What Does Give the Green Light Mean?

Give the Green Light Meaning

Definition: To allow something to proceed.

Origin of Give the Green Light

This idiom originated in the 1930s, which was right around the same time the Federal Highway Administration began regulating traffic lights. At this time, the law changed so that all traffic lights must use a red light to signal cars to stop, a yellow light to mean caution, and green to mean go.

Just as the green light in traffic signals allows cars to go, a boss who gives his or her employees the green light gives them permission to start work on some project.

give a green light Nowadays, the green traffic signal seems almost inseparable from the concept of starting to go. However, in the early days of traffic lights this was not the case. Interestingly, green was not always the color for go. Rather, white was the first color to have this meaning. Red was always the color for stop, as many people already associated red with danger.

This changed when the red covering fell off one of the stoplights, which made the stop signal appear as white. This caused two trains to collide and served as the impetus for changing the color that meant go to green.

Examples of Give the Green Light

In the dialogue below, two men use the idiom while hanging out at a cafe.

Robert: It was so nice of you to invite me to your family reunion last weekend.

Marty: Yeah, I’m glad you could come. My family really liked you.

Robert: I liked them too! In particular, I really liked your sister. Would it hurt our friendship if I asked your sister out on a date?

Marty: I guess it might feel a little weird at first, but I really love both of you. I wouldn’t want to prevent the two of you from potentially having a great relationship.

Robert: So, are you giving me the green light to ask your sister on date?

Marty: You don’t need my permission, but, if it makes you feel better, I’ll give you my blessing.

give green light The second dialogue shows two students who are talking about a school project for their psychology class.

Josh: I’m happy our teacher is letting us choose our own topic for research. I think I know which topic I want to choose.

Jeff: I’ve already chosen mine. Now I just have to submit my proposal to her. Hopefully she’ll give me the green light right away, so I can get started on it as soon as possible.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about the influence of a 401k on retirement.

  • will an influx of cash give the green light to some boomers who delayed retirement a few years ago? Maybe, maybe not. –Detroit Free Press

This excerpt is from an article about Israeli settlements.

  • Elkin also said Israel is set to give the green light next week to new homes in Jewish West Bank settlements. Israeli Channel 2 TV reported Sunday that some 4,000 homes are expected to be granted approval. –New York Daily News


The phrase give the green light is another way to say permit something to go ahead.