12 Time Metaphors and Idioms that Pop!

Time metaphors often refer to how it appears to speed up and slow down. They also often refer to the idea that it is precious and always goes in one direction.

Some great time metaphors include:

  • Time is money
  • Time ticks by
  • Time is a flowing river
  • Time is an arrow
  • Time is a gift 

The abundance of metaphors and idioms about time show just how important it is to us as humans and how much it is on our mind.

Here’s a list of some of the best metaphors and idioms I’ve come across!

List of Time Metaphors

1. Time is Money

Type: Metaphor

The saying that time is money is common in workplaces and business. When we go to work, we usually trade our time for money. And business owners who start earning enough money often pay people to do work for them so they’ve got more freedom. This trade-off is a pillar of modern economies.

So, while literally we should say we’re “trading time for money”, the metaphor “time is money” has become commonplace in our language.

2. Time is a Flowing River

Type: Metaphor

There are several metaphors that refer to the idea that time only goes in one direction. This one is our first. We can’t rewind the clock and give anything a go again. Like water flowing under a bridge, once it’s gone, it’s gone. There are no re-do’s in our life on earth.

3. The Time Ticks By

Type: Ontological Metaphor

It makes sense for us to say ‘time ticks by’ because humans tend to measure it by a clock, which ‘ticks’ as each second passes. But it’s not time that ticks, it’s a clock! Time itself can’t tick – because it doesn’t make noises. This could be a metaphor of sorts, but it might just be a misnomer or misrepresentation. Either way, now you know that time doesn’t tick – whenever you use it, you’ll know that it’s metaphorical to you!

4. Time is an Arrow

Type: Metaphor

This is our last metaphor about the unidirectionality of time! This one – that it’s an arrow – refers to the idea that arrows, once shot out of a bow, cannot have their paths changed. They go on one direction only. Their trajectory is pre-determined and cannot be altered.

5. Time is a Gift

Type: Metaphor

I like this metaphor because it’s grateful and humble. Religious people might say that the gift is from God, others might just say in general that time feels like a gift. When we say that “time is a gift“, we’re using metaphor to refer to the idea that life is precious and we’re go glad to have the limited amount of life we get on this earth.

6. Time is Borrowed

Type: Implied Metaphor

The idea that “you’re living on borrowed time” means that you only have a finite amount of days in your life, so you better make the most of it. There will come a point when your life will come to an end and you’ll “have no more time”.

Of course, you didn’t literally borrow anything. Who would you borrow it from? This is just an idiom that we use to express the sensation that our existence on earth is finite.

You might use this phrase when referring to someone who’s been lucky not to die so far. For example, you could say that a tightrope walker is living on borrowed time because sooner or later he’ll fall off his tightrope and die.

7. Time Waits for No One

Type: Personification Metaphor

While Einstein might disagree on a metaphysical level, as far as we humans are concerned, time is a constant. It ticks along (there’s that metaphor again) unendingly in one direction only. We can’t pause it or ask it to hold on a moment so you can do some things and still not be late to a meeting. We’re all captive to it, and we all need to heed its unending, constant movement.

This is a personification metaphor because it implies time has the ability to wait (or, not wait) which is really only a trait people and intelligent animals can do.

8. Time Stood Still

Type: Personification Metaphor

This metaphor reverses the previous ones, which all worry about the speed at which life passes us by. But this experience of time standing still will often happen when something momentous happens. We might use this idiom when discussing that moment just before a car crash when you know you’re about to be in a collision, when you get terrible news and it feels like you will be stuck in a horrible emotional state forever, or when you’re with a loved one and the outside world is rendered meaningless to you in your bubble.

This is a personification metaphor because it implies time has the traits of a person – it can stand.

9. Time Flies

Type: Implied Metaphor

This metaphor is the opposite to the previous one. For this metaphor, it feels like our days are moving faster than ever. We often use it to refer to a really fun experience. For example, it’s common to say “time flies when you’re having fun”. You get to the end of a whole day of enjoying yourself and you think “wow, that was over faster than I expected!”

10. Time Dragged On

Type: Idiom

Here’s another metaphor about the feeling that our days are passing by slowly. If something is being dragged, it slows us down and feels like a burden on our progress.

So, to say that time drags on is to create an image in the mind that we are burdened down and feel like we’re taking longer than we had hoped. We might use this metaphor in a boring class or meeting, or a long hot day at work.

11. Eat up Time

Type: Personification Metaphor

When we eat things up, we consume them until they don’t exist anymore. Eating-up time means to be doing things that are idle or unproductive in order for time to pass. You would usually do this during shift work or while waiting for an event to start. Without something important to do, you’re being idle (such as talking with friends or picking clovers to wait for hours to pass).

12. To Spend Time

Type: Conventional Metaphor

To spend time is to say that we are doing things to fill hours or days that need to be ‘spent’ or ‘passed’ by doing something. You might chat with friends, watch movies or play computer games to pass the time. We will also often use the term “spend time together” to refer to hanging out with our friends and enjoying ourselves together.

This is a conventional metaphor because it is so central to the way we speak that we’re often not aware that it’s metaphorical. Nevertheless, it is … because we’re implying that time is money.

Conclusion

Time metaphors help us explain our lives and how we spend them here on earth. The abundance of idioms and metaphors about time show just how important it is to human beings. We use it as a measure of what we do with ourselves and our days. We can use these sayings to help improve our writing or public speaking skills. It can help us to create a picture on our reader’s mind.

time metaphors and idioms

For other metaphors and idioms that might help you to understand how we express ourselves and explore our existence, check out our articles on fear idioms and happiness metaphors.

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