Draw the Line

Also: Draw a Line

Meaning of Idiom ‘Draw the Line’

To draw the line is to set a definite limit on what one is willing to do, accept, etc. and to state emphatically that one will stop short of this limit.

The idiom can also mean to separate one thing from another or to accept, recognize, or admit the difference between two things.


When the first sense is used, the idiom often takes the form of ‘draw the line at something.’ This version is most often used to state that you will not do something because you think it is wrong.

In the latter sense, ‘draw a line’ is used to indicate that two things must be separated or remain separate, and ‘draw the line’ is used to indicate an acceptance or recognition of the difference between two things.

Examples Of Use

“I’m willing to let my wife pick the movie, but a draw the line at romantic comedies.”

“He’s a very edgy comedian, but he draws the line at racial jokes.”

“For years, prison systems have been struggling to determine where to draw the line on the humane treatment of inmates.”

“We must draw a line between church and state.”

“The author does not seem to draw the line between science fiction and fantasy.”


This idiom derives from the literal idea of drawing a line in the sand, beyond which others, such as enemy troops, are forbidden to go. This idea dates back at least to the Roman Empire but as an idiom, the expression dates to the 1800’s.

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