Egg On – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to describe encouraging someone to do something mischievous? The phrase “to egg someone on” might be just what you’re looking for. Learn what this phrase means, where it came from, and how to use it in this post.


The (now slightly archaic) phrase “egg on” is used in the context of “egging someone on to do something“.

While egging someone on means that you are encouraging that person to take a particular course of action, the phrase is almost exclusively used when the thing you are encouraging is considered questionable, bad, or naughty.

Therefore, “egging someone on” can best be said to be pressuring, inciting, or goading someone.

​​​Example Usage

If you have not heard the phrase “to egg someone on” before, seeing some example sentences will help you understand what it means:

  • “I understand that my son placed banana peels in the classroom to make people slip, but it would never have happened if Johnny hadn’t been egging him on.”
  • “Susan mischievously egged grandma, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, on to buy her lots of trinkets.”
  • “I don’t know what came over me. I guess I just got caught up in the moment, because all my classmates were egging me on.”


“To egg someone on” is a curious phrase. Most people will immediately assume that the “egg” in the phrase refers to a chicken egg, but that is not the case.

The phrase “egg on” actually comes from the word “edge”, as pushing someone toward the edge means encouraging them to go further.

The spelling of the phrase is due to the fact that “egg on” appeared before English had a standardized spelling; the phrase is likely to have been in use since at least the 1200s.

One early example comes from Thomas Drant’s Horace in 1566: “Ile egge them on to speake some thyng, whiche spoken may repent them.”

Here, it becomes clear how “egge” might be both “edge” and “egg”. In case you cannot decipher this version of English, “I’ll egg them on to speak some thing, which (once) spoken may repent them” may make more sense.

While the origins of this phrase are now largely lost, its use continues. Whenever someone speaks of egging someone else on in modern English, the phrase is most likely to involve children encouraging each other to do things they shouldn’t be doing.

However, you can use the phrase “egg on” to speak about anyone who is trying to talk someone into doing something morally questionable.

​Phrases Similar to Egg On

Instead of “egg on”, you could also use the following words to describe a situation in which someone encourages another to do something they shouldn’t really be doing:

  • Incite
  • Provoke
  • Harass
  • Goad
  • Drive (someone) to (do something)
  • Push (someone) to (do something)

​Phrases Opposite to Egg On

The phrase “to egg someone on” has negative connotations — it is used primarily to describe situations in which someone or multiple people encourage another to do something dubious.

If you are looking for ways to describe encouraging someone to do something good, you could say:

  • Inspire
  • Motivate
  • Support
  • Nudge

​​What Is the Correct Phrase?

The correct phrase, is “egg on”, or “to egg someone on to do something“. It is a way to say that someone is pushing someone to do something mischievous.

​​​Ways People May Say Egg On Incorrectly

People who have looked up the dictionary definition of “egg on” may read that the phrase means “to encourage”. Depending on the dictionary, them may miss the fact that the phrase is almost always used to describe coaxing someone into doing something questionable or naughty.

​​​Acceptable Ways to Phrase Egg On

You can use the phrase “to egg someone on” to talk about a situation in which someone encourages another person to do something slightly unacceptable, especially in the case of children. You could, for instance, tell a child that he is “always egging his brother on to get up to no good”.

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