bide one's time = Wait quietly for a good opportunity to do something (example)

1. How do you determine/deduce the apt meaning / definition (de novo) ? Please explain the steps, thought processes; I’d like to try to resolve this myself in the future?

2. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bide+time does contain '2a. To wait; tarry.' But is 'wait' the right choice?

3. What about Definition 2b? 'To stay in time' makes sense?

4. Or definition 1? 'To remain' in time makes sense also?

  • In 2) you gave the definitions of "bide", not "bide your time" which is an idiom (def. To wait for further developments.)
    – user3169
    Oct 20, 2014 at 22:52
  • The word bide has no Modern English definition. The meaning is now associated with the entire phrase bide (one)'s time.
    – user230
    Oct 20, 2014 at 23:42

2 Answers 2


In re: your questions 2 through 4, first note that "biding one's time" is an idiom, and there is no guarantee the meaning of an idiom can be deduced from its component words, and in general no good way to identify an idiom from its form (i.e. to even know you're dealing with an idiom in the first place).

That said, from the very link you provided:

       definition of "bide" and "bide one's time"

In re: your question 1:

  1. How do you determine/deduce the apt meaning / definition (de novo)?

In the general case:

  1. context (reasoning)
  2. experience (pattern matching)
  3. and a good dictionary (evidence)

Sorry, there's no magic shortcut.


I doubt that most native English speakers learn a dictionary definition of "bide" before understanding "bide one's time". First, many native English speakers never learn the idiom "bide one's time". Second, I expect that (of the native English speakers who do learn the idiom) most learned it by reading something like this:

He was biding his time, waiting for his ship to come in.


Jack was patient. Where other men would get frustrated and give up, he bided his time.

or by singing a hymn:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;

The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

So I would expect many people to learn the meaning of "bide" from an implicit definition given near a usage of "bide one's time'.

  • 1
    @LePressentiment -- You may have noticed that the answers to many of your questions match implicit definitions given in your example quotations.
    – Jasper
    Oct 20, 2014 at 23:32
  • 1
    I expect all adult native speakers to understand "I'm just biding my time".
    – user230
    Oct 20, 2014 at 23:43
  • @snailboat -- That sounds like a good bar bet. What resources are there for checking what fraction of native English speakers understand any particular idiom?
    – Jasper
    Oct 20, 2014 at 23:50
  • +1. Thank you. I'll try to dredge up the 'implicit definitions' but they easily elude my rudimentary English...
    – user8712
    Oct 30, 2014 at 9:55
  • A much-quoted phrase from a famous movie, The Big Lebowski: "The dude abides." Abiding and biding have the connotation of patience.
    – Stew C
    Feb 22, 2017 at 22:33

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