What Does Ill at Ease Mean?

Ill at Ease Meaning

Definition: Nervous; uncomfortable in a psychological sense.

Origin of Ill at Ease

The records are scarce for this expression, although one source puts the idiom’s origin in the 1300s.

To give the expression a little more context, it helps to look at the origins of ill and ease, respectively.

Ill originated in the 1200s and meant bad or evil as an adjective. It also meant poorly or not well as an adverb. This sense of the word can still be seen in other expressions such as to speak ill of someone. Although ill and evil were initially synonyms, etymologically speaking, the words ill and evil are not related. Ill did not take on the meaning of sick until the 1400s.

Ease originated in the 1100s and meant comfort.

Therefore, ill at ease is more literal and less idiomatic when considering the definitions of each part of the expression.

Examples of Ill at Ease

ill at ease definitionThis example shows two college students using the idiom while they are studying for an exam.

Frank: Maybe I’ll stop studying now. I heard that this professor always gives really easy tests.

Karl: I heard that, too, but I’m not so sure.

Frank: Why do you say that?

Karl: I feel as if the professor was trying to hint that this year his test would be more difficult. I can’t be sure, but it’s making me feel a little ill at ease. I’ll feel better if I study enough to be fully prepared.

ill at ease meansIn this example, two friends are discussing a third friend.

Lily: I haven’t heard from Emma in days. It’s not like her to ignore my texts and calls.

Grace: I know. Her uncharacteristic behavior is making me feel ill at ease. I’m going to stop by her house later today to make sure she’s okay.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about income and how it relates to social class.

  • Maybe some do feel ill at ease in an Italian sandwich shop, but how at home would Currid-Halkett feel at an evangelical church in Houston or a gun show in Tennessee? –New York Post

This excerpt is from a food review of a restaurant with strange food and decor.

  • If by this point in the evening you are ill at ease, that is probably the point. When you escape to use the restroom, you may be baffled by the sink, flanked by vials of essential oils on one side and what looks like a bowl of white sand on the other. –LA Times


The phrase ill at ease means uneasy.