‘Stab Someone In The Back’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on June 13, 2023

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

  • To ‘stab someone in the back’ means to betray them. If someone you trust does something to harm you intentionally, you could say that they ‘stabbed you in the back.’

What Does 'Stab Someone In the Back' Mean?

If someone uses the phrase to ‘stab someone in the back,’ they are referring to an act of treachery or betrayal. Another way to put it would be to say that ‘stabbing someone in the back’ means doing something hurtful or harmful to a person that trusted you.

To use this phrase, you can replace the word ‘someone’ with the proper noun or pronoun. You can also change the tense of the verb ‘stab’ to fit the statement you are making.

Here are some examples:

  • I can tell he’s going to ‘stab me in the back’
  • You’re acting like I’m ‘stabbing you in the back’
  • She said it felt like I ‘stabbed her in the back’

Let’s say that there are two friends that have known each other for a long time, Jim and John. Even though Jim knew that John had been madly in love with a woman named Sally for years, he asked her out anyway. John could say that Jim ‘stabbed him in the back,’ as this could be easily seen as a betrayal of their trust and friendship.

Where Does 'Stab Someone In the Back' Come From?

It’s unclear when the phrase ‘stab someone in the back’ first emerged, but it isn’t terribly hard to imagine how it came to be an idiom. After all, if someone stabs you in the back, it doesn’t just mean that they are harming you but that they approached you from behind.

  • This is historically not considered a valiant or noble way to fight another person, much like the notion of ‘sucker punching’ today. 

Though it’s hard to know exactly when this phrase was first used, themes of betrayal have been explored in literature for thousands of years. In the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar, for example, Brutus betrays Caesar by participating in his assassination– definitely a ‘stab in the back’!

Other famous works that incorporate betrayal as a major theme include:

  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Othello

Examples of 'Stab Someone In the Back' In Sentences

How would 'stab someone in the back' be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • “I really feel like he stabbed me in the back. He promised he would keep my secret, and then the next day in town, it was clear he had told everyone.”
  • “I’m sorry that you feel like he stabbed you in the back, but you honestly had it coming. It was a pretty amateur move to trust that guy.”
  • “She doesn’t care if you’re coming from a good place. What she cares about is that it feels like you stabbed her in the back. It doesn’t matter what your intentions were. It matters what you did.”
  • “I can’t believe he said that he thinks I’m stabbing him in the back. He has absolutely no sense of humor– it’s just a joke.”
  • “He said that the tables have turned. I stabbed him in the back, and now it’s his turn.”

Other Ways to Say 'Stab Someone In the Back'

What are some other words and phrases that, like ‘stab someone in the back,’ have to do with betrayal, treachery, and an untrustworthy person?

Here are some options:

  • Throw someone under the bus
  • Bite the hand that feeds you
  • Double-cross
  • Sell someone down the river
  • Two-faced
  • Playing both sides
  • Wolf in sheep’s clothing
  • Snake in the grass

Final Thoughts About 'Stab Someone In the Back'

To ‘stab someone in the back’ means to harm someone that trusted you. If you told your friend that you would keep a secret they told you, for example, and then you went and told everyone you knew, they might say that you ‘stabbed them in the back.’

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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