\ ˈī-dᵊl How to pronounce idle (audio) \
idler\ ˈīd-​lər How to pronounce idler (audio) , ˈī-​dᵊl-​ər \; idlest\ ˈīd-​ləst How to pronounce idlest (audio) , ˈī-​dᵊl-​əst \

Definition of idle

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : not occupied or employed: such as
a : having no employment : inactive idle workers
b : not turned to normal or appropriate use idle farmland
c : not scheduled to compete the team will be idle tomorrow
2 : lacking worth or basis : vain idle chatter idle pleasure
b : having no evident lawful means of support


idled; idling\ ˈīd-​liŋ How to pronounce idling (audio) , ˈī-​dᵊl-​iŋ \

Definition of idle (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : to run at low power and often disconnected usually so that power is not used for useful work the engine is idling
2a : to spend time in idleness
b : to move idly

transitive verb

1 : to pass in idleness
2 : to cause to idle
3 : to make idle workers idled by a strike

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Other Words from idle


idleness \ ˈī-​dᵊl-​nəs How to pronounce idleness (audio) \ noun


idler \ ˈīd-​lər How to pronounce idler (audio) , ˈī-​dᵊl-​ər \ noun

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Last week: Fairhope lost to McGill-Toolen 27-20 in overtime; Central was idle. Ben Thomas | Bthomas@al.com, al, "Coastal Playoff Capsules: 5 Mobile-area games to watch in Round 1," 4 Nov. 2019 The younger Colombo, the quarterback on that 1972 team, coached the Boxers to state titles in 2004 and 2005, but Brockton has been idle since. BostonGlobe.com, "BROCKTON — The Brockton Boxers are beginning to climb back toward the mountaintop upon which they once stood.," 2 Nov. 2019 Mahomes is not the only top quarterback who will be idle this week. Kevin Cusick, Twin Cities, "The Loop Fantasy Football Update Week 8: Last-minute moves," 27 Oct. 2019 In the bottom half of the inning, Gerrit Cole showed little rust despite having been idle for 32 minutes, allowing a two-out double to the slumping Edwin Encarnacion and a walk to Gleyber Torres. Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times, "How the Astros Stifled the Yankees in Game 3," 15 Oct. 2019 Unfortunately for the Browns, their two starting cornerbacks, Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams were idle again on Friday with their hamstrings and are in jeopardy of missing their third straight games. Mary Kay Cabot, cleveland, "Browns’ Jarvis Landry cleared from concussion protocol and is set to play vs. 49ers," 4 Oct. 2019 Liverpool had been tentatively linked to Cardiff's Neil Etheridge and Southampton's Alex McCarthy but nothing has progressed to a stage beyond idle gossip column fodder. SI.com, "Liverpool Make Decision on Simon Mignolet After Limited Game Time in 2018/19 Season," 24 June 2019 But this year, the muddy ground sat idle, with not a hint of green as far as the eye could see, as May became June. Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan's climate: Models project 30% increase in rain and snow, plus rising temps," 13 June 2019 While the design stars, of course, did the heavy lifting, the Brady kids weren’t idle observers. Chuck Barney, The Mercury News, "‘A Very Brady Renovation’: A groovy kind of makeover show," 5 Sep. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The announcement on Thursday came less than two weeks after members of the United Automobile Workers approved a new contract with G.M., ending a strike in which the future of the factory, idled this year, was a central issue. New York Times, "Buyer of G.M. Lordstown Plant Promises Union Work and Wages," 7 Nov. 2019 The deal also lets GM keep three sites idled: Lordstown Assembly in Ohio, and transmission plants in Warren and Baltimore. Jamie L. Lareau, Detroit Free Press, "Time is ticking as UAW members vote on a GM deal," 25 Oct. 2019 Blackjewel also furloughed most of its Wyoming employees and shut down two massive surface mines, the first idled by hardship since coal mining in the western region exploded in the 1970s. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Coal miners blocking rail shipments end protest," 26 Sep. 2019 Unless something, such as military activity in the Persian Gulf, pushes oil prices higher, ethanol plants will start to shut down with the highest-cost, least-efficient ones idling first. Edward Lotterman, Twin Cities, "Real World Economics: Oil prices, war, and a bad corn crop," 23 June 2019 Ford points out that these idle tests were performed with the A/C set to full cool, fan on 4, the radio on, and an additional 32 amps to simulate the active use of emergency lights, a computer, and a police radio while idling. Andrew Wendler, Car and Driver, "2020 Ford Police Interceptor Utility Hybrid AWD Saves Fuel, Hauls Ass," 17 May 2019 More auto makers are using turbochargers, which reuse wasted heat, and engines that shut off while cars are idling. Sara Toth Stub, WSJ, "The Car Engine of Tomorrow: Cleaner, Lighter, With One Moving Part," 20 June 2019 Morally and emotionally, they are built not to idle but to take an audience of kids and get them somewhere. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, "Does “The Lion King” Need C.G.I.?," 19 July 2019 Passengers were asleep when the boat began to idle and move slowly to shore. San Diego Union-Tribune, "15 passengers rescued after fishing boat washes ashore in Mission Beach," 28 June 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'idle.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of idle


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


1592, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 2a

History and Etymology for idle


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

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Statistics for idle

Last Updated

13 Nov 2019

Time Traveler for idle

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

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More Definitions for idle

How to pronounce idle (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of idle

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: not working, active, or being used
: not having any real purpose or value
: not having much activity



English Language Learners Definition of idle (Entry 2 of 2)

of an engine or vehicle : to run without being connected for doing useful work
: to spend time doing nothing or nothing useful
US : to cause (someone or something) to stop working : to make (someone or something) idle
\ ˈī-dᵊl How to pronounce idle (audio) \
idler\ ˈīd-​lər \; idlest\ ˈīd-​ləst \

Kids Definition of idle

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : not working or in use idle workers idle farmland
3 : not based on anything real or serious an idle threat

Other Words from idle

idleness \ ˈī-​dᵊl-​nəs \ noun
idly \ ˈīd-​lē \ adverb


idled; idling\ ˈīd-​liŋ \

Kids Definition of idle (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to spend time doing nothing I idled away the afternoon.
2 : to run without being connected for doing useful work The engine is idling.

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More from Merriam-Webster on idle

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for idle

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with idle

Spanish Central: Translation of idle

Nglish: Translation of idle for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of idle for Arabic Speakers

Comments on idle

What made you want to look up idle? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


meddlesome, informal, or unofficial

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