\ ˈī-dᵊl How to pronounce idle (audio) \
idler\ ˈīd-​lər How to pronounce idle (audio) , ˈī-​dᵊl-​ər \; idlest\ ˈīd-​ləst How to pronounce idle (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
3a : shiftless, lazy
b : having no evident lawful means of support


idled; idling\ ˈīd-​liŋ How to pronounce idle (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 idle (audio) \ 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 Rather than eradicate this idle time, why not embrace it and expand its boundaries so that others, the workers excluded from this moment of relative stillness, might know it, too? John Patrick Leary, The New Republic, 6 Aug. 2021 More and more fans are seeing the game as a way to fill idle time. Paul Daugherty, The Enquirer, 23 June 2021 The belief among mobile game developers over a decade ago was that people would open their phones for a few seconds to kills some idle time and then put them away. Washington Post, 27 May 2021 With hours of idle time, Hanson devoted each day with a steady routine of weight training and throwing practice. David Hinojosa, San Antonio Express-News, 22 Apr. 2021 Browne has adjusted well to the rigors of both the club scene as well as the high school scene, spending her idle time working with a trainer and working out at home to stay in playing shape. Mike Morea,, 15 Mar. 2021 Likewise, many folks who don’t normally fish took advantage of idle time off from work to wet a hook. Matt Williams, Dallas News, 2 Jan. 2021 That idle time during his commute paid off Friday as the PCH Prize Patrol showed up on his doorstep with an oversize check for $10,000. Mike Nolan,, 18 Dec. 2020 Logano is the first of four drivers locked into the Nov. 8 championship-deciding finale and has used the idle time at Texas for lengthy discussions with his Team Penske crew on preparations for that Phoenix race., 28 Oct. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The shortage is impacting the entire auto industry with GM and others having to idle plants, reduce shifts or partially build vehicles until more chips are available. Jamie L. Lareau, Detroit Free Press, 27 Aug. 2021 The gas plants are paid to idle and be ready, at significant cost. James Conca, Forbes, 7 July 2021 Once on land, containers frequently idle in temporary storage while awaiting space on an outbound truck or train, incurring additional costs. Washington Post, 26 July 2021 Santos didn’t let her misfortune idle her entirely. Steve Lopez Columnist, Los Angeles Times, 24 July 2021 In contrast, major auto players such as GM and Ford had to temporarily idle or scale back production at several plants. Trefis Team, Forbes, 7 July 2021 In 2015, the wind industry endorsed, to much fanfare, voluntary guidelines to idle turbines when the wind speed is below a certain cutoff, usually about three meters per second. Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic, 21 July 2021 General Motors, like most automakers, has had to idle some plants due to an inability to get parts that contain semiconductor chips. Jamie L. Lareau, Detroit Free Press, 17 July 2021 Maricopa County's air pollution ordinances do not allow large diesel vehicles to idle for more than 60 minutes during a 90-minute period. Jessica Boehm, The Arizona Republic, 19 July 2021

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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Time Traveler for idle

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

8 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Idle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for idle



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)

: to run without being connected for doing useful work
: to spend time doing nothing or nothing useful
: 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.

More from Merriam-Webster on idle

Nglish: Translation of idle for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of idle for Arabic Speakers


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