'Keep Your Eyes Peeled': Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on October 13, 2023

If you're wondering what the phrase 'Keep your eyes peeled' means, you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll explore the meaning behind this popular idiom, as well as its possible origins and how to use it in a sentence.

But if you're just here for the short version, here it is:

  • To 'keep your eyes peeled' means to stay alert and pay attention because something might happen that you'll want to be aware of.

What Does 'Keep Your Eyes Peeled' Mean?

The phrase 'Keep your eyes peeled' is a perfect example of how idioms can't be interpreted literally. The words don't mean what they appear to mean. There's a hidden, metaphorical meaning which we need to decode.

Of course, if someone tells you to keep your eyes peeled, they don't mean you should actually remove the skin, which is the definition of the verb 'peel.' However, this definition can help us understand the intended meaning of this sentence. If the skin is covering your eyes, it means they are closed, and you can't see. If you 'peel' your eyes, the skin no longer covers them, and you can see. In other words, your eyes are open.

  • The idiom "keep your eyes peeled" means to be watchful, vigilant, or observant. When someone says, "Keep your eyes peeled," they are advising you to stay alert and pay attention to your surroundings, often because something might happen or change.  

Though it used to be used to tell someone they must stay very vigilant in anticipation of a dangerous situation, nowadays, it can be used a lot more casually just to tell someone to pay attention. For instance, a chocolate manufacturer might put out an ad telling its customers a new flavor is going to be released soon. They might say:

Keep your eyes peeled for our new chocolate orange flavor, soon to be found in a store near you.

Because there's a verb in this idiom ('keep'), you might see it appear in different forms, including:

Though 'peeled' is also a verb, it always stays in the past participle form, no matter the tense of the sentence.

You can also use different pronouns, such as:

  • 'keep her eyes peeled'
  • 'keep our eyes peeled'
  • 'keep their eyes peeled'

Where Does 'Keep Your Eyes Peeled' Come From?

While we do know that this idiom started out as an expression to remind someone to be on high alert in order to anticipate danger, we don't know exactly how or when this started.

One theory traces it back to the time of sailing ships, where sailors had to be on high alert in case pirates attacked them. Allegedly, they used this expression often to remind each other to stay vigilant.

Another theory relates to Sir Robert Peel, the man who established the Metropolitan Police Force in London. Back then, police officers were jokingly referred to as 'Peelers' or 'Bobbies.' What with police officers being required to remain vigilant as part of their job, some say it makes sense that the word 'peel' stuck. I think this explanation misses the mark, but I'll leave you to make up your own mind about it.

  • What we do know for sure is that it's been in use since the 1800s because that's when it started appearing in print.

Interestingly, it started out as 'Keep your eyes skinned,' and that variation is still in use today, although much rarer. In an 1831 public documents manuscript, we find the following quote:

"Keep your eyes skinned now," said the old trapper. We are now entering upon the most dangerous section of the trace, the war ground of the Panis, Oasages, and Kansas.

The other form appears in an 1852 issue of the Kenosha Telegraph newspaper:

Keep your eyes peeled for all their antics. 

Examples in Sentences

Now that we've covered the meaning of this idiom and its origins, here are some example sentences that use it. Since I mentioned earlier you can use various verb forms and pronouns, I will include examples that reflect that, including the past indefinite, third-person singular, and present participle.

While hiking in the forest, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for any wildlife.

The detective asked the team to keep their eyes peeled for any suspicious activity in the neighborhood.

As they explored the museum, they kept their eyes peeled for hidden details in the exhibits.

During the treasure hunt, the children were excitedly keeping their eyes peeled for clues.

While on the safari they told us to keep our eyes peeled for mountain lions.

As a security guard, he always keeps his eyes peeled for any unauthorized access.

Headhunters are always keeping their eyes peeled for new talent to bring into the team.

As a photographer, always keep your eyes peeled for interesting and unique shots.

The journalist kept her eyes peeled for any breaking news during the press conference.

Exploring the city's markets, the tourists kept their eyes peeled for local crafts and souvenirs.

Other Ways to Say 'Keep Your Eyes Peeled'

There are plenty of other ways to tell someone to remain vigilant and pay attention. They're great to use if you're looking for alternative phrases.

Here are some of them:

  • Watch this space.
  • Keep an eye out.
  • Stay on the lookout.
  • Be attentive.
  • Be on the alert.
  • Keep a lookout.
  • Stay aware.
  • Be observant.
  • Be on guard.

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article about this popular idiom. To summarize, when someone tells you to 'keep your eyes peeled,' they are just saying that you should watch carefully for someone or something.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more! 

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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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