‘On Thin Ice’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Shanea Patterson, updated on April 10, 2023

Has someone told you that you’re ‘on thin ice’? Are you unsure of what this means? We’ll go over the meaning and origin and provide examples of how to use the phrase in a sentence.

In short:

  • On thin ice’ means that you’re in a risky position or on your last strike.

Essentially, it means that you’re doing something that may have unpleasant consequences.

What Does ‘On Thin Ice’ Mean? 

On thin ice’ is a common American phrase that means you’re asking for trouble or you’re taking a risk.

  • It’s something people say when you’re on the verge of getting in trouble or they’re already in trouble.

You might hear an office manager say to an employee:

'You’re on thin ice. You need to get it together, or you’re going to be fired.'

People use the idiom mostly as a warning to correct their behavior or straighten up their acts somehow.

In a scene from the movie Role Models, Anson Wheeler (Seann William Scott) says to Ronnie Shields (Bobb’e J. Thompson):

'You’re on thin ice, buddy.'

He’s fed up with his little brother’s antics and lets him know it.

In season 9, episode 16 of The Office, David tells Andy:

'You are on very – Hey, very thin ice.'

Andy’s clearly in trouble at work, and David is letting Andy know that which Andy isn’t taking very seriously.

  • Basically, the phrase is meant to warn you that you're doing something that might have unwanted consequences.

Where Does ‘On Thin Ice’ Come From?

The idiom ‘on thin ice’ was first used in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, Prudence, published in 1841.

It read:

'In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.'

The phrase ‘on thin ice’ is a shortened version of the phrase ‘skating on thin ice,’ which means:

  • That you’re performing a dangerous activity because the ice could break at any moment, leaving you in an unfortunate position.

Once you’re submerged in that icy water, hypothermia can quickly set in and lead to death.

Examples of ‘On Thin Ice’ In Sentences

How would you use ‘on thin ice’ in a sentence?

Let’s see some examples:

  • We were skating on thin ice when we asked our parents to go to a party when we were already in trouble for skipping school last week.
  • I told my girlfriend, ‘You’re skating on thin ice,’ when I found out she was talking to other guys on social media. But there was no evidence of cheating, so I didn’t break up with her. We’ll have to have a long talk about trust.
  • Alisha is on thin ice at work after screaming at a customer on the phone. In her defense, she had just lost her grandmother and been told she was being evicted. So, maybe they’ll go easy on her.
  • I’m already on thin ice with my best friend, Georgia, after I missed an important event. She won’t even speak to me right now. I hate fighting with her like this.
  • We have been on thin ice with the management company since we broke the sink, and we’re behind on rent by three months. I don’t know what else to do to make extra money, but we need to try something.
  • I’m not sure exactly why I’m on thin ice with my clients. That story they published about me was entirely false! It’s all an illusion, a strategy by my biggest competitor.
  • I’m not sure why I’m on thin ice with you. We just talked a week ago, and everything was fine. What has happened since then? What have I done to offend you now?
  • Ever since he got back from his month-long vacation, Jesse has been on thin ice with the manager. Probably because he didn’t exactly get approval for his vacation, but he had time off to cover it. They’re still not happy with him, though.

Other Ways to Say ‘On Thin Ice’

What other ways could you say ‘on thin ice’?

Let’s see some examples:

  • Be at risk/risking it
  • Be vulnerable
  • Be unsafe
  • Be in jeopardy
  • Be out on a limb
  • Be open to attack
  • Be sticking your neck out
  • Taking a gamble
  • Asking for it
  • Inviting trouble
  • Asking for trouble
  • Chancing it
  • Taking a gamble
  • Taking a chance
  • Rolling the dice
  • Treading dangerously
  • Walking a tightrope
  • Running the risk/Running a risk
  • Sailing close to the wind
  • Playing with fire
  • Playing a dangerous game
  • Playing Russian roulette
  • Courting disaster
  • Going out on a limb
  • Being on the verge of getting in trouble
  • Testing someone’s patience
  • On your last chance
  • On your last strike
  • Running out of chances
  • Almost out of luck
  • About to mess up big/messing up
  • Not doing what you’re supposed to be doing

Concluding Thoughts on ‘On Thin Ice’

To recap, we learned the following:

  • ‘On thin ice’ means that you’re in a risky position or on your last strike.

Essentially, it means that you’re doing something that may have unpleasant consequences.

If you ever get stuck on anything, feel free to come back to review what you learned. We’ve also got a ton of other content on idioms you might see as you’re learning the language. Don’t be afraid to go browsing. After all, that’s what it’s there for. Go check it out.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.