[ uh-oh ]
/ ˈʌˌoʊ /
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(used to indicate concern or chagrin at a mildly unfortunate event).
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does uh-oh mean?

Uh-oh is an expression used to indicate mild alarm or concern in response to something negative, such as a mistake. It’s typically said right when you realize something is wrong or something bad has happened.

It’s sometimes spelled uh oh, without the hyphen. Uh-oh is an interjection, meaning it’s a term used to express emotion, often outside of a sentence.

Uh-oh is usually only used in response to situations that are mildly bad or unfortunate, like minor mistakes or setbacks—you wouldn’t say uh-oh in response to a tragedy or something very serious.

Uh-oh can also be used in a very informal way as a noun meaning a mistake or something that’s cause for concern, as in That part was an uh-oh, but I thought it looked good so I kept it as it was. This can sound childish (much like calling a mistake a boo-boo) and is often used to be humorous.

Example: Uh-oh—looks like I forgot to mail that letter.

Where does uh-oh come from?

The first records of uh-oh in written English come from the early 1900s, but it was probably used in spoken English for quite a long time before that. It’s made up of the words uh and oh, but don’t spend too much time thinking about what they mean in combination—uhoh is just one of those words that’s ultimately based on the sounds people make in reaction to things. There are some similar expressions, such as uh-uh (meaning “no”), uh-huh (meaning “yes”), and ruh-roh (the way that Scooby-Doo says uh-oh).

Due to the way it’s used, uh-oh is more often spoken than written. But you might send it in a text, such as in response to your friend telling you that they forgot their mom’s birthday. Most often, it’s said in reaction to something that has just happened (like getting a rip in your shirt) or has just been realized (like that you forgot to do a project that’s due today). When it’s said in response to a mistake, uh-oh is similar to the word oops. However, oops implies that the mistake was one’s fault, whereas uh-oh often simply indicates that whatever happened is bad.

When it’s used as a noun, uh-oh is used with the same level of informality as some other very simplistic terms, such as no-no, as in It’s a big no-no to make that many uh-ohs in your first presentation.

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What are some other forms related to uh-oh?

  • uh oh (alternate spelling)
  • uh-ohs (plural)

What are some synonyms for uh-oh?

What are some words that share a root or word element with uh-oh

What are some words that often get used in discussing uh-oh?


How is uh-oh used in real life?

Uh-oh is a reaction to something bad, but something bad that’s not all that serious. If you say uh-oh to something really bad, it can seem insensitive.



Try using uh-oh!

In which of the following situations would it be most appropriate to say uh-oh?

A. When receiving flowers for your birthday
B. When realizing you forgot to water the plants
C. When hearing that someone is very sick
D. When stubbing your toe

How to use uh-oh in a sentence