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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

Example Sentences

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
Two seasons ago, the franchise with a record seven championships was idle due to COVID restrictions. Dave Kallmann, Journal Sentinel, 21 Mar. 2023 Winnipeg was idle and Seattle pulled within 2 points of them for best record in the league. Dylan Bumbarger, oregonlive, 18 Mar. 2023 The Heat are now idle until a weekend back-to-back road set on Saturday night against the Chicago Bulls and Sunday against the Detroit Pistons. Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel, 15 Mar. 2023 The Ritz-Carlton developers can still compete, but the land should not sit idle for years waiting for financing that may never materialize. San Diego Union-Tribune, 17 Feb. 2023 Frustration over the lack of progress at the Forest Edge Subdivision development is emerging as the site finishes another year sitting idle. Daniel I. Dorfman, Chicago Tribune, 6 Dec. 2022 Lubbock, Texas — Many tractors and other farm equipment are sitting idle across Texas as the cotton harvest season gets underway. CBS News, 3 Nov. 2022 These standards do not sit idle as decoration on a break room wall. The Salt Lake Tribune, 27 Oct. 2022 Instead, the Heat failed to gain ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race on a day the New York Knicks lost and the Brooklyn Nets were idle. Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel, 11 Mar. 2023
According to Logan, the final decision to idle the factory follows a slow bleed of layoffs in the last four years, including the loss of about 1,500 workers in 2019, 1,200 in 2021 and 500 in 2022. Peter Charalambous, ABC News, 28 Feb. 2023 Higher tolls, no more coins among changes coming to the Dulles Toll Road in 2023 MWAA officials say the shift to an all-electronic system will help to speed traffic and reduce emissions from vehicles that idle at the toll plaza. Lori Aratani, Washington Post, 25 Feb. 2023 Seyoung’s shrinking clientele also leaves idle its strong-handed scrubbers, who vigorously scour the bodies of clients seeking intense exfoliation, a bathing ritual that Koreans love. Min Joo Kim, Washington Post, 6 Mar. 2023 Enter Email Sign Up The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is looking at paying farmers to idle some fields, many in the vast Imperial Valley in California and Yuma County in Arizona that grow much of the nation’s winter vegetables and rely on the river. Suman Naishadham,, 4 Mar. 2023 Stellantis announced a $155 million investment related to electric vehicles in Indiana on the same day the Belvidere Assembly Plant was scheduled to idle. Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press, 2 Mar. 2023 Óscar Baños and thousands of fellow truck drivers celebrated Saturday after a threat to idle their engines pushed the Spanish government to adopt measures improving work conditions and checking skyrocketing fuel costs driven by inflation. Joseph Wilson, The Christian Science Monitor, 18 Dec. 2021 The trucks idle in the congestion, contributing to poor air quality in surrounding neighborhoods that are home to over one million people. Eden Weingart Alyssa Schukar, New York Times, 22 Dec. 2022 The courteous thing to do is reduce your speed to idle rather than blowing past others at high speed. Matt Williams, Dallas News, 1 July 2022 See More

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.

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 28 Mar. 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

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