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idler ˈī-dᵊl-ər How to pronounce idle (audio)
; idlest ˈī-dᵊl-əst How to pronounce idle (audio)
: not occupied or employed: such as
: having no employment : inactive
idle workers
: not turned to normal or appropriate use
idle farmland
: not scheduled to compete
the team will be idle tomorrow
: lacking worth or basis : vain
idle chatter
idle pleasure
: having no evident lawful means of support
idleness noun


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idled; idling ˈī-dᵊl-iŋ How to pronounce idle (audio)

intransitive verb

: to run at low power and often disconnected usually so that power is not used for useful work
the engine is idling
: to spend time in idleness
: to move idly

transitive verb

: to pass in idleness
: to cause to idle
: to make idle
workers idled by a strike
Choose the Right Synonym for idle


vain, nugatory, otiose, idle, empty, hollow mean being without worth or significance.

vain implies either absolute or relative absence of value.

vain promises

nugatory suggests triviality or insignificance.

a monarch with nugatory powers

otiose suggests that something serves no purpose and is either an encumbrance or a superfluity.

a film without a single otiose scene

idle suggests being incapable of worthwhile use or effect.

idle speculations

empty and hollow suggest a deceiving lack of real substance or soundness or genuineness.

an empty attempt at reconciliation
a hollow victory

inactive, idle, inert, passive, supine mean not engaged in work or activity.

inactive applies to anyone or anything not in action or in operation or at work.

on inactive status as an astronaut
inactive accounts

idle applies to persons that are not busy or occupied or to their powers or their implements.

workers were idle in the fields

inert as applied to things implies powerlessness to move or to affect other things; as applied to persons it suggests an inherent or habitual indisposition to activity.

inert ingredients in drugs
an inert citizenry

passive implies immobility or lack of normally expected response to an external force or influence and often suggests deliberate submissiveness or self-control.

passive resistance

supine applies only to persons and commonly implies abjectness or indolence.

a supine willingness to play the fool


idle, loaf, lounge, loll, laze mean to spend time doing nothing.

idle may be used in reference to persons that move lazily or without purpose.

idled the day away

loaf suggests either resting or wandering about as though there were nothing to do.

she does her work and then loafs the rest of the day

lounge, though occasionally used as equal to idle or loaf, typically conveys an additional implication of resting or reclining against a support or of physical comfort and ease in relaxation.

he lounged against the wall

loll also carries an implication of a posture similar to that of lounge, but places greater stress upon an indolent or relaxed attitude.

lolling on the couch

laze usually implies the relaxation of a busy person enjoying a vacation or moments of leisure.

lazed about between appointments

Examples of idle in a Sentence

Adjective There has been a lot of idle speculation about what might happen, but no one really knows. the idle days of summer Verb She left the engine idling for a few seconds before she turned it off. The cars idled in traffic. A group of boys idled in the doorway. The factory closed, idling several hundred workers. Thousands of workers have been idled by the bad economy. The factory has been idled by the strike. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
Even after a major business success, Isaacson notes that Musk gears up for the next thing in order to avoid feeling idle. Alexa Mikhail, Fortune Well, 16 Sep. 2023 As for those implications: The Rangers moved within a half game of idle Houston in the AL West race with just 16 games to play. Evan Grant, Dallas News, 15 Sep. 2023 Being energy efficient isn’t just about switching to LED lightbulbs or unplugging idle appliances. Bridget Reed Morawski, Washington Post, 14 Sep. 2023 Arrayed against him are Denmark’s idle aristocrats and land barons who are threatened by his farming ingenuity and turn to violence to stop him. Taylor Antrim, Vogue, 13 Sep. 2023 The engine pulls cleanly right off idle, and a proper exhaust bark bellows right below your left ear. Larry Webster, Car and Driver, 23 Aug. 2023 Renters and everybody else benefit from getting idle property into its most productive use. Phillip Molnar, San Diego Union-Tribune, 18 Aug. 2023 My favorite figure is a waiter who stands idle in the lowly joint where Donya—the only customer, apparently—tends to dine. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 18 Aug. 2023 That means plenty of refrigerators are sitting idle, creating food waste issues. Susan Selasky, Detroit Free Press, 25 Aug. 2023
In late February, Stellantis indefinitely idled operations at the Belvidere plant, citing rising costs of electric vehicle production. Reuters, NBC News, 18 Sep. 2023 At Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, only the 3,300 workers in the assembly area and paint shop have walked off the line, but that is enough to idle the factory. Neal E. Boudette Brittany Greeson, New York Times, 15 Sep. 2023 Our guide to avoiding them Sept. 2, 2023 Advertisement The 85-year-old attorney idled for 10 seconds in traffic outside the shop as his eyes bounced between his rearview mirror and the slots ahead of him. Andrew J. Campa, Los Angeles Times, 8 Sep. 2023 Several factories were forced to idle or scale back production. Amanda Coletta, Washington Post, 5 Sep. 2023 Since the school year began this month, there have been no reports of what was once a common sight in Hammond, Indiana: children, climbing over or under idling trains, risking their lives to get to class. Topher Sanders, ProPublica, 25 Aug. 2023 Stellantis idled its Jeep plant in Belvidere earlier this year. Chicago Tribune Staff, Chicago Tribune, 9 Aug. 2023 Months later, the company idled its coke ovens because of major equipment problems. Max Blau, ProPublica, 1 Sep. 2023 Refrain from idling their vehicles as exhaust contributes considerably to ozone formation. Erin Couch, The Enquirer, 22 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'idle.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English idel, from Old English īdel; akin to Old High German ītal worthless

First Known Use


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2


1592, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of idle was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near idle

Cite this Entry

“Idle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
idler ˈīd-lər How to pronounce idle (audio)
; idlest ˈīd-ləst How to pronounce idle (audio)
: having no worth or basis
idle rumors
idle chatter
: not being used or employed
idle workers
idle factories
idle hours
idleness noun
ˈīd-lē How to pronounce idle (audio)


2 of 2 verb
idled; idling ˈīd-liŋ How to pronounce idle (audio)
: to spend time doing nothing
: to run without being connected for doing useful work
left the engine idling
ˈīd-lər How to pronounce idle (audio)

More from Merriam-Webster on idle

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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