What does the idiom "in arrears" mean?

Are you using the idiom in arrears 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 in arrears idiom and the situations in which it is used.

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

The Global Spread of English Idioms

As English has become a global language, its idioms have spread far beyond the borders of the UK and USA. For instance, the idiom "beat around the bush" has equivalents in many other languages, such as "tourner autour du pot" in French and "dar vueltas al asunto" in Spanish. Meanwhile, other idioms have been adapted for local contexts, such as the Russian idiom "?? ???? ???????" (ne svoya rubashka), which translates to "not one's own shirt," meaning to be in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.


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