verb (used with object), pat·ted, pat·ting.

verb (used without object), pat·ted, pat·ting.

to strike lightly or gently.
to walk or run with light footsteps.



    a pat on the back, a word of praise, congratulations, or encouragement: Everyone needs a pat on the back now and then.
    pat down, to pat or pass the hands over the body of (a clothed person) to detect concealed weapons, drugs, etc.
    pat on the back, to praise, congratulate, or encourage: The boss patted him on the back for the deal he made yesterday.

Origin of pat

1375–1425; late Middle English pat blow, stroke, apparently of expressive orig.
Related formsun·pat·ted, adjective

Synonyms for pat Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for pat on the back



verb pats, patting or patted

to hit (something) lightly with the palm of the hand or some other flat surfaceto pat a ball
to slap (a person or animal) gently, esp on the back, as an expression of affection, congratulation, etc
(tr) to shape, smooth, etc, with a flat instrument or the palm
(intr) to walk or run with light footsteps
pat someone on the back informal to congratulate or encourage someone


a light blow with something flat
a gentle slap
a small mass of somethinga pat of butter
the sound made by a light stroke or light footsteps
pat on the back informal a gesture or word indicating approval or encouragement

Word Origin for pat

C14: perhaps imitative




Also: off pat exactly or fluently memorized or masteredhe recited it pat
opportunely or aptly
stand pat
  1. mainly US and Canadianto refuse to abandon a belief, decision, etc
  2. (in poker, etc) to play without adding new cards to the hand dealt


exactly right for the occasion; apta pat reply
too exactly fitting; gliba pat answer to a difficult problem
exactly righta pat hand in poker

Word Origin for pat

C17: perhaps adverbial use (``with a light stroke'') of pat 1




on one's pat Australian informal alone; on one's own

Word Origin for pat

C20: rhyming slang, from Pat Malone



an informal name for an Irishman

Word Origin for Pat

from Patrick
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

Word Origin and History for pat on the back



c.1400, "a blow, stroke," perhaps originally imitative of the sound of patting. Meaning "light tap with hand" is from c.1804. Sense of "that which is formed by patting" (as in pat of butter) is 1754, probably from the verb. Pat on the back in the figurative sense attested by 1804.



"aptly, suitably, at the right time," 1570s, perhaps from pat (adj.) in sense of "that which hits the mark," a special use from pat (n.) in sense of "a hitting" of the mark. The modern adjective is 1630s, from the adverb.



1560s, "to hit, throw;" meaning "to tap or strike lightly" is from 1714; from pat (n.). Related: Patted; patting. The nursery rhyme phrase pat-a-cake is known from 1823. Alternative patty-cake (usually American English) is attested from 1794 (in "Mother Goose's Melody, or Sonnets for the Cradle," Worcester, Mass.).


as a fem. proper name, short for Patricia. As a masc. proper name, short for Patrick; hence a nickname for any Irishman.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with pat on the back

pat on the back

A word or gesture of support, approval, or praise, as in The bonus she gave her assistant was a pat on the back for doing a good job. [Early 1800s]


In addition to the idiom beginning with pat

  • pat on the back

also see:

  • stand pat
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.