What Does Know the Ropes Mean?

Know the Ropes Meaning

Definition: To know how to do something.

This expression is typically used to refer to knowing how to do a job or a task. Similar and related idioms are learn the ropes, show me the ropes, on the ropes, etc.

Origin of Know the Ropes

This idiom originated in the mid-1800s. It is unclear whether it grew out of the practice of sailors learning how to use the ropes to operate the sails and other parts of boats or the practice of those working behind the scenes in the theaters.

Examples of Know the Ropes

know the ropes idiom meaningIn this example, a woman uses this idiom to tell a man that she will show him how to play a game.

Rodrigo: This game looks extremely complicated. I’m not sure I’ll be able to understand it.

Alisha: Don’t worry! It looks tricky at first, but I’ve been playing it for years, so I know the ropes. I’ll teach you!

Rodrigo: Really? Thanks! Will it take long to learn?

Alisha: Sort of, but once you learn it, you’ll love it. It’s worth it!

learn the ropes idiomIn the example below, two friends are discussing a new job that one of them has.

Luis: So how are you enjoying the new job?

Stephanie: It’s super confusing so far.

Luis: That’s too bad. Isn’t there anyone to help you figure things out?

Stephanie: There should be. I mean, everyone else already knows the ropes, but they’ve been too busy to help me so far.

More Examples

In this excerpt, there are many experienced gardeners, people who know the ropes of gardening.

  • We have some gardeners who have been with us since 2010. They come out, and when we move (to a new location), they come too. Where would you find an army of people who know how to set up a community garden? I’m so proud we have all these people who know the ropes.  –Chicago Tribune

In this excerpt, the idiom describes how when someone first starts to live in a new place, he or she doesn’t know where anything is or how things work there.

The person uses the expression to explain the feeling of confusion before knowing the ropes and how more experience changes things.

  • When moving to a new area, he says, “it’s strange: You don’t know anybody, you don’t know the ropes. Now we’re part of the ropes.”  –Washington Post


The phrase know the ropes is an expression that describes a person who understands how something works because he or she is experienced in that area.