What does the idiom "make a living" mean?

The phrase make a living is often used in English, but what does this idiom mean? When idioms are used in the right situations, they strengthen communication and enrich the language. You can communicate more effectively by learning the meaning of make a living.

Meaning of "make a living"


To ‘make a living’ is an idiom meaning to earn enough money to pay for the necessities of life. A person needs to make a living when they are not receiving money from any other sources and are fully responsible for their own financial stability. The phrase may also be used to refer to doing something one loves, such as a job or occupation. This idiom can be used figuratively as well, with the meaning that a person is making the best of a difficult situation.


The phrase ‘make a living’ first appeared in the English language in the early 17th century. It was originally used to refer to the act of making a living by tending to animals and harvesting crops, as this is how many people during this period earned their livelihood. Over time, the phrase began to take on a more general meaning, referring to any occupation a person may take up in order to survive. It is believed that the phrase is derived from the Latin ‘fecit vivere’, meaning ‘to make to live’.


The phrase ‘make a living’ is used in both formal and informal contexts. It can be used in conversations as well as in professional settings such as interviews and job applications. It is typically used to refer to a person’s primary occupation and is often used in the context of discussing career goals, financial stability, and more. It can also be used to describe someone’s situation in a more general sense, such as when they are struggling to make ends meet.

Example Sentences

  • I’m trying to make a living as a freelance writer.
  • She’s working two jobs just to make a living.
  • He was able to make a living selling his hand-crafted furniture.

The meanings of the words in the "make a living" 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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