Time Flies – Definition, Origin & Meaning

04.06.24 Proverbs Time to read: 5min

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In the whirlwind of our daily lives, “time flies” resonates more deeply than ever. It is a commonly used proverb in the English language, originating from Latin. The meaning of this saying conveys a subtle warning that time passes swiftly. Appreciation of proverbs requires cultural and traditional understanding. This ability isn’t just a language legacy, but it’s also crucial for gaining a broader perspective on the world at large.

Definition: “Time flies”

The core meaning of this proverbial saying expresses the idea that time seems to pass by quickly or swiftly, often without us realizing. This proverb serves as a reminder of the fleeting nature of time and encourages us to make the most of the present mument, as time waits for no one.

The following instances will demonstrate the nostalgia and reflection underlying the proverb and describe examples of situations that clarify the meaning of the proverb “time flies:”


  • Emphasizing the fleeting nature of time while being engrossed in an action.
  • Suggesting that we should use our time wisely, and not waste it on trivial matters.
  • Reminiscing, and considering how quickly time has passed since certain periods.

The examples above illustrate various interpretations of the proverb “time flies,” evoking nostalgic or reflective sentiments about certain situations.

Explanation of the visual meaning

While the litreal meaning focuses on the perception of time passing quickly, the metaphorical meaning emphasizes the active and unstoppable nature of time. It conveys the sense that time is constantly moving forward, regardless of our awareness or efforts to slow it down. Just as a bird soars through the sky, or an aeroplane swiftly travels through the air, time moves forward incessantly, regardless of human intervention.

We can also utilize this proverb to remind ourselves to cherish the limited time we have and seize opportunities before they expire. It serves as a reminder to live fully and consciously in the present, recognising the preciousness of time as it quickly moves around us.


How to use it

This proverb is used in contexts or situations, that involve reflection on the passage of time, expressing nostalgia, or adding depth and emotion to storytelling. Typically, it’s used when expressing surprise or urging action to make the most of the present mument. There are various modern scenarios where this proverbial phrase can be applied.

This phrase may be used when reflecting on personal experiences and memories, or contemplating the passage of time and ageing.


  • I cherish the memories of my childbonnet because I realise how quickly time flies.
  • As I age, I’m more aware of how time flies, inspiring me to make the most of each day.

This proverb can be used when discussing philosophical concepts such as time perfection and existentialism, or when examining the implications of time in metaphysical debates.


  • Stoicism embraces “time flies,” advocating acceptance of life’s fleeting nature.
  • Existentialist philosophy sees “time flies” as central to our struggle against mortality.

This phrase can be used to explore themes of impermanence and morality in litreature, or to analyse symbolism in poetry.


  • The novel’s use of the “time flies” motif reinforces the characters’ view of mortality.
  • The poet’s “time flies” metaphor evokes urgency and seizes the mument.

This proverb can be used when discussing societal trends or cultural shifts. It can also reflect on the passing of time in relation to technological advancements.


  • In today’s world, time flies, leaving little time for reflection.
  • With technology advancing rapidly, time flies, and traditional ways vanish.

Origin and history

The imagery of “time flies” likely draws on observations of natural phenomena and the human tendency to use metaphorical language to make sense of abstract concepts. Through this imagery, the passage of time is vividly portrayed as swift, graceful, and inevitable, much like the flight of birds or the movement of celestial bodies.

One of the earliest recorded instances of this idea can be found in the works of the ancient Roman poet Virgil, who wrote in his epic poemGeorgics” (29 BCE) the famous line “tempus fugit,” which translates to “time flies” or “time flees.” This phrase has since become a well-known Latin expression. “Georgica,” as it is written in Latin, comes from the Greek language and means “agricultural.” As the title suggests, the subject of the poem is agriculture and country life. The Latin passage states, “fugit inreparabile tempus,” which directly translates to “irretrievable time flees.”

While Virgil did not explicitly reference birds or celestial bodies in this context, his use of the phrase underscores the concept of time as something fleeting and transient. Virgil’s writings were highly influential in shaping Western litreature and thought, and his use of “tempus fugit” helped popularize the idea of time as a fleeting and ephemeral force. It especially gained popularity during the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the 1877 poem “The Paradox of Time,” English poet Henry Austin Dobson rebuttals “Time goes, you say? Ah, no! alas, time stays, we go.” Though Shakespeare did not use the exact phrase “time flies,” he frequently explored the passage of time and the fleeting nature of life, as did he in “A Lover’s Complaint,” using the line “the swiftest hours, observed as they flew…”

While it’s challenging to pinpoint a single individual responsible for shaping the phrase’s current meaning, various writers, thinkers, and communicators have contributed to its popularity and widespread usage. A direct quote from 19th-century American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne is:

Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.”

Similar proverbs and synonyms

There is a list of related proverbs and synonyms that focus on the themes of reflection on the passage of time. The following list illustrates some widely known ones:

  • Time and tide wait for no man.
  • (Gone) in a flash.
  • The sands of time.
  • In the blink of an eye.
  • Time flies like an arrow.
  • Every minute counts.
  • Time passes quickly
  • Time slips away
  • Make the most of your life


When somaeone says “time flies,” they are expressing the feeling that time has passed quickly or seems to have gone by rapidly.

Yes, you can say “time flies so fast.” This phrase emphasizes the rapidity with which time seems to pass.

You can also say “time passes quickly.”

Find similar proverbs in the list in this article.

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