What Does Turn Over a New Leaf Mean?

Turn Over a New Leaf Meaning

Definition: To stop old, bad habits and start behaving in a better way.

Synonyms include a fresh start and begin afresh.

Origin of Turn Over a New Leaf

This idiom finds its origin in the 16th century, and one might assume that the word leaf in this idiom refers to the leaf of a tree. However, this is not the case.

In this instance, the “leaf” in question refers to the page of a book, as leaf can refer to other flat, thin objects that form a set.

turn over a new leaf sentenceImagine that you are writing in your diary. You can’t change the past, or what you have already written. However, you can change what you will do in the future, and what you will write on the upcoming pages. Just as the next page in the book is empty and fresh, so is your future. You can choose to break bad habits, reform, and be a better person going forward.

An early example of this phrase can be found in John Heywood’s Proverbs from 1546:

  • Naie she will tourney the leafe.

In early examples, the “new” is sometimes omitted. An early example where “new” is included can be found in Roger Ascham’s 1570 The Scholemaster:

  • Except soch men thinke them selves wiser than Cicero…they must be content to turne a new leafe.

Examples of Turn Over a New Leaf

In the dialogue below, two friends are talking about the gambling problem with which one of them is struggling.

Ezekiel: I need to ask you a big favor. I hate to do this, but could you lend me a few hundred dollars?

Maggie: Is this because you started gambling again? I thought you had turned over a new leaf!

Ezekiel: I tried! I stopped gambling for almost six months, but last night I couldn’t help myself.

Maggie: I think you should try again. Maybe you’ll be more successful at turning over a new leaf if you join a support group.

Ezekiel: It’s worth a try.

turning over a new leaf meaningIn this example, two friends are discussing the bad attitude that one of them has.

Tyrion: What’s wrong? Why are you yelling at me?

Mila: I’m sorry. I’m not sure why I have such a volatile temper. I try to control myself, but I can’t!

Tyrion: I think you can change if you really want to. If you are dedicated to the goal of making yourself a calmer person, come with me to my meditation class. It could be just the thing you need to help you turn over a new leaf.

More Examples

This excerpt is about a state representative who wants to give another man clemency.

  • “Redemption, a second chance, and forgiveness are all woven into the fabric of America’s foundation,” Williams said in a prepared statement. “Rene was able to turn over a new leaf, start a family and become a productive, lawful member of society.” –Denver Post

This excerpt is from an article about a city that will start to punish people for illegally using disabled parking spaces.

  • “This is a great next step that shows that Denver is turning over a new leaf,” he said Tuesday. “It’s a positive indication that Denver is giving more importance to those with disabilities who live in and visit Denver.” –Denver Post


The expression turning over a new leaf is way of saying start a fresh chapter of your life by abandoning negative actions and qualities of your past, and behaving better going forward.