To be in the red

What does it mean?

To be in the red is not a good position to be in. In short it means you are in debt, or in other words, you owe more money to people than you have.

This phrase is also used about businesses.

to be in the red meaning

Where does it come from?

For a long time, it has been the practice to record negative figures in red on financial documents. You may still notice this in some financial programs or websites. The purpose of this was perhaps to make it easier to distinguish between positive and negative numbers. A company, business or individual whose overall balance was red would therefore be in the red.

The earliest known use of this phrase is in a 1907 book called Money and Investments by Montgomery Rollins.

How can I use it?

Probably the easiest way to use this phrase is to say you or someone else is in the red:

  • I’m in the red this week.
  • She must be in the red after she bought that Porsche.

We could say how much someone is in debt, as a specific amount or in vaguer terms:

  • Apparently Donald Trump is actually millions in the red.
  • I’m about £2,000 in the red now.
  • My brother’s business is deep in the red.

We don’t usually start life with a lot of debt (maybe only after university!). For this reason, we may need a phrase to say this happens to us:

  • You don’t want to end up in the red.

An unprofitable business may continue working even though it is making losses. In this case it is operating in the red.

Stock markets like FTSE or NASDAQ may finish the business day with a negative balance. In this case we would say:

  • The FTSE closed in the red again today.

This is a phrase that we are quite likely to use with a conjunction like despite. This is because when we are in debt, we tend to try to get out of debt. However, sometimes these efforts will not work, or will not be sufficient.  For example:

  • The restaurant is in the red despite a visit by Gordon Ramsay.
  • In spite of decreased regulation, many small businesses still find themselves in the red.

What are some examples?

  • Sorry, I can’t go out. I’m in the red at the moment.
  • Many families are deep in the red as a result of the recent pandemic. Some are struggling to afford their rent or mortgage payments.
  • It was only a matter of hours before I ended up in the red at the casino.
  • Many major stock markets closed in the red today.
  • Despite cutting out all luxuries I’m still in the red this month.

What are some similar or related expressions?

  • in the black

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Image by Oleg Gamulinskiy from Pixabay
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