What does the idiom "turn over a new leaf" 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 turn over a new leaf mean? In what situations is turn over a new leaf used?

Meaning of "turn over a new leaf"


The idiom 'turn over a new leaf' is a metaphor for making an effort to improve oneself, to live a better life, or to start something fresh and new. It suggests that one has made a conscious decision to turn over a new page and to create a better version of themselves, leaving the mistakes of the past behind.


This phrase is traceable back to the early 1700s, and is a metaphor taken from a physical book. When a book is finished or a reader wants to start a new chapter, they would literally turn the leaf of the book, or the page, to start a new chapter. The phrase ‘turning over a new leaf’ was then used to describe a person’s decision to start a new chapter in their life, a metaphor that is still used today.


The phrase ‘turn over a new leaf’ is generally used as a positive phrase in everyday speech. It is usually used when a person has decided to make a positive change in their life or behaviour. The phrase is often used to encourage someone to start doing something good or inspiring, either in their personal or professional life. For example, “having lost his job, he decided to turn over a new leaf and pursue his long-time dream of becoming a chef.”

Example Sentences

  • He has decided to turn over a new leaf and apply himself to his studies.
  • She is trying to turn over a new leaf and stop smoking.
  • The student has promised to turn over a new leaf and not to get into any more trouble.
  • He has decided to turn over a new leaf and take more responsibility for his actions.

The meanings of the words in the "turn over a new leaf" idiom

The Surprising Origins of Everyday English Idioms

Many English idioms have surprisingly dark origins, often rooted in violence, death, and superstition. For instance, the phrase "raining cats and dogs" is said to have originated in the 17th century, when heavy rain would often cause dead animals to wash up on the streets. Meanwhile, the idiom "rule of thumb" is believed to have originated from a law that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb.


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