That Ship Has Sailed (Idiom Meaning and Use)

When you want to be clever with a little bit of sarcasm in the event of someone arriving late, you’ll use “that ship has sailed.” While it isn’t appropriate for every situation of lateness or being tardy, it is ideal for particular instances where someone comes to an idea, opportunity, or conclusion way after the time was right to do so.

This idiom has a distinct method and means of usage to sound right and correct in English jargon. It’s not difficult but it does denote a speaker’s finesse and command of the language.

The etymology of “That Ship Has Sailed”

Using “that ship has sailed” as a metaphor for “it’s too late,” comes from the mid to late 1800s. This was when steamboats and boat voyages were commonplace. It’s a sailing term we know had wide use in the United State but similar phrases were also in use around places like Ireland, Britain, Italy, Greece, and Scotland.

It states, with a bit of witticism, that someone is too late.

Examples of “That Ship Has Sailed”

The following show acceptable use of “that ship has sailed.”

Correct Uses

Well, if you wanted to go shopping for a Halloween costume now, that ship has sailed!

After he told me that he wanted to try our relationship over again, I told him that ship has sailed.

We should have taken a photo of the whale, but that ship has sailed.

Steve only understood that we were talking about clouds, not clots, long after that ship has sailed.

Incorrect Uses

You would never say “that ship has sailed” if you arrive late to something that’s in progress like work or a party. You will still be at this place even though you are too late. So, using the phrase will sound off-color.

That ship has sailed because I arrived to work late.

When I arrived at the party, it was in full swing and that ship has sailed.

When Kayla arrived late to kindergarten, her teacher said that ship has sailed.


“That ship has sailed” is a metaphor describing how someone is too late to an opportunity, idea, or event. However, there are specific instances where it doesn’t sound right or the use won’t be appropriate to the situation. Therefore it carries a connotation of not just being late, but also completely missing it.