What does the idiom "on the alert" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does on the alert mean? In what situations is on the alert used?

Meaning of "on the alert"


The phrase "on the alert" means to be prepared for danger or to be watchful for any sign of danger. It is typically used to refer to a heightened awareness of one's surroundings, as when keeping an eye out for signs of trouble or being quick to respond to any warnings.


The phrase "on the alert" has its roots in the military, where it was used to refer to the heightened state of readiness for battle. It is likely derived from the Latin phrase alerte, which translates to "watchful" or "alert". This phrase has been in use since the late 17th century.


The phrase "on the alert" can be used in both a literal and figurative sense. In a literal sense, it implies being vigilant and watchful for danger or signs of danger. For example, someone might be on the alert for suspicious activities in their neighborhood. In a figurative sense, it implies being prepared for whatever may come one's way, whether it is a challenging situation or an opportunity. For example, a business might be on the alert for new trends in the market.

Example Sentences

  • I'm always on the alert when I'm walking home late at night.
  • The party was on the alert for any signs of trouble.
  • The company is always on the alert for any opportunities to expand their business.

The meanings of the words in the "on the alert" 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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