What does the idiom "in arrears" mean?

The expression in arrears is one of the idioms that often finds a place in our literature and enriches our language. However, its meaning is not fully understood, so it is sometimes used in the wrong situations. Please review the explanation carefully for the correct use of the in arrears idiom.

Meaning of "in arrears"


The idiom “in arrears” is used to describe a person who is behind in their payments and owes money. In other words, it is the state of owing money that is overdue or past due. This idiom is commonly used in the financial context, but it can also have a more general usage in certain contexts, such as when discussing a person’s poor credit score or that they are not up to date on their bills.


The phrase “in arrears” has its roots in the Latin word “arriere” which means “backward” or “behind.” This is believed to be the origin of the phrase due to the fact that when one is in arrears, their payments are behind or overdue. Over time, the phrase has taken on the meaning of being in a state of owing money that is overdue.


This idiom is used when referring to a person who is behind in their payments and thus, owes money. This can be either a literal or figurative case, as “in arrears” is often used to describe a person who is behind in their payments but has not yet defaulted on their loan or other financial obligation. It is also often used to describe someone who is behind in their payment schedule on a loan or other financial obligation.

Example Sentences

  • He was in arrears on his car payments and was in danger of having his car repossessed.
  • The tenants were in arrears on their rent and so the landlord decided to evict them.
  • She was in arrears on her credit card payments and was worried about her credit score.

The meanings of the words in the "in arrears" idiom

Idioms with similar meanings in different languages

"Barking up the wrong tree" is an English idiom that means to pursue a mistaken or misguided course of action. In German, the similar idiom is "Auf dem Holzweg sein," which translates to "To be on the wrong track." This idiom emphasizes the idea that when you are pursuing the wrong course of action, you are not going to achieve your desired outcome.


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