ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How To Improve Your English - 10 Idioms About Death

Updated on January 28, 2019
Diana Grant profile image

A retired lawyer, I'm fascinated by words, nuances of meanings & ideas. I’ve always enjoyed reading, languages, & writing, including poetry

Talking About Death

This article will help you if you are learning English as a second language ( ESL or ESOL , TESOL or even TSL ) and, if English is your home language, I hope it will entertain you

Some of these English idioms are respectful and more formal, whilst others are less formal, or even humorous or unsympathetic.

There are many more expressions you can use when talking about death, but I have picked out just a few, to get you started on the path to mortality.

The Death Of Socrates (Being Given Poison Hemlock To Drink)

By Jaques Louis David (1748–1825)
By Jaques Louis David (1748–1825) | Source

Here Is A List Of The Various Ways You Can Describe Death Or Dying

I will explain in detail lower down the page how each expression is used, and in what circumstances it is most appropriate

1. To Die

2. To Pass Over

3. To Pass Away

4. To Snuff it

5. To Kick the Bucket

6. Picking Daisies

7. Six Feet Under

8. To Give up the Ghost

9. To Breathe His/Her Last Breath

10.To Go to Meet His/Her Maker

1. To Die -

This is the straightforward no-frills way of stating the event. You can say "he died last week", "he will die soon", or even "he wishes he could die".

When giving condolences to someone who has just died, you might say "I'm sorry to hear about your husband's death".

However, you need to be aware that some people are uncomfortable with speaking about someone's death - they seem to feel uneasy about being so direct, and don't like the word "death" mentioned in that context. It is therefore common to use a circumlocution, avoiding the words die and death altogether, and they would prefer to hear phrase No. 2 below.

But if you are talking about historical facts, it is in order to speak about death directly, and you might say "many people died in the hurricane".

You could also warn people about doing something dangerous, such as "if you play with guns, someone might die".

I'm not sure why there is a distinction between the way you talk about deaths in general and the way you would refer to someone personally known to you, but there just is a difference .

2. To Pass Away -

This is a respectful euphemism to avoid mentioning death or dying, as in "my aunt passed away last week".

You might also say of someone in hospital "he is expected to pass away soon". But you would NOT say "if you jump off the roof you might pass away".

It is very common when speaking of a loved one or giving condolences to write or say "I'm so sorry to hear that your husband passed away" - in fact this is the usual way of expressing it.

3. To Pass Over (Or To Pass Over To The Other Side) -

People might say "he passed over after a long illness".

I personally would not use this respectful expression, because it infers that you have knowledge or belief of the hereafter, and is slightly mystical. I would expect to hear this phrase spoken by deeply religious people, possibly of all denominations which believe in life after death, where dying is merely crossing the border between now and whatever comes next.

As with No. 2 above, you would not normally use this expression when stating historical facts or talking about the future.

Ophelia By John Everett Milais

4. To Snuff It -

As in "Where's her old man?"..."He snuffed it last year".

This is irreverent slang or humor, used generally in the past tense - you don't really hear of people currently snuffing it, or doing so in the future, so you would not say "he's snuffing it" in the way that you might say "he's dying" or "he will die".

This expression is a bit disrespectful, and you should not use it when talking to a bereaved person, although you might use it when talking to someone who is not emotionally involved.

If there is any doubt, don't use it.

5. To Kick The Bucket -

As in "He kicked the bucket a year ago".

Again, similarly to No. 4 above, this is a slightly disrespectful or humorous way of talking about dying and you should be careful where you use this slang phrase.

Picking Daisies

Daisies in my Garden
Daisies in my Garden | Source

6. Picking Daisies -

Similar to No. 4 and 5 above, but slightly gentler.

So if you say "He's picking daisies", it's perhaps a little humorous, but not disrespectful - more neutral, really.

7. Six Feet Under -

As in "He's six feet under". This refers to the standard depth for burying a corpse in a churchyard.

This expression is very informal, and is used humorously. You wouldn't use it when offering condolences or speaking of historical facts in a general way.

The Death Of Two English Princes - Princes In The Tower - Richard Northcote

8. To Give Up The Ghost -

As in "He gave up the ghost last year". A reference to his spirit leaving his body.

This expression is informal, but not necessarily humorous.

9. To Breathe One's Last Breath -

As in "He breathed his last breath last night". This expression is fairly formal, and virtually factual.

10. To Go To Meet One's Maker -

As in "He has gone to meet his Maker". This expression is fairly formal, and more likely to be used by someone religious.

A Video - Speaking English at Work

Take This Poll To Compare Your Idiomatic Knowledge With Other Readers:

Were you aware of all these idiomatic expressions about death, and how to use them in appropriate situations?

See results

Please Rate This Article To Say How Helpful You Found It

Cast your vote for 10 Idioms About Death

© 2013 Diana Grant

Let Me Know Whether This List Helped You, Or Whether You Enjoyed It (Although The Two Are Not Necessarily Mutually Exclusive)

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Diana Grant profile imageAUTHOR

      Diana Grant 

      3 years ago from London

      Thanks - it never ceases to amaze me how many different ways there are in English to say the same thing. I'm still learning and I'm in my fourth quartile of a century!

    • Diana Grant profile imageAUTHOR

      Diana Grant 

      3 years ago from London

      Thanks - I enjoyed writing it - I love talking about the meanings of words and phrases - I have all sorts of English dictionaries and thesauruses, including numerous different language dictionaries and phrasebooks

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      3 years ago from Templeton, CA

      I was already familiar with these, but I still found it interesting. I think it would be helpful to those who are learning English. I liked your examples of when each idiom is or is not appropriate.

    • Cheryl Green profile image

      Cheryl Green 

      5 years ago

      wow thank you for this article.this is very helpful

    • Diana Grant profile imageAUTHOR

      Diana Grant 

      6 years ago from London

      I think "Bite the big one" must be an American expression?

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 

      6 years ago from Texas USA

      When I saw this, the Goth in my had to pop in. Now, I've not heard picking daisies, but I have heard pushing up daisies. I took this to be rather tongue-in-cheek. Very amusing list. One I didn't see above, "... to bite the big one."

    • Diana Grant profile imageAUTHOR

      Diana Grant 

      6 years ago from London

      Thanks Billybuc - you've made my day - or should I say "love you to death"?

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love it. I love any article that is fresh and new and helpful. Well done!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)