Take No Prisoners – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

Photo of author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Of all the idioms out there, I think take no prisoners packs a real punch once you understand its origin. The saying brings to mind an image of a ruthless warrior, a symbol of relentless pursuit and an uncompromising attitude. But it’s a bit darker than that. Let’s take a second to lay out the details of this expressive phrase’s true meaning and usage.

Meaning of Take No Prisoners

Take No Prisoners Idiom Origin Meaning

Taking no prisoners is approaching a situation or challenge with an unforgiving, fierce, and ruthless determination, showing little or no mercy towards your opponents or whatever obstacles are in your way. It’s not about capturing literal prisoners but illustrating a total commitment and relentlessness attitude.

It makes me think of when I first started publishing. It’s been over ten years now, but in the beginning, I had to tackle every single day like I was taking no prisoners as I learned the tumultuous ins and outs of the industry.

Where Did the Saying Take No Prisoners Come From?

Take No Prisoners Ngram
Take no prisoners usage trend.

It’s no surprise that the phrase take no prisoners originates from a literal military context where, during battle, an army might choose not to take prisoners for whatever strategic reasons, usually because it’d slow their progress.

But it was mostly used to indicate the fact that if you’re not taking prisoners, it means they’re dead. It was another way of saying, “Leave no witnesses.”

Eventually, this phrase evolved more metaphorically and found its way into non-military contexts. Now we use it to describe a person or action that is intensely focused and relentless.

Different Tenses to Use

Just as with any other phrase, you can use take no prisoners in various tenses depending on the context.

  • Present tense: She takes no prisoners when it comes to negotiations.
  • Past tense: He took no prisoners in his pursuit of a better career.
  • Present continuous: They are taking no prisoners in their campaign to win the election.

What Is a Synonym for Take No Prisoners?

If the phrase doesn’t quite fit the vibe, try one of these words instead!

Take No Prisoners Examples in a Sentence

Take No Prisoners Idiom Origin Meaning 1

Seeing new words and phrases within the context of a full sentence always helps deepen the understanding.

  • Serena’s competitive nature and take-no-prisoners approach led her to dominate the tennis court and reshaped women’s competitive tennis.
  • Just know before you accept the job that the company CEO is known for his take-no-prisoners style of management.
  • The football team took no prisoners in their relentless drive toward the season championship.
  • Our new director is taking no prisoners in his efforts to turn the failing TV show around and gain more viewers.

Bottom Line

Now do you see how the phrase take no prisoners can add a dash of martial spice to our everyday language? It can definitely express a certain ruthless efficiency or relentless determination. The next time you see someone pushing forward with unwavering resolve, you’ll have the perfect idiom at your disposal.