What does the idiom "in the red" mean?

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

Meaning of "in the red"


The idiom “in the red” is used to refer to a negative financial situation, in which someone has more debts than money. This expression is often used in regards to businesses, banks, or individuals. It is used to describe someone or something who is in debt and does not have enough capital to cover their financial obligations.


The origin this idiom is unclear; however, experts believe it has something to do with the notion of “being in the red” on the profit/loss ledger. In the days before computers and digital records, businesses kept track of their income and expenses by writing them down in a ledger. When an income or expenditure was written down, it was coloured either red or black. Red was used to denote a loss, and black was used to denote a profit. Thus, a financial situation in which the losses outweigh the profits would have been written entirely in red, and would be said to be “in the red.”


The expression “in the red” is used to refer to a negative financial situation, and is often used to refer to individuals, businesses, or banks. It is generally used to describe a situation in which somebody or something has more debts than money. The phrase is usually used in a neutral or non-judgemental manner; however, depending on the context and tone, it can also be used in a derogatory or condescending manner.

Example Sentences

  • The company has been in the red for the past two months, and we’re not sure how to turn things around.
  • The bank is in the red due to the recent economic downturn.
  • After my bad investments, I’m afraid I’m in the red.

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

Beyond the Literal: Figurative Language in Idioms

Idioms often use figurative language to convey a message that is not meant to be taken literally. For instance, the idiom "bite the bullet" means to endure a painful or difficult situation without complaint, while "hold your horses" means to be patient and wait. Other idioms, like "kick the bucket" or "pop your clogs," use euphemisms to talk about death.


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