What Does Glass Half Empty Mean?

Glass Half Empty Meaning

Definition: A pessimistic view of a neutral situation.

Origin of Glass Half Empty

This expression is part of a proverb that asks about whether a glass that contains 50 percent water and 50 percent air is half full or half empty.

Obviously, regardless of which way you choose to answer, the glass will contain the same amount. However, your answer will represent your view of the world.

The idea is that if you say the glass is half empty, you see the world in a negative, or pessimistic way. If you say the glass is half full, you have a more optimistic viewpoint.

The exact origin of the expression is unclear. However, digital records seem to show it originated in the first half of the 1900s.

Examples of Glass Half Empty

what does the glass half empty meanIn this example, a woman is telling her friend about something that happened at work.

Neha: I have terrible news. The company I work for is suffering from the bad economy. They are trying to cut costs, so they are firing a lot of people.

Tyrese: Oh no! Did you get fired?

Neha: No, but they reduced my hours to part time. I’ll only be working 20 hours a week.

Tyrese: Oh, that’s not so bad. You’ll still be getting paid for that work, but you’ll have more time to find a better job. You always say that you want to try something new. This could be just the thing you need to encourage you to do so!

Neha: Maybe you’re right.

Tyrese: I know this seems scary now, but I always try to see that the glass is half full, instead of half empty.

is the glass half full or half empty meaningIn this example, two office workers are discussing a new co-worker.

Barry: I know we really needed a new employee, but this new guy is so annoying and frustrating.

Rachel: I agree. Apparently he was the only one that applied for the position. I guess having him is better than having no one at all. However, I still wish we had hired someone more qualified.

Barry: Yeah. It’s a glass half empty type of situation.

More Examples

This excerpt is about the rising graduation rate in Chicago Public Schools.

  • As with most things CPS, you can look at these figures as a glass half-empty or half-full. We’ll take the optimistic view. The trend is heading in the right direction. One caveat: CPS has in the past been caught exaggerating its graduation figures. It has corrected those practices, we’re told. But a pinch of skepticism when it comes to CPS numbers is always warranted. –Chicago Tribune

This excerpt is from an article about professional soccer teams.

  • A draw is soccer’s way of separating the optimists from the pessimists. You didn’t win, but you didn’t lose either. You dropped two points, but you earned one. So is the glass half empty or half full? –LA Times


The idiom glass half empty is part of a proverbial phrase to represent having a negative view of something that could be either good or bad.