[ ahyd-l ]
See synonyms for: idleidledidleridles on

adjective,i·dler, i·dlest.
  1. not working or active; unemployed; doing nothing: idle workers.

  2. not spent or filled with activity: idle hours.

  1. not in use or operation; not kept busy: idle machinery.

  2. habitually doing nothing or avoiding work; lazy.

  3. of no real worth, importance, or significance: idle talk.

  4. having no basis or reason; baseless; groundless: idle fears.

  5. frivolous; vain: idle pleasures.

  6. meaningless; senseless: idle threats.

  7. futile; unavailing: idle rage.

verb (used without object),i·dled, i·dling.
  1. to pass time doing nothing.

  2. to move, loiter, or saunter aimlessly: to idle along the avenue.

  1. (of a machine, engine, or mechanism) to operate at a low speed, disengaged from the load.

verb (used with object),i·dled, i·dling.
  1. to pass (time) doing nothing (often followed by away): to idle away the afternoon.

  2. to cause (a person) to be idle: The strike idled many workers.

  1. to cause (a machine, engine, or mechanism) to idle: I waited in the car while idling the engine.

  1. the state or quality of being idle.

  2. the state of a machine, engine, or mechanism that is idling: a cold engine that stalls at idle.

Origin of idle

First recorded before 900, and in 1915–20 for def. 12; Middle English, Old English īdel (adjective) “empty, trifling, vain, useless”; cognate with German eitel

synonym study For idle

1. Idle, indolent, lazy, slothful apply to a person who is not active. To be idle is to be inactive or not working at a job. The word is sometimes derogatory, but not always, since one may be relaxing temporarily or may be idle through necessity: pleasantly idle on a vacation; to be idle because one is unemployed or because supplies are lacking. The indolent person is naturally disposed to avoid exertion: indolent and slow in movement; an indolent and contented fisherman. The lazy person is averse to exertion or work, and especially to continued application; the word is usually derogatory: too lazy to earn a living; incurably lazy. Slothful denotes a reprehensible unwillingness to carry one's share of the burden: so slothful as to be a burden on others. 11. See loiter.

word story For idle

The English adjective idle comes from Old English īdel, originally meaning “empty” and also “useless, worthless.” The sense (used of people) “unemployed, out of work” dates from the 10th century. The rather harsher meaning “avoiding work, lazy, indolent” dates from the 14th century.
One of the senses of the verb idle, “to spend one’s time doing nothing,” dates from the 17th century and is first recorded in Samuel Pepys’ Diary.
The mechanical sense, used of a motor or engine disengaged from its load and operating at a low speed, dates from the 20th century.

Other words for idle

Opposites for idle

Other words from idle

  • i·dle·ness, noun
  • i·dly, adverb
  • o·ver·i·dle, adjective
  • o·ver·i·dle·ness, noun
  • un·i·dle, adjective
  • un·i·dling, adjective

Words that may be confused with idle Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use idle in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for idle


/ (ˈaɪdəl) /

  1. unemployed or unoccupied; inactive

  2. not operating or being used

  1. (of money) not being used to earn interest or dividends

  2. not wanting to work; lazy

  3. (usually prenominal) frivolous or trivial: idle pleasures

  4. ineffective or powerless; fruitless; vain

  5. without basis; unfounded

  1. (when tr, often foll by away) to waste or pass (time) fruitlessly or inactively: he idled the hours away

  2. (intr) to loiter or move aimlessly

  1. (intr) (of a shaft, engine, etc) to turn without doing useful work

  2. (intr) (of an engine) to run at low speed with the transmission disengaged: Also (Brit): tick over

  3. (tr) US and Canadian to cause to be inactive or unemployed

Origin of idle

Old English īdel; compare Old High German ītal empty, vain

Derived forms of idle

  • idleness, noun
  • idly, adverb

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012