Knock ‘Em Dead – How to Wish Someone Good Luck

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Knock ’em dead is an idiom used to encourage or boost someone’s confidence before a performance or other significant task. This expression is an idiom—a figurative phrase whose meaning is different from the literal definitions of its individual words. 

Idioms are popular phrases usually used within informal speech to help draw attention to a point the speaker or author is trying to make. Understanding their use can help you strengthen your English language skills and grammar. 

This article delves into the definition, variations, usage, origins, synonyms, and potential misinterpretations of the idiom knock them dead. Continue reading to bolster your English language skills and learn how to incorporate this idiom effectively in your communication. 

Ways Knock Em Dead Can Be Used to Wish Someone Good Luck 5

What Does the Idiom Knock ‘Em Dead Mean?

The idiom to knock ’em dead means to impress your audience immensely or to perform exceptionally well in any given task. It’s typically used as a form of encouragement or support, often directed at someone about to give a performance, presentation, or participate in an important event.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, knock ‘em dead is “used to tell someone to perform or play as well as possible.” Furthermore, the Collins Dictionary states that it is “said to someone to increase their confidence before they appear or do something in public, especially something formal such as giving a speech in front of a crowd.”

The essence of the idiom is to symbolize a performance so impressive that it metaphorically knocks the audience dead with its excellence.

Knock ‘Em Dead vs. Knock Them Dead

Knock ’em dead and knock them dead are identical idioms, differing only in formality. 

Knock ’em dead is a more informal and colloquial version, where ’em is a contraction of them. This version is typically used in casual conversation or in less formal writing.

On the other hand, knock them dead is slightly more formal. This form may be selected in more formal communication or when the writer or speaker prefers not to use contractions.

Does ‘Em Need Punctuation in Knock ‘Em Dead?

Yes. The apostrophe is needed when used with the word ‘em to indicate that it is a contraction of a larger word. 

Literal Meaning

The literal meaning of knock ‘em dead is to kill with a blow. Obviously, this is not an appropriate usage, and the expression has never been used in such a manner.

Figurative Meaning

The figurative meaning of knock them dead or knock ’em dead is an encouragement to do something well, to project an impressive appearance, and to enjoy success.


Here are some variations of the idiom knock ’em dead:

  • going to knock ’em dead
  • knocked ’em dead
  • will knock them dead
  • knocking ’em dead
  • to knock ’em dead
  • have been knocking ’em dead 

How Is Knock ‘Em Dead Commonly Used in Context?

If you need help with how to use the expression, consider the following examples and ways to use of knock them dead to help you understand how it fits into the context of a sentence.

What Are the Different Ways to Use Knock ‘Em Dead?

Here are different ways to use knock ’em dead:

  • As an encouragement or motivational prompt before a performance or significant event: “You’re going on stage in five minutes. Knock ’em dead, kid!”
  • To express confidence in someone’s abilities: “With your talent and preparation, I know you’ll knock ’em dead in the audition.”
  • In a comment about a past successful event or performance: “Clarke really knocked ’em dead with her speech at the conference.”
  • In a future tense, predicting a successful outcome: “With your preparation and commitment, you’re going to knock ’em dead at the job interview.”
  • As a standalone phrase expressing general encouragement: “Good luck on your first day at the new job. Knock ’em dead!”

Where Can You Find Examples of Knock ‘Em Dead?

The phrase knock ’em dead can be found in various contexts, including literature, movies, music, and everyday conversations. 

Social media, newspapers, and journals are also likely to use the expression when using tone to appeal to an audience. These are good examples of that:

  • Yes, your sugar skull cookies and cookie haunted mansion may impress your guests, but your severed toes in a blanket (AKA pigs in a blanket) will knock them dead. (Woman’s Day Magazine)
  • So get ready to drop everything, kick up your heels, and experience a knock ’em dead season that’s practically perfect in every way. (Broadway World)

What Are Some Tips for Using Knock ‘Em Dead Effectively?

Using knock ’em dead effectively involves understanding its general meaning and suitable contexts. Here are some tips:

  • Appropriate context: The idiom is often used in situations involving performances or presentations—such as before an acting audition, a musical performance, or a business presentation.
  • Positive tone: The phrase is informal and colloquial, so it might not be appropriate in very formal settings or serious written work. However, it can be a lively addition to casual conversation or correspondence.
  • Timing: Use knock ’em dead at an appropriate moment when the person can appreciate your words.
  • Sincerity: Be sincere and genuine. It should come from a place of true belief in the person’s abilities and a desire for their success.

Using Knock ‘Em Dead in Sentences

  • “Good luck with your presentation today! Go out there and knock ’em dead!”
  • She stepped onto the stage with confidence and proceeded to knock them dead with her powerful performance.
  • The comedian’s hilarious jokes and impeccable timing had the audience in stitches, truly knocking them dead.
  • “You’ve prepared for this moment for so long. It’s your time to shine and knock ’em dead!”
  • “Congratulations on your graduation! Now go out into the world and knock ’em dead with your skills and knowledge.”

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Knock ‘Em Dead?

Knock Em Dead vs. Knock Them Dead Ngram
Knock ’em dead and knock them dead usage trend.

The phrase came into use in the 1890s in American vaudeville. Vaudeville is a type of live variety entertainment that was popular until the advent of the motion picture. Originally, the term knock them dead or knock ’em dead was used to wish a performer luck.

It seems that the relationship between a performer and his audience is often seen as adversarial or combative, hence the use of terms such as knock them dead or knock ’em dead, slay them, or kill them, all referring to the audience.

How Has the Idiom Evolved Over Time?

Over time, the sentiment of performing well enough to seriously impress an audience extended beyond just a performance. The verbal use of knock ‘em dead began to be used to support and influence anyone setting out to accomplish something. Today, the phrase is commonly heard when wishing someone good luck, affirming a job well done, and providing encouragement. 

What Are Some Related Terms to Knock Them Dead?

To use this expression properly, you want to expose yourself to related terms and the many ways this idiom can be used. Related terms include synonyms, antonyms, and other words or phrases related to the meaning of the idiom, knock them dead. 

Ways Knock Em Dead Can Be Used to Wish Someone Good Luck 1


  • Amaze
  • Astound
  • Dazzle
  • Stun
  • Blow away
  • Leave them speechless
  • Take their breath away
  • Overwhelm
  • Mesmerize
  • Knock it out of the park
  • Blow them away
  • Wow the crowd
  • Leave a lasting impression
  • Give it your best shot
  • Ace it
  • Shine bright
  • Hit a home run
  • Stun the audience
  • Rock their world


  • Disappoint
  • Underwhelm
  • Bore
  • Fail to impress
  • Leave them unimpressed
  • Fall flat
  • Miss the mark
  • Lackluster performance
  • Mediocre showing
  • Fizzle out

Related Terms and Phrases

  • Success
  • Performance
  • Achievement
  • Confidence
  • Impression
  • Excellence
  • Impact
  • Wow factor
  • Standing ovation
  • Enthusiasm
  • Skill
  • Presentation
  • Captivate
  • Inspire
  • Talent


Given its figurative nature, the idiom knock ’em dead could potentially be misunderstood or misused in various ways:

  • Literal interpretation: If interpreted literally, this idiom could be misconstrued as advocating violence or harm, which is not its intended meaning.
  • Inappropriate context: Using the idiom in formal or serious scenarios can be inappropriate and might come off as unprofessional or casual.
  • Non-native speakers: Non-native English speakers or those unfamiliar with this idiom might not understand its figurative meaning, causing confusion.
  • Improper usage: Using the idiom incorrectly, such as in the wrong tense or syntax, could lead to communication issues. For instance, saying “You knocked ’em dead” before someone’s performance (instead of “Knock ’em dead”) might convey the wrong message.
  • Misunderstanding its tone: The idiom is used to inspire confidence and encouragement. Using it in a negative or sarcastic context could potentially confuse the listener or change the intended meaning.
Knock ‘Em Dead: Test Your Knowledge!

Knock ‘Em Dead: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

What does the expression “knock them dead” mean?
Which of the following phrases is NOT a synonym for “knock them dead”?
Is “knock them dead” a positive or negative expression?
What is the origin of “knock them dead”?
Does “knock them dead” imply causing physical harm?
Start Over

Let’s Review

The idiom knock ’em dead is a valuable tool for expressing support and boosting confidence. Its figurative nature adds color to the English language, enhancing its richness. Despite its literal words suggesting violence, its actual meaning is positive and uplifting.

By understanding idioms like this and their correct usage, you can ensure richer communication. This deeper comprehension of the idiom’s origins, variations, and possible misinterpretations can help you use knock ’em dead effectively and accurately.