‘Ebbs and Flows’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on October 28, 2022

Have you ever heard the idiom 'ebbs and flows' and wondered what it means? You're in the right place. This article will reveal the definition of the idiom and how to use it in a sentence.

In short, saying that something ebbs and flows means it fluctuates constantly. Sometimes there's more; sometimes, there's less.

"What Does 'Ebbs and Flows' Mean?"

The idiom 'ebbs and flows' was initially used to talk about the sea's tides.

Sometimes the tide is low at sea (ebb), meaning that if you go in for a swim, the water remains shallow quite far out. Other times the tide is high (flow), meaning that the water gets deep pretty quickly.

In other words, it comes and goes. It rises and falls.

'Ebbs and flows' still gets used in this sense but can also be applied to other contexts. Politics, lifestyle, money, work… pretty much anything. All things in life ebb and flow. Sometimes there's a lot, and other times there's less.

Picture the ocean waves, how they rise and fall, and come and go. This will help you visualize the meaning of 'ebbs and flows.'

This idiom sometimes functions like a verb in a sentence and sometimes like a noun.

"Ebb And Flow" Examples

Now that you know what' ebbs and flows' means, let's look at some examples of the idiom used in a sentence so that you'll know how to use it yourself.

You have to learn to deal with the ebbs and flows of life because there are many of them, and they're totally normal.

I know it doesn't feel like it now, but money ebbs and flows. You'll get back on your feet.

Healing isn't linear; expect it to ebb and flow.

I'm beginning to figure out the ebbs and flows of traffic in NYC. For example, in the middle of the afternoon, you'll fly through the city, but between 6 and 8 pm, you could spend hours in traffic.

Our relationship has ebbed and flowed over time. Sometimes it's incredible, but there are periods when we fight a lot.

The storyline's quality ebbs and flows in this new series I've started watching.

Sales ebb and flow depending on the time of year. Right now, we're doing pretty well but last month was slow.

Notice that in the above examples, some sentences use 'ebb and flow' or 'ebbed and flowed' instead of 'ebbs and flows.' This is to ensure subject-verb agreement. Remember earlier when I said the idiom could function as a verb in a sentence?

For example, in the final sentence, 'sales' is third person plural, so there should be no 's' when conjugating the verb. That's why we remove the 's' at the end of 'ebbs and flows.'

Other Ways to Say 'Ebbs and Flows'

Here are some other words with a similar meaning to the idiom:

  • Comes and goes
  • Highs and lows
  • Fluctuates
  • Ups and downs
  • Rises and falls
  • Changes

That Concludes This Article on the Meaning of 'Ebbs and Flows'

I hope the meaning of the idiom is more apparent to you now. Remember, it refers to the fluctuations in different areas of life and can be used as a noun or a verb.

If you'd like to learn about even more English idioms, check out our Common Idioms and Figures of Speech blog.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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