Idol, Idle, or Idyll?

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Idol, Idle, or Idyll?

What is the difference between "idol," "idle," and "idyll"?
  • An "idol" is someone or something you admire or worship. For example:
    • The actor Jimmy Nail is my idol.
  • "Idle" means lazy. For example:
    • Stop being idle.
    • The car engine will idle at 1000 rpm when the gearbox is in neutral.
    • (The verb "to idle" is used for an engine running in a neutral state.)
  • An "idyll" is a pleasant, peaceful, or picturesque time or place. For example:
    • We're going to my idyll, a quaint rural village in the Peak District.
    An "idyll" can also be a short description of a picturesque scene or event.
idol, idle, or idyll?

More about "Idol," "Idle," and "Idyll"

The words "idol," "idle," and "idyll" sound similar, but their meanings are quite different.


The noun "idol" means a representation (e.g., statue, carving, figurine) of a god used as an object of worship. The word "idol" is often used figuratively to denote a person or object that is greatly admired, loved, or revered. For example:
  • A champion can never pay back the help that made him an idol. (Boxer Jack Dempsey)
  • A god who lets us prove his existence would just be an idol. (Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
  • I don't idolize anyone or aspire to be like anyone. (Actress Brooke Burke)
  • (The verb "to idolize" comes from "idol.")


The word "idle" is most commonly used as an adjective meaning lazy or work-shy. For example:
  • You really are an idle sod!
  • It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man. (Founding Father of the United States Benjamin Franklin)
"Idle" can also mean worthless or pointless. For example:
  • I have no time to engage in idle gossip.
  • As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence. (Benjamin Franklin)
"Idle" can also be used as verb meaning to take it easy, languish, or lounge around. For example:
  • Do not idle in the coffee room.
  • I need to idle on the beach for a week with a good book.
When it refers to an engine, "to idle" means to run slowly while out of gear or detached from a load. For example:
  • The engine is idling faster than it should.
  • Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears. (Critic Barbara Johnson)


The noun "idyll" denotes a happy, peaceful, or picturesque period or event. It means an ideal time or an ideal place. For example:
  • Hollywood is my domestic idyll. (Actor Rufus Sewell)
  • There's something simple and idyllic about living in a house very close to the water. (Actress Andrea Riseborough)
  • (The adjective "idyllic" (meaning blissful or perfect) comes from "idyll.")
"Idyll" is also used to denote a short piece of verse describing a picturesque scene or incident (typically a rural one). For example:
  • The poem starts with short, non-rhyming idyll.
Remembering "Idol"

Let the dol in "idol" remind you that an idol can be a doll (i.e., a figurine that can be worshipped).

Remembering "Idle"

Let the le in "idle" remind you that an idle can mean lethargic (similar to lazy).

Remembering "Idyll"

Writers tend to be clear on the meaning of "idyllic." Remember that idyllic comes from idyll.
Ready for the Test?
Here is a confirmatory test for this lesson.

This test can also be:
  • Edited (i.e., you can delete questions and play with the order of the questions).
  • Printed to create a handout.
  • Sent electronically to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? Ms., Miss, or Mrs? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What is figurative language? What are nouns? What are adjectives? What are verbs? List of easily confused words