Straight and Narrow – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Have you seen the phrase 'straight and narrow' somewhere and would like to know what the saying means and where it comes from? The phrase 'straight and narrow' is a common saying in the English language that refers to following an acceptable moral path. This post unpacks the meaning and common use of the phrase.


'Straight and narrow' is a common figurative saying used in the English language.

When someone is following the 'straight and narrow', then their superior or improved morality is implied by the phrase.

The 'straight and narrow' assumes that someone is avoiding negative things in their life, and implies that they are following a brighter moral path.

The path implied by the phrase 'straight and narrow' is a figurative one, and refers to the potential life decisions that someone might make.

The phrase can be used as a direct denial form, to say that someone is 'not following the straight and narrow' for their life or the decision being discussed. 'Not the straight and narrow' can be used to imply the same when said.

The phrase 'straight and narrow' can be used to make a statement, ask a question, or respond to another speaker who has said (or asked) something.

The phrase 'straight and narrow' is rarely used in a literal context, though figuratively has implications of morality or decisionmaking when written or said.

The phrase 'the right path' can also be used in a serious or joking context to say that someone is following the 'straight and narrow' way.

Example Usage

“I swear, I won't add pineapple to any more customers' orders, especially if they didn't ask for any of it. I'm going to be on the straight and narrow path from now on.”

“I've given my life to the Spaghetti Monster, I'm on the straight narrow for the rest of my life.”

“When someone has decided to follow the straight and narrow for most of their life, it's really sad when they just cross the road one day and get hit by a bus.”

“If you follow the straight and narrow, you might not always be rich but I'm pretty sure that you're always going to be happy.”


According to most online language resources, early use and possible original etymology for the phrase 'straight and narrow' can be traced back to the 1900s.

The phrase could have originally referred to 'strait and narrow', which would have referred to a predetermined road in the literal sense.

Somewhere during the 1900s, use of the phrase became mostly figurative and would now refer to questions of morality rather than issues of direction or literal paths.

The phrase is common as an English expression, and is used as a full phrase to imply a good path ('straight and narrow') versus a morally corrupt one.

The website Urban Dictionary lists the phrase twice, first in 2004 and then again in 2006.

Phrases Similar to Straight and Narrow

  • The right path

Phrases Opposite to Straight and Narrow

  • The crooked way

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Straight and narrow

Ways People May Say Straight and Narrow Incorrectly

There are several ways in which someone can use the phrase 'straight and narrow' in the wrong way, or misunderstand the saying when it is used.

Someone does not literally mean that they are following a straight or narrow path, but the expression is figurative to imply a path of moral correction.

The phrase can be spelled as 'strait and narrow' in historical context (around the 1800s), though is kept as 'straight and narrow' for modern use.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Straight and Narrow

The phrase 'straight and narrow' can be used to say that someone is going on a morally correct path, as opposed to the opposite.

Someone who is 'on the straight and narrow' is implied to be morally sound, while someone who is 'not on the straight and narrow' would imply the opposite.

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