27 Idioms for Waiting: Patience in Everyday Phrases


It’s during these moments that we often turn to idioms to express our feelings and frustrations. Idioms are expressions that don’t mean exactly what the individual words suggest.

They add color and humor to our language. In this article, we’ll explore idioms for waiting, providing their meanings and using each one in a sentence.

Waiting is like a paused moment in time, where the seconds hang in the air, suspended, and anticipation lingers like a held breath. For more comparisons to describe waiting, you can check this link: Similes for waiting. And for a variety of metaphors related to waiting, you can explore this link: Metaphors for waiting.

What is an idiom for waiting?

An idiom is a group of words whose meaning isn’t obvious from the individual words. Instead, they have a unique meaning that may be unrelated to the words themselves.


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Created by Dr. Julia Rossi

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Idioms are used to convey ideas, emotions, or situations in a more creative or humorous way.

Let’s break down the meaning of each of the idioms for waiting and use them in sentences to better understand their usage.

IdiomMeaningExample Sentence
Bite your nailsTo be nervous or anxious while waiting.She had to bite her nails while waiting for the test results.
Drum your fingersTo impatiently tap your fingers while waiting.He drummed his fingers on the table as he waited for his friend.
Watch the clockTo keep a close eye on the time, usually because you’re eager for something to happen.I had to watch the clock during the boring lecture.
Twiddle your thumbsTo idly do nothing while waiting for something.He had nothing to do but twiddle his thumbs at the airport.
Hold your horsesTo wait patiently and not rush into something.Hold your horses! Let’s think about this before making a decision.
Sit on pins and needlesTo be very anxious or nervous while waiting for something important.She was sitting on pins and needles before her job interview.
Play the waiting gameTo wait patiently for something to happen, often with uncertainty.We had to play the waiting game until the store opened.
Be on tenterhooksTo be in a state of suspense or anxiety.He was on tenterhooks waiting for the election results.
Hang in the balanceTo be in a state of uncertainty or undecided outcome.The fate of the project hangs in the balance.
Hold your breathTo wait with anticipation and anxiety for something to happen.We all held our breath as the final minutes of the game ticked away.
Count the minutesTo be acutely aware of the passage of time while waiting.While waiting for her flight, she counted the minutes until boarding.
Keep your shirt onTo remain calm and patient in a frustrating situation.Keep your shirt on; the repairman will be here soon.
Be in limboTo be in a state of uncertainty or transition, unable to progress.The project was in limbo due to budget constraints.
Mark timeTo wait without making progress, often in a military context.The soldiers had to mark time until the commander arrived.
Keep your eye on the ballTo stay focused on the main issue or task while waiting.Don’t get distracted; keep your eye on the ball.
Keep a stiff upper lipTo remain brave and maintain composure while facing adversity or waiting.She tried to keep a stiff upper lip despite the difficult situation.
Be on standbyTo be ready and prepared to act or help when needed.The medical team was on standby in case of emergencies.
Hold the fortTo maintain control or responsibility for a situation while others are absent or unavailable.I’ll hold the fort while you’re away on vacation.
Sit tightTo wait patiently and not take any action.Sit tight; I’ll be there in a few minutes.
Keep your coolTo remain calm and composed while waiting, especially in stressful situations.It’s essential to keep your cool during interviews.
Cool your heelsTo wait impatiently for something, often with frustration.He was cooling his heels outside the principal’s office.
Be in a holding patternTo be in a state of temporary inactivity or delay.The project was in a holding pattern due to budget issues.
Keep your fingers crossedTo hope for good luck or a positive outcome while waiting.Keep your fingers crossed for a smooth journey.
Be in the wingsTo be ready and waiting for an opportunity to come forward.She’s been in the wings, waiting for her chance to shine.
Keep your powder dryTo stay prepared and ready for action while waiting for the right moment.The team was advised to keep their powder dry until further instructions.
Bide your timeTo wait patiently for the right moment or opportunity.He decided to bide his time and wait for a better job offer.
Wait with bated breathTo wait eagerly and anxiously for something to happen.The audience waited with bated breath for the final announcement.
idioms for waiting

Idioms for Waiting

1. Bite your nails

Meaning: To be nervous or anxious while waiting for something.

In a Sentence: She had to bite her nails while waiting for the test results.

2. Drum your fingers

Meaning: To impatiently tap your fingers on a surface while waiting.

In a Sentence: He drummed his fingers on the table as he waited for his friend.

3. Watch the clock

Meaning: To keep a close eye on the time, usually because you’re eager for something to happen.

In a Sentence: I had to watch the clock during the boring lecture.

4. Twiddle your thumbs

Meaning: To idly do nothing while waiting for something.

In a Sentence: He had nothing to do but twiddle his thumbs at the airport.

5. Hold your horses

Meaning: To wait patiently and not rush into something.

In a Sentence: Hold your horses! Let’s think about this before making a decision.

6. Sit on pins and needles

Meaning: To be very anxious or nervous while waiting for something important.

In a Sentence: She was sitting on pins and needles before her job interview.

7. Play the waiting game

Meaning: To wait patiently for something to happen, often with uncertainty.

In a Sentence: We had to play the waiting game until the store opened.

8. Be on tenterhooks

Meaning: To be in a state of suspense or anxiety.

In a Sentence: He was on tenterhooks waiting for the election results.

9. Hang in the balance

Meaning: To be in a state of uncertainty or undecided outcome.

In a Sentence: The fate of the project hangs in the balance.

10. Hold your breath

Meaning: To wait with anticipation and anxiety for something to happen.

In a Sentence: We all held our breath as the final minutes of the game ticked away.

11. Count the minutes

Meaning: To be acutely aware of the passage of time while waiting.

In a Sentence: While waiting for her flight, she counted the minutes until boarding.

12. Keep your shirt on

Meaning: To remain calm and patient in a frustrating situation.

In a Sentence: Keep your shirt on; the repairman will be here soon.

13. Be in limbo

Meaning: To be in a state of uncertainty or transition, unable to progress.

In a Sentence: The project was in limbo due to budget constraints.

14. Mark time

Meaning: To wait without making progress, often in a military context.

In a Sentence: The soldiers had to mark time until the commander arrived.

15. Keep your eye on the ball

Meaning: To stay focused on the main issue or task while waiting.

In a Sentence: Don’t get distracted; keep your eye on the ball.

16. Keep a stiff upper lip

Meaning: To remain brave and maintain composure while facing adversity or waiting.

In a Sentence: She tried to keep a stiff upper lip despite the difficult situation.

17. Be on standby

Meaning: To be ready and prepared to act or help when needed.

In a Sentence: The medical team was on standby in case of emergencies.

18. Hold the fort

Meaning: To maintain control or responsibility for a situation while others are absent or unavailable.

In a Sentence: I’ll hold the fort while you’re away on vacation.

19. Sit tight

Meaning: To wait patiently and not take any action.

In a Sentence: Sit tight; I’ll be there in a few minutes.

20. Keep your cool

Meaning: To remain calm and composed while waiting, especially in stressful situations.

In a Sentence: It’s essential to keep your cool during interviews.

21. Cool your heels

Meaning: To wait impatiently for something, often with frustration.

In a Sentence: He was cooling his heels outside the principal’s office.

22. Be in a holding pattern

Meaning: To be in a state of temporary inactivity or delay.

In a Sentence: The project was in a holding pattern due to budget issues.

23. Keep your fingers crossed

Meaning: To hope for good luck or a positive outcome while waiting.

In a Sentence: Keep your fingers crossed for a smooth journey.

24. Be in the wings

Meaning: To be ready and waiting for an opportunity to come forward.

In a Sentence: She’s been in the wings, waiting for her chance to shine.

25. Keep your powder dry

Meaning: To stay prepared and ready for action while waiting for the right moment.

In a Sentence: The team was advised to keep their powder dry until further instructions.

26. Bide your time

Meaning: To wait patiently for the right moment or opportunity.

In a Sentence: He decided to bide his time and wait for a better job offer.

27. Wait with bated breath

Meaning: To wait eagerly and anxiously for something to happen.

In a Sentence: The audience waited with bated breath for the final announcement.

Quizzes About The Idioms in The Article

Quiz 1:

  1. What does the idiom “Bite your nails” mean?
    a) To eat a snack while waiting
    b) To be nervous or anxious while waiting
    c) To count the minutes

Quiz 2:

  1. Which idiom means “To idly do nothing while waiting for something”?
    a) Drum your fingers
    b) Hold your horses
    c) Twiddle your thumbs

Quiz 3:

  1. What does the expression “Keep your shirt on” imply?
    a) To remove your shirt
    b) To remain calm and patient in a frustrating situation
    c) To rush into a decision

Quiz 4:

  1. If you are “Sitting on pins and needles,” what are you feeling?
    a) Relaxed
    b) Anxious or nervous while waiting for something important
    c) Bored

Quiz 5:

  1. What does the idiom “Hold the fort” mean?
    a) To build a fort
    b) To maintain control or responsibility for a situation while others are absent
    c) To give up on a situation

Quiz 6:

  1. If you “Keep your cool” while waiting, what are you doing?
    a) Staying warm
    b) Remaining calm and composed, especially in stressful situations
    c) Losing your temper

Quiz 7:

  1. Which idiom means “To wait patiently and not take any action”?
    a) Sit on pins and needles
    b) Sit tight
    c) Cool your heels

Quiz 8:

  1. What does the expression “Be in limbo” imply?
    a) To be very active
    b) To be in a state of uncertainty or transition, unable to progress
    c) To be in a hurry

Quiz 9:

  1. Which idiom means “To remain brave and maintain composure while facing adversity or waiting”?
    a) Keep a stiff upper lip
    b) Be on tenterhooks
    c) Play the waiting game

Quiz 10:

  1. If you are “Waiting with bated breath,” what are you doing?
    a) Breathing heavily
    b) Waiting eagerly and anxiously for something to happen
    c) Holding your breath indefinitely

Answers:

  1. b) To be nervous or anxious while waiting
  2. c) Twiddle your thumbs
  3. b) To remain calm and patient in a frustrating situation
  4. b) Anxious or nervous while waiting for something important
  5. b) To maintain control or responsibility for a situation while others are absent
  6. b) Remaining calm and composed, especially in stressful situations
  7. b) Sit tight
  8. b) To be in a state of uncertainty or transition, unable to progress
  9. a) Keep a stiff upper lip
  10. b) Waiting eagerly and anxiously for something to happen

Conclusion

Idioms for waiting offer colorful ways to express our feelings and experiences during those moments when patience is required. From biting your nails to waiting with bated breath, these idioms capture the essence of waiting in all its forms.

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