What does the idiom "on the alert" mean?

Are you using the idiom on the alert 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 on the alert idiom and the situations in which it is 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 meaning

"Don't judge a book by its cover" is an English idiom that means you shouldn't make assumptions about someone or something based solely on its appearance. In Japanese, the similar idiom is "Hana yori dango," which translates to "Dumplings rather than flowers." This idiom means that substance is more important than appearance.


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