A lot on one’s plate and a full plate

A lot on one’s plate and a full plate are idioms that originated in the first half of the twentieth century. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idioms a lot on one’s plate and a full plate, from where these expressions are derived, and some examples of their use in sentences.

A lot on one’s plate is an idiom that means that one has too much to do, that one’s workload is too heavy, that one’s schedule is too hectic, or that one is burdened with too much responsibility. To have a lot on one’s plate is a stressful position to be in and is outside the norm. The idiom may also be expressed as enough on one’s plate, which carries the implication that the person will not take on any more work or responsibility. The image is one of a dinner plate that is laden with food. It is believed that the expression came into use in the 1920s, though its origin is uncertain. Of course, the phrase a lot on one’s plate may be used in a literal sense, also.

The idiom a full plate means that someone has enough to do and will not take on any additional workload, burden or responsibility. If someone has a full plate he has reached the limit of what he can do. A full plate may also be used in a literal sense to mean that someone has a dinner plate full of food.


“I have a lot on my plate right now, but how about I help you with this portion (fill in the blank) of the project?” (Forbes Magazine)

Everything happens for a reason and I feel like even though it’s been a lot on my plate, those things have inspired me to do other things. (Atlantic City WEekly)

“That balance comes from just knowing that, yes, I have a full plate, but I also have the ability to lose myself amongst a million other souls,” she said. (The Pueblo Chieftan)

“I told her, ‘I have a full plate, I can’t do it,'” he said. (The Chicago Tribune)

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