What does the idiom "Let someone off the hook" mean?

Are you using the idiom Let someone off the hook 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 Let someone off the hook idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "Let someone off the hook"


The idiom ‘Let someone off the hook’ is used to describe the act of releasing someone from a responsibility or obligation. It can also mean to pardon someone from a punishment, or to forgive them for a mistake. In other words, the phrase is used to describe a situation in which someone is not held accountable for their actions.


The phrase ‘Let someone off the hook’ is thought to have originated in the United States in the 1890s. The phrase was likely derived from the literal act of releasing a hooked fish from a fishing line. The phrase is also associated with the legal term ‘hook and release’, which has been used since the mid-1800s.


The phrase ‘Let someone off the hook’ is used in both spoken and written English. It is usually used in the context of a person or group of people being let off by someone else. For example, the phrase could be used in the context of a judge ‘letting off’ a defendant with a warning, rather than imposing a sentence. It is also often used in the context of a friend or family member forgiving someone for an error, or excusing them from a task.

Example Sentences

  • The teacher let the student off the hook this time, but warned that there would be serious consequences if the same mistake was made again.
  • After much discussion, the company decided to let their employee off the hook and continue to employ them.
  • My brother was expecting a scolding, but I decided to let him off the hook this time.
  • The judge let the criminal off the hook, much to the surprise of the public.

The meanings of the words in the "Let someone off the hook" idiom

From Shakespeare to Social Media: The Evolution of English Idioms

English idioms have been around for centuries, with many originating from sources like literature, mythology, and everyday life. Shakespeare, for example, coined many phrases that are still used today, such as "break the ice" and "heart of gold." Over time, new idioms have emerged, with social media and popular culture providing rich sources of inspiration. For instance, the phrase "throwing shade" came into use in the 1990s thanks to ball culture, but has since been popularized by social media.


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