Fits and starts


      • inconsistent or irregular behavior or progress
        Describing a process or activity that is characterized by bursts of activity followed by periods of inactivity or little progress.

      • sporadic or unpredictable events or occurrences
        Referring to events or situations that happen in a sudden and unexpected manner, without any regular pattern or schedule.

      • unstable or erratic behavior or emotions
        Describing a person's actions or emotions that are constantly changing or fluctuating, making it difficult to predict or understand their behavior.

    Examples of Fits and starts

    • The old car struggled along in fits and starts as the driver tried to coax it into life.

      The car would momentarily accelerate and then stall or lose power, making it move erratically in a stop-and-start manner.

    • My baby sister's first attempts at walking were fits and starts, but she soon gained confidence and started cruising around the house.

      At first, the baby stumbled and hesitated as she tried to master the skill of walking, but with practice, she began to move more smoothly and purposefully.

    • The company's profits have been increasing in fits and starts over the past year.

      There have been periods of significant growth followed by temporary setbacks or declines.

    • I've been babysitting for these kids for years, but they still behave in fits and starts, alternating between angelic and mischievous behavior.

      The children's conduct can be unpredictable, swinging wildly from obedience to disobedience or from sweetness to badness.

    • The old car ran fits and starts down the road.

      The car would suddenly accelerate for a short distance, then slow down or stop altogether, before starting up again intermittently. This is referred to as running fits and starts.

    • During her presentation, the speaker's ideas came fits and starts.

      The speaker hesitated frequently and seemed unsure about what to say next, causing her ideas to be presented in an irregular and disjointed manner.

    • She tried to learn German fits and starts, but found it too difficult.

      The learner would make progress in short bursts, but then struggle to remember what she had learned before and find the task too challenging.

    • His diet was fits and starts, with periods of strictness followed by indulgence.

      The person's efforts to maintain a healthy diet were sporadic and inconsistent, with phases of discipline alternating with phases of overeating or unhealthy food choices.


    The idiom "fits and starts" is commonly used to describe inconsistency, unpredictability, and instability in various contexts. It can apply to a wide range of situations, from a person's behavior and emotions to the progress of a project or task.

    In the first meaning, "fits and starts" is often used to describe a process or activity that is not smooth or continuous but rather characterized by bursts of energy or progress followed by periods of inactivity or lack of progress. This can be seen in a project that experiences delays and setbacks, or in a person's attempt to achieve a goal with intermittent effort and progress.

    The second meaning of "fits and starts" refers to sporadic or unpredictable events or occurrences. This can be used to describe events that happen suddenly and unexpectedly, without any regular pattern or schedule. For example, a business may experience "fits and starts" as it tries to grow and expand, facing unexpected challenges and opportunities along the way.

    Lastly, the idiom can also be used to describe unstable or erratic behavior or emotions. This can refer to a person who has frequent mood swings or acts impulsively without any clear pattern or reason. It can also be used to describe a situation that is constantly changing and hard to predict, causing feelings of instability and uncertainty.

    Origin of "Fits and starts"

    The origin of the idiom "fits and starts" is not entirely clear, but it is believed to have originated from the phrase "to be in fits and starts" which dates back to the 16th century. The word "fit" in this context refers to a sudden outburst or burst of energy while "start" refers to a sudden movement or action. Together, the phrase describes a burst of activity followed by a pause or period of inactivity.

    Over time, the phrase was shortened to "fits and starts" and became a common idiom in the English language. It is often used in a figurative sense to describe any situation or behavior that is characterized by a pattern of sudden bursts and pauses.

    In some cases, the idiom may also have a literal origin, as it was used in the past to describe the erratic and unpredictable movement of a horse that was difficult to control. This association with horses and their unpredictable behavior may have contributed to the idiom's current meaning of instability or unpredictability.