‘That Ship Has Sailed’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on May 30, 2023

Did you hear someone say the phrase 'that ship has sailed,' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

'That ship has sailed' is an idiom that means that an opportunity that was once present has now passed. Its origin comes from the literal meaning of the phrase-- if you showed up at port after a ship had already gone out to sea, you'd have missed the opportunity to board the boat and join the journey.

What Does 'That Ship Has Sailed' Mean?

'That ship has sailed' is a phrase that means that an opportunity has already passed.

You could use this expression, for example, if someone you know is talking about something that you know was once an opportunity but no longer is. This is a popular metaphor in everyday language that touches upon the fact that there are some things in life that you have to grab hold of when they are there. Once they're gone, they can't be reclaimed-- some opportunities are ultimately time-sensitive.

Where Does 'That Ship Has Sailed' Come From?

The idiom 'that ship has sailed' comes from the literal meaning of a ship leaving a port. People have been using ships as a major form of transportation and means of engaging in trade for thousands of years-- in fact, the earliest historical evidence of boats dates back to the 4th millennium BC in Egypt.

  • In some of the vastly organized societies that have existed throughout history, huge ships would depart the port at a specific time.
  • If people intended to board the ship and travel to the destination of the ship, they would need to board before it left.

However, if you arrived after the ship had already left, it would mean that you could no longer get aboard and be a part of the journey.

Over time, the literal meaning of describing a ship that has already sailed away morphed into a figurative expression referring to an opportunity that was once present but now lost.

Examples of 'That Ship Has Sailed' In Sentences

How would 'That Ship Has Sailed' be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • "While you were out having a great time, I've been here slaving away. You say you want to help out, but I've already done everything that needed to be done. That ship has sailed."
  • "I know that you want Mary back, Tom, but you have to accept that that ship has sailed."
  • "John showed up seven hours late and expected that we would all be happy to see him. We waited around for him all day, and he ruined the party. I told him that if he was expecting a warm welcome that that ship had sailed."
  • "Don't tell me that ship has sailed. You said that I would be able to get the deal if I made a decision by Tuesday night."
  • "I know he heard what I was saying, but that doesn't mean he was listening. I told him that ship has sailed, but he kept on beating the dead horse."
  • "Margot spilled the beans after I told her not to tell anyone. Now she expects me to trust her still. No way, that ship has sailed."

Other Ways to Say 'That Ship Has Sailed'

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'That Ship Has Sailed'?

Here are some options:

  • That train has left the station
  • Missed the boat
  • The window of opportunity has closed
  • That bird has flown
  • The die is cast
  • The moment has passed

Final Thoughts About 'That Ship Has Sailed'

"That ship has sailed' is a very common expression that is used to indicate that an opportunity is no longer attainable. Historically, the phrase was used literally to describe a ship that had already left port-- if you showed up too late, you wouldn't be able to join the voyage.

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!

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:
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.

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.