Harps On: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
November 8, 2023

The idiom "harps on" means to talk or complain about something too much and in a nagging way. It can also suggest focusing on or stressing something too much and in a negative way.

In short:

  • It signifies a tendency to excessively discuss or complain about something.
  • It can also refer to being focused about something in a negative way.

What Does "Harps On" Mean?

The idiom "harps on" has two related meanings, implying a sense of repetition, annoyance, and negativity.

  • The first meaning of the idiom is to talk or complain about something persistently and irritatingly, especially something that is unimportant or cannot be changed. For example, someone might "harp on" their bad luck, minor health issues, past grievances, or political opinions. This meaning suggests that the person "harping on" is boring, whiny, or nagging and that the listener is tired or annoyed by their constant complaints.
  • The second meaning of the idiom is to dwell on or emphasize something excessively, especially a minor or negative point. For example, someone might "harp on" a small mistake, a trivial detail, a personal flaw, or a criticism. This means that the person who "harps on" is obsessive, harsh, or unfair and is making a big deal out of something that is not very important or relevant.

Where Does "Harps On" Come From?

The origin of this idiom can be traced back to the musical instrument called the harp, a stringed instrument that produces sound by plucking the strings with the fingers. The phrase "harps on" derives from repeatedly playing the same note or chord on the harp, creating a monotonous and annoying sound.

10 Examples of "Harps On" in Sentences

Here are some examples of how this idiom can be used in different sentences:

  • She always harps on about her neighbor's noisy parties.
  • He never stops harping on his dislike for broccoli.
  • Sarah constantly harps on her co-worker's tardiness.
  • The boss harped on the importance of meeting deadlines.
  • Don't harp on your mistakes; learn from them and move forward.
  • He won't stop harping on for a new office coffee machine.
  • Jenny keeps harping on her husband's forgetfulness.
  • Yes, please. Don't harp on that issue; we've already discussed it.
  • He harped on the same topic throughout the entire meeting.
  • The teacher harps on the significance of good study habits.

Examples of "Harps On" in Pop Culture

Here are some examples of how the idiom has appeared in pop culture:

  • In the sitcom Friends, Monica often "harps on" Chandler about his bad habits, such as leaving the toilet seat up or smoking.
  • In the book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dolores Umbridge "harps on" Harry for telling lies about Voldemort's return and makes him write, "I must not tell lies" with a blood quill.
  • In the musical Hamilton, Aaron Burr harps on Alexander Hamilton for being too outspoken and ambitious, telling him to "talk less, smile more."

Other Ways to Say "Harps On"

Here are some synonyms for this idiom:

  • Nags
  • Complains
  • Dwells on
  • Rants
  • Grumbles
  • Whines
  • Bickers
  • Criticizes
  • Preaches

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Harps On"

Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about this idiom:

  • What does "harps on" mean?

The idiom "harps on" means to talk or complain about something too much and in a nagging way. It can also suggest focusing on or stressing something too much and in a negative way.

  • What is the origin of the phrase "harps on"?

The phrase "harps on" derives from repeatedly playing the same note or chord on the harp, creating a monotonous and annoying sound.

  • What part of speech is "harps on"?

The idiom "harps on" is a verb phrase that consists of the verb "harp" and the preposition "on." The verb "harp" means to play the harp or to talk or write persistently and tediously. The preposition "on" indicates the object or topic of the verb.

  • What is the difference between "harping on" and "harping about"?

The difference between "harping on" and "harping about" is mainly a matter of preference or style. Both expressions have the same meaning and can be used interchangeably. However, some people may prefer to use "harping on" when the object or topic is a noun, such as "harping on his mistakes," and "harping about" when the object or topic is a clause, such as "harping about how he never listens."

  • Is "harps on" a positive or negative expression?

The idiom "harps on" is usually a negative expression that implies annoyance, irritation, or dissatisfaction. It suggests that the person who harps on is being unreasonable, boring, or nagging, and that the listener or the target of the harping is fed up or offended by it.

  • How can I use "harps on" in a polite way?

You may use a positive or constructive tone, such as "I'm only harping on because I care," "I'm just harping on to help you improve," or "I appreciate your patience with my harping on."

  • What are some antonyms of "harps on"?

Some antonyms of the idiom "harps on" are "drops it," "lets it go," "moves on," "forgets about it," "ignores it," "overlooks it," "accepts it," and "praises it."

  • Can I use "harps on" in formal writing?

The idiom "harps on" is mostly used in informal writing or speech, such as personal letters, emails, blogs, social media posts, conversations, etc. It is not very appropriate for formal writing or speech such as academic papers, reports, essays, speeches, etc.

  • Is "harps on" a commonly used idiom?

Yes, it is a relatively common idiom in English, used to describe someone who continually brings up the same topic or complaint.

  • Can you use "harps on" to describe something other than verbal communication?

Yes, you can use "harps on" in a broader sense to describe repetitive actions or behaviors, not just verbal communication. For example, "He harps on the same work routines every day."

Final Thoughts About "Harps On"

The idiom "harps on" is a common and useful expression that can help you describe someone who talks or complains about something too much and in a negative way.

Here are some key points to remember about the idiom:

  • It is often used with the prepositions "about" or "on," depending on the verb's object.
  • It can be used in different tenses and forms.
  • It can be used in different contexts and situations.
  • It has some synonyms or alternative expressions that have similar meanings.

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