20 Water Idioms with Meanings and Examples

Water is more than just a vital resource for all life; it’s also a rich source of inspiration for many expressions in the English language. Our everyday conversations are peppered with water idioms that we often use without a second thought. These phrases have seeped into the fabric of our language, and we might find ourselves using them to describe a variety of situations, regardless of whether they actually involve water.

What Are Water Idioms?

Water idioms are phrases in the English language that use water or water-related concepts to convey a message that’s often completely unrelated to water itself. We use these expressions metaphorically to add color and imagination to our conversations.

Water Idioms in English ( with Meanings and Examples)

Here’s a brief rundown of different categories of water idioms with examples:

Emotions and Relationships:

  • Smooth sailing – When everything is going well.
  • To be in deep water – To be in trouble or a difficult situation.

Money and Business:

  • To make a splash – To attract a lot of attention.
  • Money down the drain – Wasting money on something with no return.

Silence and Secrets:

  • Hold water – When an argument or idea is sound or logical.
  • Spill the beans – To reveal a secret.

Difficulty and Ease:

  • Like water off a duck’s back – Criticism that doesn’t have any effect.
  • To test the waters – To try something out to see if it will be successful.

Water Idioms

Water Idioms with Meanings

Idiom Meaning
Testing the waters Trying something out to see how it is received or how it will work
Water under the bridge Past events that are no longer considered important or worth worrying about
Like water off a duck’s back Criticism or insults that do not affect someone at all
In hot water In trouble or in a difficult situation
Keep your head above water Managing to survive, especially financially, or managing to keep up with work or responsibilities
Pour cold water on To criticize or stop something that some people are enthusiastic about
Make a splash To get a lot of public attention or to impress people greatly
Fish out of water Someone being in a situation that they are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with
Blood is thicker than water Family relationships and loyalties are the strongest and most important ones
Water over the dam Similar to “water under the bridge,” it refers to events that have already happened and cannot be changed
To throw cold water on To discourage or express disapproval, thereby dampening enthusiasm or preventing an action.
To make waves To cause a disturbance or controversy, often by challenging the status quo.
To come hell or high water To do something no matter what obstacles or difficulties may arise.
Dead in the water Unable to function or proceed; stuck without any progress or momentum.
To take to something like a duck-to-water To adapt to a new environment or situation with ease and natural skill.
To be in deep water To be in a difficult, troublesome, or serious situation.
To water down To weaken or dilute something, often reducing its effectiveness or intensity.
To swim with the sharks To operate in a risky or potentially dangerous environment, especially in business.
To sink or swim To either fail or succeed by one’s own efforts in a challenging situation.

Water Idioms with Examples

To hold waterHis alibi doesn’t hold water; there are just too many inconsistencies in his story.

Idiom Example Sentence
Testing the waters Before fully committing to the project, she’s testing the waters with a small pilot study.
Water under the bridge They had their disagreements in the past, but it’s all water under the bridge now.
Like water off a duck’s back Criticism just rolls off him like water off a duck’s back; he never lets it get to him.
In hot water After missing the deadline, Jake found himself in hot water with his boss.
Keep your head above water Despite the financial difficulties, they managed to keep their head above water.
Pour cold water on The committee poured cold water on the proposal, citing numerous impracticalities.
Make a splash The new tech startup made a splash in the industry with its innovative approach.
Fish out of water Moving to the big city, he felt like a fish out of water, unused to the urban hustle.
Blood is thicker than water No matter what happens, she always stands by her family—blood is thicker than water.
Water over the dam He realized that arguing about past mistakes was like worrying about water over the dam.
To throw cold water on Whenever I have a new idea, my brother seems to throw cold water on it.
To make waves She’s the kind of person who likes to make waves and challenge the status quo.
To come hell or high water I will finish this marathon, come hell or high water.
Dead in the water Without the lead actor, the film project was dead in the water.
To take to something like a duck-to-water He took to his new job like a duck to water, never missing a beat.
To be in deep water After the scandal was revealed, the politician found himself in deep water.
To water down They watered down the report so as not to offend anyone.
To swim with the sharks Starting a business in that competitive market is like swimming with the sharks.
To sink or swim It was her first performance, and she knew it was time to sink or swim.

Popular Water Idioms

Water Under the Bridge

When we say something is “water under the bridge,” we mean that it’s in the past and shouldn’t affect the present or future. It’s like saying let’s forgive and forget. It’s a way to acknowledge that while something happened, it’s no longer relevant or worth holding onto any negative feelings about it.

Usage: Often used in personal contexts to refer to moving past disagreements or conflicts.

For Example:

  • “Yes, we had our disagreements, but that’s all water under the bridge now.”
  • “They used to compete for the same job, but now that they both have great careers, it’s water under the bridge.”

Like Water off a Duck’s Back

The expression “like water off a duck’s back” illustrates the ease with which some individuals can shrug off criticism or negative remarks.  This idiom paints a vivid picture of how water simply rolls off the waterproof feathers of a duck, suggesting that any negative feedback given to a person just as easily rolls off them, without causing any harm or distress.


  • To convey resilience: We use this idiom to describe someone who is not easily upset or affected by negative comments.
  • To emphasize emotional strength: It’s a gentle way to acknowledge someone’s strength in facing adversity.

For Example:

  • “Despite the harsh reviews, the artist remained confident; the critiques were like water off a duck’s back.”
  • “Our coach always told us to take the opposing team’s taunts like water off a duck’s back.”

To Be in Hot Water

If we say someone is “in hot water,” we’re using a metaphorical expression that means they’re in trouble or facing a difficult situation. A common variant is “to get into hot water.”

Usage: We use this phrase in both formal and informal settings.

For example:

  • “Our team found themselves in hot water after missing the project deadline.”
  • “I was in hot water when I forgot our anniversary.”

When using “to be in hot water,” it’s important we convey the seriousness of the situation without implying physical danger. It’s a colorful way for us to acknowledge someone’s predicament and empathize with their stress or discomfort.

To Pour Cold Water on Something

The phrase “pouring cold water on something” serves as a colorful metaphor for expressing discouragement or dampening enthusiasm. Imagine the excitement of organizing a sunny day picnic, only to have someone caution against potential rain, casting a pall over the cheerful anticipation.


  • Conversations: It can quickly signify someone’s skepticism. If a friend proposes a spontaneous road trip, but someone expresses concerns about the travel risks, they’re seen as pouring cold water on the idea.
  • Meetings or Discussions: When one presents an innovative idea, and others focus on the potential challenges rather than the benefits, they’re metaphorically pouring cold water on the enthusiasm.
  • Writing or Speeches: An author or speaker may use this idiom to suggest that a response or reaction was notably discouraging.

For Example:

  • “We were all excited about the new project, but the manager poured cold water on it by highlighting the budget constraints.”
  • “As soon as I mentioned my travel plans, my parents poured cold water on the idea, citing safety concerns.”

To Make Waves

When we use the idiom “to make waves,” we’re usually referring to someone who is causing a disturbance or creating a significant impact in a particular situation. It often implies initiating change that may not always be welcomed by everyone.

Usage: It often implies disrupting the status quo or challenging existing norms and can have either a positive or negative connotation depending on the context.

For Example:

  • Our new team member isn’t afraid to make waves with her groundbreaking proposals.
  • The new policy is bound to make waves among the employees, but it may lead to better productivity.

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