A learning series to help English language learners explore vocabulary in detail


HIT is one of the top 1000 most frequent words in English. It is one of the few verbs in English where the root verb, past tense and past particple are the same (hit/hit/hit). As you read, think about how the different meanings of the word are related.

As a verb

1 The most basic meaning of hit is to strike or punch something, either with your fist or with another object or body part.

George hit me with a stick!
I hit another car while I was driving.
She hit the spider with a rolled-up newspaper.

Rocco hit the punching bag.

2 Hit can also mean to have a strong effect. The meaning is similar to the word 'impact', but it is a strong NEGATIVE effect.

The administration was hit by a series of scandals.
The economic downturn hit this region hard.

Park was hit hard by his brother's death.

3 Hit can mean to reach a certain important point or level.

The unemployment rate just hit 8%.

Our sales for today just hit four figures.

As a noun

1 Hit can be a noun, retaining the meaning of punch or strike.

The hit caused Pete's nose to break.
One bomb scored a direct hit on the enemy's headquarters.

Ouch! That hit looked really painful.

2 A hit can be something which is a big success. In particular, we use the word this way to describe movies, songs and other forms of entertainment. Sometimes, we use the phrase 'smash hit'.

MC Pete's latest song was a smash hit.
My cupcakes were a hit with my coworkers.

Steve is a big hit with the ladies. What's his secret?

3 A hit can refer to a murder carried out for money (e.g. by the mafia). You will hear HIT used this way in movies about gangsters.

Chainsaw Joe carried out many hits for the New York mafia. Eventually, he was shot in the street himself.

The mafia boss ordered a hit on his rival. He wanted him shot dead.

Phrasal verbs and similar

1 Hit on (meaning 1)

To hit on someone means to show romantic interest or to try to attract someone. It's similar to the word flirt.

Example: Pete was hitting on Sally. Unfortunately for him, she wasn't interested.

I saw Dinh in the cafe. He was hitting on your sister!

2 Hit on (meaning 2)

The second meaning of hit on is to think of an important idea.

Example: Ralph suddenly hit on an idea for a new book.

Chef Joseph hit on an idea for a new recipe!

3 Hit (me) up

Hit me up means to call me! Occasionally, it means to text or email me.

Hit me up, kay?

4 Hit back

To hit back is to respond to a verbal attack with an attack of your own.

Example: The President hit back at his critics, saying they had no grasp of basic economics.

MC Mad Mike hit back at the people who said he had no talent. He called them haters and losers.

5 Hit it off

When two people hit it off, they naturally take a liking to each other. It can refer to friendship or have a romantic meaning.

Example: I made a friend on my flight. We were sitting next to each other and we hit it off right away.

Bill and Dave hit it off since they're both football fans.

Idioms and expressions

1 Hit the road

To hit the road is to leave.

Example: It's getting late. It's time for me to hit the road.

Daddy can't stay, Sweetheart. I have to hit the road.

2 Hit the sack (or hit the hay)

To hit the sack is to go to bed.

Example: I'm so sleepy. It's time to hit the sack.

I can hardly keep my eyes open. It's time for me to hit the sack.

3 Hitman

A hitman is a professional murderer (someone who kills for money). This ties into our third meaning of hit as a noun (a killing done for money).

Example: George hired a hitman to eliminate his rival.

Vito was a hitman for the mafia.

3 Hit and miss

If something is "hit and miss", it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't work, or sometimes successful and sometimes not.

Example: I find his music hit and miss. Some songs are good and some aren't.

The food at this place is hit and miss.

4 Hit the nail on the head

To hit the nail on the head is to say the correct thing, or have the correct idea. We say this to someone to show strong agreement.

Example: You hit the nail on the head when you said the new Prime Minister is incompetent.

5 Hit the roof

To hit the roof is to get very angry.

Example: Joe hit the roof when he found out his teenage son had taken his car without asking.

The boss hit the roof when George was late for the meeting again.

6 Hit the jackpot

To hit the jackpot is to make a lot of money (or be successful in something), especially where luck is involved.

Example: The treasure hunter hit the jackpot when he discovered the lost pirate gold.

Bob really hit the jackpot with his latest business idea.