What does the idiom "On thin ice" 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 thin ice mean? In what situations is On thin ice used?

Meaning of "On thin ice"


To be 'on thin ice' is an idiom that describes a precarious or dangerous situation. It is usually used to describe a situation or relationship between two or more people that is unstable and could easily break apart. The phrase can also be used to describe situations in which a person is taking a risk or feels their actions could have negative consequences. The phrase is also sometimes used to describe a situation where a person is being held accountable for their mistakes.


The phrase is thought to have originated in the US during the early 20th century, although its exact origin is unknown. It is believed to derive from the practice of ice skating or ice fishing on a frozen lake, or river. When ice is too thin, it can break suddenly and unexpectedly, potentially endangering the skaters or fishermen. This has been used metaphorically to describe a situation that is filled with potential danger.


The phrase is typically used to mean "in a dangerous situation," or more specifically, "in a precarious situation that could result in harm." It could be used to refer to a person's physical safety (such as walking on thin ice), or their emotional safety (such as in a relationship). It is also sometimes used to describe a situation in which someone might be punished for their mistakes (such as being on thin ice with their boss).

Example Sentences

  • If you keep coming into work late, you'll be on thin ice with your boss.
  • The student was on thin ice after missing so many classes.
  • The ice was too thin and we were on thin ice the whole time.
  • Their relationship is on thin ice and could end at any moment.
  • Jack is on thin ice and needs to be careful with his words or he'll be in trouble.

The meanings of the words in the "On thin ice" 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.


No comment has been written about On thin ice yet, you can write the first comment and share your thoughts with our other visitors.
Leave a Reply