verb (used without object), trod, trod·den or trod, tread·ing.

verb (used with object), trod, trod·den or trod, tread·ing.



    tread on someone's toes/corns, to offend or irritate someone.
    tread the boards, to act on the stage, especially professionally: He recalled the days when he had trod the boards.
    tread water,
    1. maintain the body erect in the water with the head above the surface usually by a pumping up-and-down movement of the legs and sometimes the arms.
    2. make efforts that maintain but do not further one's status, progress, or performance: He's just treading water here until he can find another job.

Origin of tread

before 900; (v.) Middle English treden, Old English tredan; cognate with Old Frisian treda, Old Saxon tredan, Dutch treden, German treten; akin to Old Norse trotha, Gothic trudan; (noun) Middle English tred footprint, derivative of the v.
Related formstread·er, nouno·ver·tread, nounsub·tread, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for tread water


verb treads, treading, trod, trodden or trod

to walk or trample in, on, over, or across (something)
(when intr, foll by on) to crush or squash by or as if by treadingto tread grapes; to tread on a spider
(intr sometimes foll by on) to subdue or repress, as by doing injury (to)to tread on one's inferiors
(tr) to do by walking or dancingto tread a measure
(tr) (of a male bird) to copulate with (a female bird)
tread lightly to proceed with delicacy or tact
tread on someone's toes to offend or insult someone, esp by infringing on his sphere of action, etc
tread water to stay afloat in an upright position by moving the legs in a walking motion


a manner or style of walking, dancing, etca light tread
the act of treading
the top surface of a step in a staircase
the outer part of a tyre or wheel that makes contact with the road, esp the grooved surface of a pneumatic tyre
the part of a rail that wheels touch
the part of a shoe that is generally in contact with the ground
vet science an injury to a horse's foot caused by the opposite foot, or the foot of another horse
a rare word for footprint
Derived Formstreader, noun

Word Origin for tread

Old English tredan; related to Old Norse trotha , Old High German tretan, Swedish träda
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 tread water



Old English tredan (class V strong verb; past tense træd, past participle treden), from Proto-Germanic *tredanan (cf. Old Frisian treda, Middle Dutch treden, Old High German tretan, German treten, Gothic trudan, Old Norse troða).



early 13c., from tread (v.); in reference to automobile tires, it is recorded from 1906.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with tread water

tread water

Expend effort that maintains one's status but does not make much progress toward a goal, as in He was just treading water from paycheck to paycheck. This idiom alludes to the term's literal meaning, that is, “keep one's head above water by remaining upright and pumping the legs.”


In addition to the idioms beginning with tread

  • tread the boards
  • tread water

also see:

  • fools rush in where angels fear to tread
  • step (tread) on one's toes
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.