‘Silver Lining’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on June 26, 2023

Did someone say to you 'silver lining' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

In short:

  • A 'silver lining' is something good that results from an otherwise negative event.

What Does 'Silver Lining' Mean?

A ‘silver lining’ is:

  • A positive aspect of an event that is otherwise mostly bad. 

When someone describes something as a silver lining, they're pointing to it as a sign of home in an otherwise gloomy or unfortunate situation. It is a bright prospect when other things aren't going well.

Where Does This Idiom Come From?

With many idioms, it’s hard to pinpoint the precise point in history when they originated. However, with the ‘silver lining,’ it’s known that the phrase comes from John Milton’s poem “Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle” from 1634. John Milton was a seventeenth-century English poet and intellectual, the famed author of Paradise Lost, and often cited as one of the greatest poets of all time.

In the poem, we find the following passage:

I see ye visibly, and now believe

That he, the Supreme Good, to whom all things ill

Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,

Would send a glistering guardian, if need were

To keep my life and honor unassailed.

Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud

Turn forth her silver lining on the night?

I did not err; there does a sable cloud

Turn forth her silver lining on the night,

And casts a gleam over this tufted grove.

If you’ve ever heard someone say, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining,’ you now know that this phrase is a reference to the poem by Milton.

Other Examples of This Idiom in Text

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we find a number of examples of this idiom being used in the nineteenth century.

In The Heroine of Scutari and Other Poems by Edward R. Campbell, we find two instances of the phrase:

“It was a beautiful saying of one in affliction: “Though the clouds be dark, I can see a silver lining upon them all.”

And for the second example from Campbell’s book of poems:

“And so, so ever now,

Whate’er the cloud, the light of love is shining;

And though a darkness rests upon its brow,

It wearsa silver lining.”

We find another instance of the phrase in the 1853 novel Ruth by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell:

“The work they were commanded to do was not here; the might gathering-place lay eastward, immeasurable leagues, and on they went, chasing each other over the silent earth, now black, now silver-white at one transparent edge, now with the moon shining like HOpe through their darkest centre, now again with a silver lining; and now, utterly black, they sailed lower in the lift, and disappeared behind the immovable mountains; they were rushing in the very direction in which Ruth had striven and struggled to go that afternoon; they, in their wild career, would soon pass over the very spot where he (her world’s he) was lying sleeping, or perhaps not sleeping, perhaps thinking of her.”

For a final example, we look to an 1842 edition of The Mother’s Magazine:

“I have one more word to say. In the ordinances of religion the cloud has a silver lining– in what we do as religious beings. I have said a word or two on that already, in speaking of this most wonderful of all palaces, the Bible, for it is a wonderful palace. I have no objection to your gilding its edges if you will thumb them well; I have no objection to your binding it in morocco if you will use the morocco well. Palaces should have great gateways; a gorgeous building should have a gorgeous entrance.”

Examples of This Idiom In Sentences

How would this idiom be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • “I’m really sick of all the meetings we have at the office. The only silver lining is that they sometimes provide donuts.”
  • “I know you’re feeling lonely right now, but you have to remember that every cloud has a silver lining. Maybe it’s best for you to be alone right now– there’s a lot of value to be found in solitude!”
  • “I know you hate traveling on planes, but the silver lining is that you’ll be able to see your grandparents once we land!”
  • “The only silver lining to this cold is that I can lie in bed all day without feeling guilty for once.”
  • “This entire experience has been so nerve-wracking. The only silver lining is that it will be over soon!”

Final Thoughts About 'Silver Lining'

A ‘silver lining’ is a positive aspect of an otherwise negative event. This idiom comes from a seventeenth-century John Milton poem. Another phrase, “every cloud has a silver lining,” references this poem by Milton.

You can describe something as a ‘silver lining’ when it is a good occurrence related to a bad situation. For example, if you were let go from your job, you would likely interpret this as a terrible event. However, if it freed you up to spend more time with your family while you were looking for a new job, you could describe this surprisingly positive aspect of the event as a ‘silver lining.’

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

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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