanied by a lot of body language. The phrase can also be used to describe an intense argument that happened in the past without the need for any physical interaction.


The phrase “have words with” is an idiom of American origin, and is believed to have originated with the Native American peoples. It is thought to be derived from the words “war” and “words”, as it was originally used to describe a heated argument or conflict between two or more parties. It is thought to have been used to refer to an argument or discussion instead of an actual physical fight.


The phrase “have words with” is most commonly used in informal and casual contexts, usually in reference to a heated argument or debate between two or more people. It is often used as a more mild word for “argue”, as the phrase can imply that the argument may have been intense but was never physical. It is often used as a way to describe a very intense, yet calm, conversation.

Example Sentences

  • My parents had words with me about my grades, so I knew I had to improve them.
  • I think my boss is mad at me – he had words with me earlier about my performance.
  • If you keep arguing, I'm going to have words with you.
  • My brother and I had words about who was going to clean the kitchen.

The meanings of the words in the "have words with sb" idiom

The power of idioms transcends languages!

"Putting the cart before the horse" is an English idiom that means doing things in the wrong order. In Russian, the similar idiom is "Кладёт колесо впереди лошади," which translates to "Putting the cart before the horse." This idiom emphasizes the idea that doing things in the wrong order can lead to confusion and problems down the line.


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