'Turn Over a New Leaf': Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on September 22, 2023

Have you ever heard the expression 'turn over a new leaf?' It's a peculiar saying but very useful and commonly used. In this article, you'll learn what it means, how to use it, and where it came from.

If you want the short version, this is what it means:

  • To turn over a new leaf means to start fresh, change your ways, and start doing things better.

What Does 'Turn Over a New Leaf' Mean?

'Turn over a new leaf' is an idiom, which means it can't be interpreted literally. When we say this, we don't mean that we are going to go out into the garden, find a leaf and turn it over. The thing about idioms is that you can't deduct their meaning from the individual words; you just have to learn and remember them.

This particular idiom refers to a person changing their behavior for the better. If a behavior has been bothering you or you want to pick up a new habit, you can say you're turning a new leaf. Imagine, for example, that you want to start cooking more at home; you might say:

I usually eat takeaway meals but I'm turning over a new leaf; starting this week I'm going to cook three meals per week.

The dictionary defines it this way:

to begin a new and improved course of behaviour

Because the idiom contains a verb ('turn'), you might see it in several different forms, including:

  • the infinitive/present indefinite ('turn over a new leaf')
  • the present participle ('turning over a new leaf')
  • the past indefinite/past participle ('turned over a new leaf')

It is very uncommon for it to be used in the third person singular ('turns over a new leaf')

Where Does 'Turn Over a New Leaf' Come From?

This expression dates back to the 16th century, right at the beginning of the printing industry, when book pages were called 'leaves.' When you turn over the page of a book, what do you get? You get a whole new set of words. It's still the same story, but it's an evolved version. What came in the previous pages is behind you now, and you can look forward to seeing how the rest of the story unfolds.

Or you might imagine that you're writing the story in a book full of blank pages. The book this far is full of words, but when you turn over the page, there's a blank page in front of you, and you can write anything you like on it.

The expression didn't always imply a positive change; it just meant that you left the past behind and started over. But nowadays, it's assumed when you say you're turning over a new leaf that it's a change for the better.

Examples in Sentences

Now we've covered the meaning of this idiom and its origins, let's take a look at some example sentences that use it. I'll show you examples of all its forms, including the infinitive, present indefinite, the present participle, the past indefinite, and the past participle.

I think his teacher finally persuaded him to turn over a new leaf and start doing his homework.

He always says he is turning over a new leaf but I'll believe it when I see it.

We can see the changes in his behavior; his is definitely turning over a new leaf.

I really want to turn over a new leaf but changing your habits is difficult.

After her nervous breakdown she turned over a new leaf.

They have turned over a new leaf since they moved to NYC.

He was pretty addicted to his devices but he's turned over a new leaf now.

You can turn over a new leaf when you start your new job.

We all have the possibility to turn over a new leaf every day.

My brother and I didn't get along growing up but we've turned over a new leaf.

Other Ways to Say 'Turn Over a New Leaf'

Due to the richness of the English language, there is always more than one way to say something. The expression 'turn over a new leaf' is no exception.

Here are just some of the other ways you can say it:

  • to change course
  • to start afresh
  • to change track
  • to rethink/remodel
  • to have second thoughts
  • change your ways
  • reform
  • change
  • improve
  • amend

Concluding Thoughts

So now you know what this famous idiom means and how to use it. To summarize, when you turn over a new leaf, you make a decision to change your circumstances or your behavior in favor of a new and improved version.

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:
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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