By fits and starts


      • irregularly or intermittently
        To describe something that occurs in a sporadic or inconsistent manner

      • making progress in a hesitant or uneven way
        To describe making progress with difficulty or in a stop-and-start manner

    Examples of By fits and starts

    • Susan's progress in learning how to play the guitar has been by fits and starts. She practices for a week straight, then takes a break for a month before picking up the guitar again.

      The phrase "by fits and starts" is used to describe something that progresses in an irregular or unpredictable manner. In Susan's case, her guitar practice is not consistent, which results in slow progress overall.

    • The construction of the new housing development has been by fits and starts. Workers have been coming and going for months, but the project seems to be moving at a snail's pace.

      In this example, the entire project is experiencing setbacks and delays, creating an overall slow and unpredictable progress.

    • John's efforts to lose weight have been by fits and starts. He's gone on strict diets, but then gives up after a few weeks and resumes his old eating habits.

      Like Susan's guitar practice, John's attempts to lose weight are erratic and inconsistent, resulting in slow or no progress in his weight loss goals.

    • The company's productivity has been by fits and starts since the new manager was hired. Employees are uncertain about her leadership style, causing a lack of focus and motivation in the workplace.

      This example shows how leadership and management styles can impact the overall productivity of a team or company. In this case, the manager's uncertainty is causing employees to hesitate and work at a slower pace, contributing to the up-and-down progress of the company's productivity.

    • The construction of the new office building has been progressing by fits and starts due to various unexpected delays and budget constraints.

      The phrase "by fits and starts" is used to describe a slow and stop-start process. In this example, it implies that the construction process has experienced frequent slowdowns and temporary halts, rather than being consistent and smooth.

    • She studied French by fits and starts in high school, but then took a more intensive course in college and became fluent.

      Here, "by fits and starts" means that the subject's French education began sporadically and irregularly in high school, with periods of intense study followed by intervals of inactivity or neglect.

    • He trained for the marathon by fits and starts, alternating between intense workout sessions and periods of laziness and procrastination.

      This usage of "by fits and starts" highlights the subject's inconsistent and inconsistent approach to marathon training, with ups and downs in his level of commitment and preparation.

    • The sales figures for the company have been climbing by fits and starts, showing promising signs but still experiencing some volatility.

      Here, "by fits and starts" indicates that the sales figures have been increasing unevenly, with some significant gains followed by smaller or negative ones, reflecting the uncertainty and unpredictability of the market.


    The idiom "by fits and starts" is used to describe something that happens irregularly or progresses unevenly. It can refer to actions or events that occur sporadically or to progress that is made with difficulty. The intention is to convey the idea of inconsistency or hesitancy in the way something happens or progresses.

    This idiom is often used to describe how someone is working on a project or task, indicating that they are not making steady progress but instead are working in a stop-and-start manner. It can also be used to describe how something happens, indicating that it occurs in an irregular or intermittent way.

    Overall, "by fits and starts" is a versatile idiom that can be used to convey the idea of irregularity, inconsistency, or hesitant progress.

    Origin of "By fits and starts"

    The origin of the idiom "by fits and starts" can be traced back to the 16th century, with "fit" meaning a sudden outburst or spasm and "start" meaning a sudden movement or action. When used together, the idiom conveys the idea of irregular or sporadic actions or movements. It is believed that the idiom originated from the observation of how certain actions or events occur in a sporadic or hesitant manner, leading to the creation of the phrase "by fits and starts" to describe such occurrences.

    Examples of "by fits and starts" can be found in literature from the 16th century onwards, indicating that the idiom has been in use for several centuries. Its longevity and continued usage today demonstrate its enduring relevance in describing irregular or hesitant progress.