Out of the blue (Words and phrases for unexpected events)

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by Kate Woodford

Many of the things that happen to us are expected or even planned but some are not. Some of these unexpected events are welcome while others are less so. In this post, we take a look at the words and phrases that we use to relate events that happen when we are least expecting them.

Starting with a really useful idiom, something that happens out of the blue is completely unexpected: Then one day, out of the blue, she announced she was leaving. Two very useful, less idiomatic, phrases with a similar meaning are all of a sudden and all at once. Both mean ‘suddenly and unexpectedly’: All of a sudden, she collapsed. / All at once there was a loud crashing noise.

An event that catches/takes you by surprise shocks or confuses you because it happens suddenly when you are not prepared for it: The strength of the storm caught many residents by surprise. A similar expression is to catch someone off guard: Her remark caught me off guard and I didn’t know how to respond. The expression to catch/take someone unawares has a similar meaning, but sometimes has the additional meaning of ‘to embarrass someone because they are not prepared’: A gust of wind caught me unawares and scattered my papers everywhere.

Someone or something that comes out of nowhere or from nowhere appears suddenly and unexpectedly: Suddenly, out of nowhere a huge, grey dog bounded up to us. A similar expression is out of thin air: I hadn’t seen him approaching. He seemed to appear out of thin air.

A phrase that people sometimes use after reporting a sudden and unexpected event is just like that. It emphasizes how shocking the event was: That afternoon, he left the house and never returned, just like that.

Moving on to single words, bad things (for example, earthquakes, disasters and tragedies) strike when they suddenly and unexpectedly happen: Halfway through the flight, disaster struck. / The earthquake struck at 3 o’clock in the morning when most people were fast asleep.

If you spring something on someone, you suddenly and without warning  announce it: I’ll give you warning of any tests. I won’t just spring them on you. Things that spring up, suddenly and unexpectedly start to exist: Cafes and other small businesses keep springing up along this street. Another phrasal verb in this area is turn up. Unlike many words and phrases in this post, this has a positive meaning! An opportunity that turns up becomes available unexpectedly: This job turned up just when I needed it.


30 thoughts on “Out of the blue (Words and phrases for unexpected events)

  1. Swapna

    Short and crisp write up of the connected synonyms of the idiom. Very useful and retainable piece of information.

  2. Nelson Doc

    Dear teacher Kate. Thanks for such an interesting topic. I appreciate that. Greetings from Brazil 🙂

    1. Ejay

      Kate I’m curious is this article related to someone or something an event maybe?& If someone who & why? I ask you this as I have been exspiriancing like wise activity’s & feel something ‘OUT OF THE BLUE’ or ‘UNEXSPECTED BUT EXSPECTED’ is going to come my way if this makes any sense?

    2. tuffy

      Really , it is the most important tool to learning ever and, with wise person like you Kate can make it better. God Bless your life !


    Life is more enjoyable, enjoy full, the eye is very beautiful & thoughtful philosophy. Thanks a lot.

  4. F Hossain

    Dear Kate,
    Thank you for producing such a fabulous piece of writing. Expecting a writing on the upcoming World Cup Football, which should contain words, phrases, idioms etc, used to describe the game.

  5. Lovely piece of work. Lots of people would have used most of the idions but possibly would not have recognised the common thread running through them. Shows the power of language. Thank you for drawing up the larger picture.

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