English Idiom – Tread water.

Meaning – To be active but not make progress towards something. To put time and effort into something, but not get much of a result. If you are treading water you are working towards a goal without making any substantial progress. Despite trying, you are making little or no progress.

The literal meaning of tread water is ‘to stay floating upright in water by moving your feet in a walking or cycling motion‘. If you are treading water while in a body of water you are maintaining your position, but not moving in any direction.

If you are facing choppy waters you are facing difficult times ahead.


When could you use this idiom?

  • You feel like your job is meaningless and you are just waiting for your paycheck at the end of each month.
  • A person is trying to improve their language skills, but they are not getting any better.
  • In the stock market your shares are staying the same value and you are seeing no profit.


  • “I’ve been learning English for a long time, but I’m just treading water. I need to find a new way to study!”

In The News:

Coronavirus: Stocks tread water as recovery signs offset virus fears


  • Is there an idiom like this in your country?

What is an idiom?

An idiom is a word or phrase that is not taken literally.  An idiom is an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its individual words, but has a separate meaning of its own.

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