Dark Idioms

The darkest hour is just before the dawn. An English proverb

In this post, we’ll look at idioms related to darkness. We’ll also see if there’s any difference between the noun dark and darkness. Read on for the useful and fun information…

DARK VS. DARKNESS

Whenever you use dark as a noun (for a situation in which there is no light, especially because it is night), remember to use “the” before it (unless it is part of the idiom before/after dark; see the table below):

Don’t be afraid of the dark.

You shouldn’t go out alone in the dark.

These shoes glow in the dark.

Darkness can mean the same as the dark – the lack of light, especially because it is night:

The front rooms were all in darkness.

He stumbled around in the darkness looking for the light switch.

The power station was shut down and the whole city was plunged into darkness.

However, the words are not always interchangeable. Darkness has more meanings than dark does:

Flowers close up when darkness (= night) comes/falls.

The blackness of his hair seemed only to add to the darkness of his eyes (= dark color). 

It’s time to rise up against the powers of darkness (= evil; literary).

Inside all of us is the heart of war’s darkness (= sadness, lack of hope; literary).

IDIOMS

Just like light has inspired lots of idioms (click the link here to read our post about them), the dark has brought about a fair share of them. Study the idioms and do the exercise below.

IdiomMeaningExample
The darkest hourthe time when bad events are at their worsUnfortunately, the darkest hour is yet to come. 
It’s always darkest before the dawn. / The darkest hour is just before the dawn.Things often seem at their worst just before they get better.1) I know you are in despair, but remember it’s always darkest before the dawn. 2) The darkest hour is just before the dawn, so brace yourself (= prepare yourself for the unpleasant). 
To go darkto stop all activities or communication, especially temporarily but for a fairly long periodBroadway theaters in New York City are officially going dark because of the coronavirus.
Dark horsesomeone with a secret, especially a secret ability, skill, or achievement, that surprises you when you finally discover itAnna’s such a dark horse – I had no idea she’d published a novel.
After darkafter it has become nightDo not go out on your own after dark.
Before darkbefore it has become nightWe were hoping to get home before dark.
A shot/stab in the darkan attempt to guess something when you have no information or knowledge about the subject and therefore cannot possibly know what the answer is1) It was a wild shot in the dark, but it turned out to be exactly right. 2) They don’t really know how much the work will cost. They’re just taking a stab in the dark.
A leap in the dark (= a leap into the unknown)something that you do without knowing the full situation and without knowing what the possible results might be1) I had very little information about the company, so writing to them was a leap in the dark. 2) Why should we not take a leap into the unknown?
To be in the darkTo be not informed about things that might be useful to knowOur boss tends to keep us in the dark most of the time.

OTHER COLLOCATIONS

Apart from the idioms above, you may want to memorize the following collocations:

  • pitch-dark – extremely dark: I hate these pitch-dark (= pitch-black) nights.
  • dark money – money from people or organizations whose names are not known or revealed, that may be connected to illegal or harmful activities: They have poured at least $50m of dark money into the area. (For more idioms related to money, read our post “Money Vocabulary”.)
  • dark tourism – the practice of traveling specifically to visit the scene of a tragedy or disaster: Chernobyl is one of the most popular examples of the phenomenon known as dark tourism.
  • dark tourist – a person who travels specifically to visit the scene of a tragedy or disaster: The site attracts hundreds of dark tourists.
  • dark side – the parts of a person, a group, an activity, etc. that are unpleasant, evil, or harmful: He plays a police chief who gets results despite his dark side and personal faults.
Chinese lanterns floating in the pitch-dark sky…

PRACTICE

Choose the right word to complete the sentences. The answer key is at the bottom of the page.

  1. We hope and believe that the darkest day/minute/hour is now passing.
  2. Two of the company’s factories will go/run/get dark by mid-December.
  3. My father used to tell him that he, like him, was the dark ox/horse/sheep of the family. 
  4. We don’t want to just take a snap/shot/picture in the dark. We need more information.
  5. Once more he’s taking a leap in the dark/darkness without a plan.
  6. It’s pitch/bitch/breach-dark outside, so you’d better not go out.
  7. The sites one can visit in Hiroshima as a dark traveler/tourist/visitor rank amongst the world’s best.
  8. “Do you know anything?” “No, I’m completely in the darkness/dark, like everyone else.”
  9. It’s always darkest before the dawn/breakfast/sunrise.
  10. Well, this is just a shoot/stab/stabbing in the dark, but I’m going to say that the answer to the question is London.
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” Victor Hugo, French writer

ANSWER KEY

  1. hour 2. go 3. horse 4. shot 5. dark 6. pitch 7. tourist 8. dark 9. dawn 10. stab

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