The ball’s in your court now: idioms with ‘ball’

Wachira Khurimon / EyeEm / Getty Images

by Liz Walter

There are a surprising number of idioms that contain the word ‘ball’. This post looks at some of the most useful ones.

It seems appropriate to start with the idiom get/start the ball rolling, which means to do something to make an activity start or to encourage other people to do something similar to you:

I’m hoping we can all share our ideas today. Who would like to start the ball rolling?

If we say that the ball is in someone’s court, we mean that they need to do something before any progress can be made, and if we put the ball in someone’s court, we make sure that they are responsible for whatever happens next:

I’ve offered to pay for her driving lessons, but the ball’s in her court now.

Put the ball firmly in her court by asking her to call if she wants to meet again.

If you pick up/take the ball and run with it, you accept an idea or a plan and try enthusiastically to make progress with it:

He suggested the change, and politicians picked up the ball and ran with it.

On the other hand, someone who drops the ball makes a mistake that stops something from succeeding, often by being careless. This idiom is common in informal US English:

We’re all relying on you, so it’s important you don’t drop the ball.

Someone who is on the ball is alert and understands things quickly:

To be a successful investor, you really need to be on the ball because markets can change very quickly.

If someone plays ball, they do what someone asks them to do, especially so that they can achieve something together. This idiom in informal and is often used in negative sentences:

We wanted to replace the damaged car, but the insurance company refused to play ball.

Finally, if we say that something is a whole new ballgame, we mean that it is a totally different situation, often a more difficult or extreme one:

I’ve run several 5k races, but a marathon is a whole new ballgame!

Idioms are a good way to make your English more interesting. I hope you will find some here that you can use!

24 thoughts on “The ball’s in your court now: idioms with ‘ball’

    1. Liz Walter

      Did you ask me this before? Someone did! I’m afraid I don’t know any words for this, apart from embers, which are bits of glowing coals or wood at the end of a fire.

  1. Thank you so much, these idioms help me to increase my English level of proficiency, due to, it contributes to deeply express without using common-basic English expressions.

    I really love your post.

  2. Adelaide Dupont

    It seemed in Theatre Studies especially where Improv was concerned we were always picking up balls and running with them.

    More than would be done in a sporting context!

  3. Stefanka Tsaneva

    I quite like your article on” the ball “idioms as I am very much into learning more and more of them. I am a passionate lover of them but am I right thinking that there is a growing tendency to avoid using the m in favour of phrasal verbs? As I am a non-native speaker and out of touch with the living language I would appreciate your opinion on the matter. The ball is in your court now.

    1. Liz Walter

      I’m not sure whether phrasal verbs are increasing, but my impression is that young people use idioms rather less than us oldies!



  5. Aswathi

    Hey Liz! Thanks for the post. Your blogs are so helpful. Reading these posts is the best way to improve one’s english communication.

  6. Thanks for letting me know a way to tell my parents I wasn’t watching useless stuff on Youtube 🤣 (Most of the idioms I see from your articles that I know come from binge-watching Youtube-)

  7. mimi

    My millenial 43 year old daughter is trying to find her wedding dress from 20 years ago and asked me if I had it at my house. I do not have it in my home as I have searched for it and believe that I did give it back to her when I moved five years ago. I had it because I was storing it for her because her home was very small and I wanted to help her. Now she can’t find it in her own home and thinks that I may still have it I don’t I responded very nicely saying “the ball is in your court” now she came back with a snarky remark saying what does that mean? Maybe she doesn’t know what it means and she is out of touch with Vocabulary and shouldn’t have taken offense at my innocent response. I wasn’t looking to pick a fight with her. Thoughts?

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