Third Wheel: What Is the Meaning of this Popular Idiom?

The idiom “third wheel” is used by many people in conversation and writing. Although they may know what it means, they don’t know where it comes from and why it became such a popular phrase. Here you can find both so the next time you hear or see the phrase being used, you can call yourself more knowledgeable than most. You will also discover some sentences and conversation examples, along with some alternate ways to say the phrase in conversation.

Third Wheel

Third Wheel Meaning

The phrase “third wheel” is used to describe a third person that typically tags along with a couple. This couple is often romantically involved with one another and the third person is just coming along. This person is quite often thought of by the couple as a burden on their relationship and being able to spend one-on-one time with each other.

Origin of this idiom

The phrase “third wheel” is derived from the phrase “fifth wheel.” “Fifth wheel” is a term that dates back to at least the 17th-century when people traveled by horse and carriage. Carriages typically had four wheels and a fifth wheel was carried aboard the carriage as a spare. This fifth wheel was considered cumbersome and often unnecessary by some. However, not all carriages at the time had four wheels. There was a two-wheel variety known as a one-horse shay. These carriages did not carry a “third wheel” but the phrase followed anyway where a spare would be thought of in the same way.

The phrase continued to be used and transferred to describing a third person in a relationship who feels uncomfortable or who makes a couple feel uncomfortable when they tag along with a couple everywhere they go.

“Third Wheel” Examples

Example Sentences

  • Sally and Jeremiah are often uncomfortable on their dates when Kelly comes along as a third wheel.
  • Make sure to leave your best friend at home when going out on a date; a third wheel is never a good thing.

Example Conversations

A discussion between a father and son.

  • Son: I am taking Kat out on our first date tonight.
  • Father: You want me to tag along?
  • Son: NO! I don’t think having my father as a third wheel would make a good impression.
  • Father: You are probably right.

A discussion between co-workers.

  • Co-worker 1: I would like Greg to come along with us, Brian.
  • Co-worker 2: Why? It is just the two of us working on this project. Greg would just be a third wheel.
  • Co-worker 1: I know it is just the two of us, but I think Greg’s input could be quite beneficial.

Alternatives to “Third Wheel”

The term “third wheel” could be replaced with other synonymous terms or words. Some of the alternative words or terms you could use in its place include:

  • Deadwood
  • Hanger-on
  • Tag-along

Third Wheel Meaning | Image

Third Wheel