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When I meet some phrases with "hit", I often have trouble in understanding the meaning of this word. For example, "hit the bed", "hit the book", "hit the spot", "hit up for" and so on. I know the basic meaning, that means beat, but I can't get these phrases if I don't look them up in the dictionary. The word seems to have no fixed meaning, so how could I feel it's meaning? How to use it to make sentences? I hope someone could help with the problem.

  • You need to learn these phrases. Few people explicitly memorize them. Typically you pick them up by reading or listening to enough English material. – CodesInChaos Dec 4 '14 at 11:16
  • "hit a wall" is another example of an idiom. It means running out of energy or willpower to complete or continue a task. "Hit" is a more versatile verb than it seems, at first, as you can see from the answers below. – aschultz Jun 23 '17 at 9:06
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In English, hit is a flexible verb that we use to mean "ask," "act on," "complete," or "do." More importantly, it implies a certain level of force or the emphatic nature of the action. It can also carry a slightly negative connotation.

Uses with Emphasis

So you can go to bed, or you can "hit the bed" meaning you are so tired that you're going to basically fall into bed.

When something "hits the spot", it doesn't just fill you up. It was so good you're not only physically full, but mentally and emotionally. Something "hits the spot" when it was exactly what you wanted to eat, exactly how you wanted to eat it. Everything was basically perfect.

If you're going to "hit the books" it means you're going to sit down and study hard. It implies that you're putting forth a lot of effort to learn something.

If you "hit it off with someone" it means that you not only got along with the person, but you actually connected very well and had a good time.

If you're out to "hit the clubs," you're not just going to a club to hang out. You're going out to party hard.

And if you're going to "hit the road" or "hit the bricks" you don't just have to go, you had to leave five minutes ago. One thing is you can say to someone else "Come on, hit the road" or "Go hit the bricks" as a way of telling them to buzz off. Of the two "Hit the bricks" is a little stronger and more negative.

More Negative Connotations

If someone "hits you up for money," they're not just asking you for a few dollars, they're almost hustling you, or bugging you for money. It's the difference between "Hey, do you have a few dollars I can borrow" and "Dad, can I have some money please? please? please? please? please?"

Note: you can also "hit someone up for money," and that means you're going to ask them for money, but it still carries a sense being more emphatic in your request.

Someone who is "hitting the bottle" is not enjoying a drink, they are drinking to get drunk, and usually because they have a problem with alcohol or they're in a bad place in life. You'd never say to a friend "Let's go hit the bottle!" You'd only ever say "Man, since Jimmy's dog died he's really been hitting the bottle."

Miscellaneous There's a few other cases, like "taking a hit," which basically means taking a piece of something, usually drugs or alcohol, but that's about it. And if something "hits you hard" it affected you strongly, either positively or negatively depending on the situation.

There are two songs that jump to mind that have nothing to do with actually beating someone: Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," and Britney Spears "Hit Me Baby One More Time." Benatar's song is saying "No matter what you try, I'm going to be alright." Spears is saying "I need you, please let me see you again."

The best way to think about hit is it's a way to a shade of meaning in English without having to use a bunch of adverbs. I hope this has helped!

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    This is a stellar answer. I'll make one small addition: sometimes a native speaker will use one of these idioms flippantly, so that the "emphasis" may be conspicuously absent from the reality. For example, my son might say, "Dad, I've gotta hit the books now," but then do some homework for 10 hasty minutes and get right back to his Facebooking. In that case, he was using "hit the books" as an expression for "do a little homework." But I'm not disagreeing with this answer, I'm merely adding a footnote for the learner. – J.R. Dec 5 '14 at 10:04
  • I'm glad you liked the answer. Thank you so much! – Maurice Reeves Dec 7 '14 at 2:07
  • I like how Google Translate describes one of the informal meanings of "hit": used to convey that someone is engaging in a particular pursuit or activity with enthusiasm. Example: "we went to Val d'Isère to hit the shops" – v.shashenko Oct 6 '16 at 9:50
  • Could you please clarify the meaning of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" more explicitely ? From my point of view, it means "f### me once more, baby". I'm 99% sure now, but a doubt remains, and I'd really like to wipe it out. (or know how wrong I am :p) – Balmipour Apr 14 '17 at 13:44
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Longman DCE has about 15 idiomatic expressions of colloquial level that one has to learn. Here is a selection. One has to get a feeling for such idiomatic use of to hit in informal language and often it is necessary to consult a larger dictionary.

B books: to hit the books - Mentioned above. To study, to begin learning

B bottle: to hit the bottle - to start drinking too much alcohol regularly

D dirt/deck: to hit the dirt/the deck: When you are shot at, you hit the dirt/ the deck to avoid getting a bullet

H hay: to hit the hay, AmE - to go to bed, to sleep, to turn in

R road: to hit the road - Longman: to begin a journey

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    that means the only way to master the word is to learn.but i can't use it flexibly if i just memorize these phrases,it's difficult for me to use it to make authentic sentences by myself, because i can't understand it deeply. – christina lee Dec 4 '14 at 7:14
  • @christinalee the more you interact with people the better it is for learning. You will hear these phrases over and over again and you will gain an English understanding of what they mean. There are phrases/words that I know what they mean but cannot explain them in my native language – Huangism Dec 4 '14 at 13:29
  • It's no use trying to invent expressions on one's own. – rogermue Dec 4 '14 at 16:36
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As has been said, they're 'stock' phrases that everyone has become accustomed to. They're not really things you make up yourself, unless your intended meaning is very clear.

If I just said, 'I'm going to hit the kettle', it really wouldn't give anyone the immediate impression that I was going to make tea.
Though if it was repeated often enough to become a meme, as the existing ones, then it would become gradually more acceptable.

Someone has to be first to coin one, I guess.

I think your basic error is that you are looking only at the word 'hit' itself & not the complete structure of the idiomatic phrase.

In each of 'hit the sack/bottle/road' etc there is no real sense of 'hitting', but 'using' or 'starting' - 'employing' perhaps [in the sense of use, not offer a job to].

In 'hit the spot' there remains the sense of hitting, like an arrow hitting its target, or intended spot [place].

I think the most confusing of your examples is 'to hit up' because that one is the most idiomatic & the least decipherable. You just have to know what it means. That one is also very definitely US Eng & has as far as I'm aware, only been recently adopted into Br Eng. I can remember not understanding it when I first heard it. Context allowed me to figure it out, the words themselves gave me no clue.
"She hit me up for fifty bucks!" [at this point I have no idea]
"Did you giver her the money?"
"No, I loaned her twenty" [ahh… now I've got it.]

One that doesn't seem to have been mentioned so far is "Hit me" or "Hit me again", which is usually "Give me [another] drink", or in card games, another card.
That one is possibly best to use when there is no opportunity for confusion - less painful, that way ;-)

  • I think most uses of "hit" do imply coming into contact with something or using it in an understood purpose. In "hit the books", you can infer that someone is going to grab a book and "use" it. I think that's the most essential part of your answer for someone that wants to learn how to interpret a phrase. Also, one more - to "take a hit" of a drug or alcohol, which would be a swallow from a bottle or a single puff of something that is smoked. Using one single unit of a drug. – JPhi1618 Dec 4 '14 at 13:06
  • @Tetsujin you're right .we need context or dialogue to help us understand,not a single word .and i think the best way to understand is through dialogue.but it's a pity that there's few dialogue in our textbook,instead of this,there're a lot of written languages that doesn't apply to oral communication and even are hard for us to understand. – christina lee Dec 4 '14 at 14:39
  • I'm sure the way a lot of people do it is to watch American TV with subtitles. – Tetsujin Dec 4 '14 at 14:41
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They pretty much exist as set phrases, so you just have to learn them. As you can see, no "hitting" is involved.

There will be a test soon so I will need to hit the books. (I need to study)
That beer sure hit the spot. (The beer was what I needed and is very satisfying.)
I heard that she hit him up for 50.00. (She asked him for 50.00.)

I have not heard hit the bed but I imagine it means to flop onto the bed when you are very tired.
(AmE disclaimer)

  • I think I have heard hit the bed, but hit the hay or hit the sack are certainly much more common. OP - keep an eye out for hit the head, which is a fairly common, informal way to announce that one is going to use the toilet. I don't know if I have ever heard a woman use the expression. – Adam Dec 4 '14 at 6:04
  • I think this answer hits the nail on the head. (It's accurate and doesn't contain any erroneous information.) – J.R. Dec 4 '14 at 10:22

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