Up in the Air – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a casual way to tell someone that everything remains undecided? You could say that “it’s all up in the air.” Dive into the meaning and origin of this interesting phrase in this post — and discover how to use it.


The English idiom “up in the air” means that something is still uncertain or undecided.

This can be positive or negative. “Up in the air” could mean that all your options are open, but it could also mean that you have no idea whether you will succeed in reaching your goals.

Example Usage

Context often tells you more than a simple definition. These example sentences should give you a better idea about what “up in the air” means, and how to use the expression yourself:

  • “I put an offer in on that house, but everything is still up in the air right now.”
  • “His future is up in the air after that merger. He may lose his job, but he could also get a promotion.”
  • “The fate of the International Space Station is up in the air after Russia indicated it would pull out of the project.”


The idiom “up and the air” has emerged later than most commonly-used English idioms. Although nobody knows when the phrase first came into use, print references don’t date back further than the 1920s.

The phrase is most likely to refer to a coin toss. Coin tosses can help people decide between two options, depending on whether the coin lands tails-up or heads-up. The result remains, quite literally, “up in the air” until the coin lands.

The literary symbolism of air makes the expression even more exciting. Air is associated with freedom and opportunity, but also with indecisiveness and even mystery.

Just think of the idiom “head in the clouds” as an example — this refers to daydreaming, which may lead to opportunity, but also losing touch with reality. “Down to earth” is the opposite, and “feet on the ground” is another expression that indicates a reality-based worldview.

Nothing is certain while the decision or fate you are talking about remains “up in the air.” Everything changes once the outcome becomes clear.

Phrases Similar to Up in the Air

You can say “uncertain,” “undecided,” or “unclear” instead of “up in the air.” The following related idioms and phrases might also interest you:

  • It could go either way — there are two possible outcomes and you don’t know which one is more likely.
  • On the fence — you have not made a decision or chosen a side.
  • Sleep on it — in the face of uncertainty, you often gain more clarity after a good night’s sleep.
  • In two minds — if you’re in two minds about something, you haven’t decided which option to choose.

Phrases Opposite to Up in the Air

The opposite of something that’s “up in the air” is something certain. You could say:

  • As certain as death and taxes.
  • Dead sure.

What Is the Correct Saying?

The correct saying is “up in the air.” This idiom means that something is undecided or unclear. All options remain open.

Ways People May Say Up in the Air Incorrectly

People often use the phrase “up in the air” when discussing situations that have suddenly become uncertain — like career prospects, business opportunities, or political decisions.

It is easy to get the impression that “up in the air” always has a negative meaning. It would be incorrect to assume that “up in the air” essentially means that everything is doomed, though! The expression simply indicates uncertainty.

Acceptable Ways to Say Up in the Air

You can say that something is “up in the air” when the outcome is unclear. You could also invite someone to leave the decision “up in the air” until a future date, to show that you’re not ready to make a definitive agreement ye

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