'Roll with the Punches': Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on November 12, 2023

If you've ever heard the expression 'roll with the punches,' you might have wondered what it means. In this article, we'll learn the meaning of this common idiom, its origins, and how to use it in a sentence.

If you just want the short version, here it is:

  • To 'roll with the punches' is to adapt and go with the flow when faced with difficulties or setbacks.

What Does 'Roll with the Punches' Mean?

The idiom "roll with the punches" means to adapt to difficult situations or setbacks, especially in a flexible and resilient manner. It's a perfect example of how idioms can't be interpreted literally. Indeed, when somebody tells you to 'roll with the punches,' they aren't expecting you to get on the floor and start rolling around... with some punches. What would that even mean?

It implies being able to handle challenges, setbacks, or unexpected changes with a positive and flexible attitude rather than being overwhelmed or defeated by them. It's about navigating through adversity with resilience and adaptability.

Imagine, for example, that your friend is moving to a new city and they are a little anxious about it.

You might say to them:

Moving to a new city can be challenging, but it's important to roll with the punches, meet new people, and embrace the different opportunities that come your way.

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

Where Does 'Roll with the Punches' Come From?

The exact origin of idioms can be challenging to pinpoint as they often evolve and become ingrained in language and culture. "Roll with the punches" is a phrase associated with boxing, and its figurative use in everyday language likely developed in the early to mid-20th century.

The expression draws on the imagery of a boxer moving with the force of a punch to reduce its impact, and this idea likely made its way into more general usage as people sought metaphors for coping with life's challenges. The exact date of the idiom's first usage is debated, but some sources think the figurative use became popular halfway through the 20th century.

The literal use in boxing, however, was used long before that. For example, an article in a 1903 Boston Daily Globe reads:

He repeated the blow a few seconds later and also clubbed Johnson on the cheek… Johnson allowed his head to roll with the punches and was not hurt. Johnson’s round. 

Examples in Sentences

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

She always rolls with the punches, never letting setbacks affect her positive attitude.

While there are certainly challenges at work, he is rolling with the punches and staying focused on finding solutions.

Having faced numerous obstacles, they have learned to roll with the punches in their entrepreneurial journey.

In the face of adversity, he rolled with the punches and emerged stronger than ever.

She was rolling with the punches during the difficult negotiations, maintaining a calm demeanor.

By the time they reached retirement, my parents were used to rolling with the punches of life's uncertainties.

Even though challenges lie ahead, she will continue to roll with the punches and persevere.

Amidst the unexpected changes in the market, the organization decided to roll with the punches, adjusting its strategies to stay competitive. 

By the end of the project, the team will have rolled with the punches and successfully completed the task.

He rolls with the punches, demonstrating a remarkable ability to adapt to changing circumstances. 

Other Ways to Say 'Roll with the Punches'

There are plenty of other ways to tell someone to back their words up with action. They're great to use if you're looking for alternative phrases.

Here are some of them: 

  • Adapt to adversity
  • Go with the flow
  • Be flexible
  • Take things in stride
  • Adjust to setbacks
  • Weather the storm
  • Ride the waves

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article about this popular idiom. To summarize, when someone tells you to 'roll with the punches,' they mean that you shouldn't let negative or difficult circumstances put you off and that you should instead keep going. 

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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