Time Waits for No Man – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a poetic way to tell someone to stop procrastinating and get on with things? The idiom “time waits for no man” could be what you’re looking for. Keep reading to discover what this saying means, where it came from, and how to use it.

​​Meaning

“Time waits for no man” is a slightly abbreviated version of the original idiom, which was “time and tide wait for no man”.

Both versions of the idiom have a very literal meaning — neither time nor the tide can be delayed. There is a deeper meaning, of course, and that is to invite people to manage their time well, to stop procrastinating, or to pursue their dreams now (while they still can).

​​Example Usage

Take a look at these examples to understand in which context you might choose to use the idiom “time waits for no man”:

  • “That important research paper is due next Tuesday, and you’re still not finished with your draft? You know what they say; time waits for no man.”
  • “It really seemed like my great-grandfather would live forever, but it turns out that time waits for no man.”
  • “You’re still not married? Get on with it! Time waits for no man!”

​​Origin

The modern idiom “time waits for no man” has a long history, as does its extended version, “time and tide wait for no man”.

This saying has been in use since at least the thirteenth century, when the German St Marher used a version of it. The original English version was “the tide abides for, tarrieth for no man, stays no man, tide nor time tarrieth no man”.

This version morphed into “tide nor time tarrieth no man“, and at some point, the modern English version emerged.

While the idiom is now no longer used all that commonly — and there will certainly be readers who have never heard it before — “time waits for no man” has clearly stood the test of time.

In modern times, we’d be more likely to simply tell someone who is wasting time to “get on with it” or “hurry up”, but if you are trying to express yourself poetically, the idiom “time waits for no man” can be useful. It’s full version, “time and tide wait for no man”, is even more powerful.

Phrases Similar to Time Waits for No Man

Plenty of other sayings convey the idea that stopping time is inevitable. Among them are:

  • There’s no time like the present — meaning right now is the best time to do something.
  • Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes — this famous Ben Franklin quote also shows that time marches on.
  • Time catches up to all of us — meaning we all get old.
  • Make hay while the sun rises — meaning to do something while you still can.

Phrases Opposite to Time Waits for No Man

Phrases indicating that second chances do exist and that you don’t always need to be productive include:

  • The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
  • Take a breather.
  • Slow down.

​What Is the Correct Saying?

The correct saying, “time waits for no man”, reminds people that the passing of time is inevitable and now is the best time to take action.

​​Ways People May Say Time Waits for No Man Incorrectly

“Time waits for no man” is not incorrect, but it is an abbreviated version of a longer idiom; “time and tide wait for no man”. This version is more vivid and expressive.

​​Acceptable Ways to Phrase Time Waits for No Man

You can use the phrase “time waits for no man” to urge someone to complete a task, or even to talk about how much someone has aged. This idiom can be used any time you are talking about the inevitable passage of time.

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