Toe the Line

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Also: Toe the mark (rare)

Meaning of Idiom 'Toe the Line'

To toe the line means to do what you are expected to do or ordered to do; to obey the rules; to stop disobeying the rules; to meet standards. 1,2,3


Since this idiom refers to rules or standards, it is sometimes accompanied by a noun referring to whose rules or standards are being followed. For example: "You have to toe the corporate line to get ahead in this company." 1

Examples Of Use

"It was hard growing up with an Army officer as a father. We had to toe the line as if we were soldiers."

"Either you'll toe the line," said Mr. Brooks, "or you'll be looking for a new job."

"You can't expect a bunch of kids to toe the line as if they are adults. To be an effective teacher you have to keep them interested."


Used since the 1800's, this idiom alludes to runners having to place their toes on the starting line (or mark) without moving past it until the starting signal begins the race.

It may also refer soldiers in the military being made to line up for inspection by placing their toes on a line. 3,4

1. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP,
2. Brenner, Gail Abel. Webster's New World American Idioms Handbook. Wiley, 2003.
3. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
4. Pare, May. Body Idioms and More: For Learners of English. United States?: Mayuree Pare, 2005.

More Toe Idioms

More Toe Idioms

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