What does the idiom "the last straw" mean?

Are you using the idiom the last straw 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 the last straw idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "the last straw"


The phrase "the last straw" refers to a situation in which one more thing becomes too much for someone to deal with and causes them to break down. This phrase suggests that straws are placed one at a time into a cup of liquid until it becomes full. However, when the final straw is added, it then causes the cup to overflow and spill out. Thus, this phrase is used to describe the moment when something has become too much for someone to handle.


The phrase "the last straw" has been recorded in the English language since at least the 1830s; its origins are believed to be from a proverb in Arabic. The proverb is said to have been introduced to English-speaking nations by sailors and merchants who traded in the Middle East. They would use the proverb to explain that each last straw does not have to be a large burden, but if there are enough of them, the burden becomes too heavy. The phrase was popularized in the United Kingdom and the United States in the 19th century.


The phrase "the last straw" can be used in various contexts. It is often used to describe a situation in which someone has become overwhelmed by a particular event or series of events. This phrase is also used to explain why an individual or group chose to take certain action in response to an overwhelming situation. In addition, it can be used to describe a particular event or situation that pushed someone beyond their limit.

Example Sentences

  • The last straw for me was when he cancelled our plans for the third time in a row.
  • It was the last straw when the city government raised taxes yet again.
  • I'm afraid I can take no more – this is the last straw.
  • When she said she wasn't coming to the wedding, that was the last straw for my mom.

The meanings of the words in the "the last straw" idiom

The Global Spread of English Idioms

As English has become a global language, its idioms have spread far beyond the borders of the UK and USA. For instance, the idiom "beat around the bush" has equivalents in many other languages, such as "tourner autour du pot" in French and "dar vueltas al asunto" in Spanish. Meanwhile, other idioms have been adapted for local contexts, such as the Russian idiom "?? ???? ???????" (ne svoya rubashka), which translates to "not one's own shirt," meaning to be in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.


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