16 Ways to Use the Word HOOK: Idioms, Phrasal Verbs, and Slang

hookedLess than 3% of non-native English speakers pass this test. Will you? How many of these 17 definitions of hook do you know?

If you understand all 5 uses of the word hook in these next two paragraphs, you pass the test and we’ll let you off the hook9. But, if you’re like most non-natives, you’ll naturally be confused. But don’t worry, because today you have a chance to learn and we’re about hook you up7 with an amazing lesson.

Have you ever gotten really hooked on2 a great TV show or a drug like caffeine or tobacco, or bought a new CD that was off the hook10 and you couldn’t stop telling your friends about it? And in your culture, is it common that people who are romantically interested in each other hook up4 when they first meet or do they wait until they are boyfriend/girlfriend, or even married?

Random and even delicate questions, I know, but it’s a test, and most people won’t understand them anyway. Did you understand all 5? You can check your answers below (the numbers below correspond with the footnotes above).

It’s a mix of colloquial with standard English, but they’re all part of English speaking pop-culture. Here are the 16 most common ways to use hook in English!

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1. HookCurved Metal to Catch Fish (n, vb)

The most literal definition of the word hook (as a noun) is the curved piece of metal used to catch and hold onto fish or other items (i.e. fishing hook). As a verb, “hook” is to literally to catch, attach, and hold onto. All other meanings derive from this powerful image.


  • (vb) Catch hold of, attract, and bring in
  • (n) Thief/pickpocket (hooked is crooked or not straight)
  • The Family name Hooker is the maker of hooks

2. To Be/Get HookedGet/Be Addicted (vb, adj)

To be hooked on something is to get/be addicted to something. I always think of the image of a fish with a hook in its cheek to convey addiction because when you’re hooked on a substance (i.e. caffeine) or a form of entertainment (a TV show, a book), the addiction is literally that powerful.  (See picture up top!)

When to Use: anytime


3. Hook Up – To Connect/Assemble Something (vb)

Hook Up is to set up or connect a machine or another piece of electronic equipment (synonymous with plug in, set up).

When to Use: anytime

Example: “The beer started to get cold about 20 minutes after she hooked up the new refrigerator.”

4. Hook Up (a) – Romantic/Sexual Relations (vb, n)

Hook Up with is commonly used to talking about kissing and/or having sex with somebody you are not in a relationship with. Depending on the person you’re talking to and the cultural context, it could be ambiguous, so if you are only talking about kissing, Make Out may communicate more clearly.

When to Use: This is used only in informal situations.

Example: “She got mad when she found out her ex-boyfriend hooked up with another girl when they were together.”

Learn More About Sex and Dating Terms in English

5. Hook Up (b)Connect/Meet up/Get in Contact with (vb)

Hook Up can also mean to get together, to meet up, to catch up, to connect in a friendly way (without romantic intentions). In this case, the “with” is usually (but not always) omitted. It’s often used as a suggestion to get in touch as well.

When to Use: This is used only in informal situations:

Example: To a friend: “Let’s hook up for a beer later,” or “Let’s try to hook up later this week.”

6. Hook Up (c) Arrange a connection between two people (vb)

Hook up is also often used when a person “sets up” two of his/her friends in a romantic way as a third party “cupid.”

When to Use: anytime

Example:  “Mike knew that Steve and Cindy would be a great couple, so he did everything he could to hook them up.

7. Hook Up  (d) – Do Somebody a Special Favor (vb, n)

Hook up (vb) can be used when somebody does a special favor or to help somebody by giving them or loaning them something. The Hook Up (n) on the other hand is a contact or access somebody has who can get you something special (often used for hard to get or even illegal services or items).

When to Use: mostly informal situations


  • The bartender was my friend so he hooked me up with a few free beers.”
  • “My boss hooked me up with a pair of tickets to the football game tomorrow.”
  • “I have a hookup at the nightclub who can get us in without waiting in line.”

8. Off the Hook Phone Disconnected, or Busy  (adj)

The root definition of Off the Hook is most commonly represented by the phone being off the hook. This is obviously a classic example, as modern day phones eliminate the literal application of this adjective. It doesn’t make a lot of sense with cell phones.

Off the Hook can also be applied to a phone that is very busy with the expression, “His phone is ringing off the hook.”

When to Use: mostly informal situations

Example:  “I called at least 15 times but I couldn’t reach John all afternoon because somebody left the phone off the hook,” “The new restaurant is so delicious that since it opened their phone has been ringing off the hook.”

9. Off the Hook No more trouble or obligation (adj)

When you let or get somebody off the hook, it means to free somebody of a situation that left that person in trouble or was causing him/her a burden.

When to Use: anytime

Example:  “After being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, they finally let him off the hook after the DNA tests came back from the blood sample.”

10. Off the Hook Fresh, New, Cool, Crazy (adj)

Off the Hook is also a semi-modern day slang expression (from the 90’s and early 2000’s) to describe something that is new, hip, and popular and/or something that is crazy, outrageous, or beyond expectations.

When to Use: informal situations

Example:  “The new Pearl Jam album is off the hook. You have to check it out,” or “Man, you have to come to this amazing party. It’s off the hook.

11. Hook, Line and Sinker To Skillfully Deceive (Idiom)

Hook, Line and Sinker means to have skillfully deceive somebody with a crafty trick. It’s metaphor for a fishing maneuver with the same name (you cast your fishing line with a hook and a sinker – the sinker is the weight), with the person “taking the bait” (falling for the trick) and completely believing it.

When to Use: anytime

Example:  “It was an easy scam. He fell hook, line, and sinker for the story I made up.”

12. Play Hooky Skip School (V)

Play Hooky means to skip school, work, or another formal obligation without an honest reason. Its connotation is playful and mischievous.

When to Use: anytime

Example:  “When he was a kid, he was so bored with his math class that he played hooky once a week.”

13. By hook or crook by any means

By Hook or Crook means to be determined to do something, in any way possible, even dishonest. This makes sense if you consider that a hook is curved (not straight- which is honest) and crook means thief (deriving from the word crooked, which again is the opposite of straight.) This is an older expression and is not very common nowadays (at least in the United States).

When to Use: informal situations

Example:  “Maradona was a good soccer player, and would try his best to win, by hook or crook. The Hand of God play is the perfect example of this.”

14. Hook – Part of a Song/Article that Attracts or Catches You

The Hook of a song or article is the part that catches you, or is the most addictive.

In music, this may be the recurring part of the song. In a blog or newspaper article, it’s the part at the beginning that tries to make you interested.  This is more of a technical term.

When to Use: anytime

Example:  “One of the most important parts of a great song or article is to have a really strong hook.”

15. Hooker Last name, Prostitute

In addition to Hooker being a last name meaning “maker of hooks,” it is a common word for “prostitute” (Note: Bitch does not usually mean prostitute).  It probably originates from the root of the word hook, which is to attract, grab, which is the desired effect hookers have on men.

When to Use: informal situations

Example:  “Las Vegas is a city that has legalized prostitution, making it perfectly okay to be a hooker.”  

16. Left Hook / Hook Left – move in the shape of a hook (adj, n)

As a noun, a hook is a quick/swift punch in a fight, usually described as a right or left hook. As a verb, it means to arrive or move in the form of a hook.

When to Use: anytime

Example: “The boxer was horribly slow, but he had a dangerous left hook,” or “On the corner kick, Neymar kicked the ball toward the goal and the goalie had no chance to make the save because it hooked so far from it’s original trajectory.”

The RealLife English Hookup

Now that you’ve expanded your knowledge of all the wonderful uses of the verb Hook, we’ve got a special hookup for new RealLife English members: our popular e-book, 101 Words You’ll Never Learn in School. Take care guys!

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  • Natan Monteiro says:

    Great text!

  • Justin, I'm totally hooked on your articles. This one is really cool!!

  • Thank you so much Maria Cristina! I really appreciate you reading and taking the time to leave a nice comment too! Come hang out at the RealLife Tripppin Party in SP on Dec 7th. I won't be there for this one but Chad will. Thanks again!

  • Thanks Natan! I really appreciate it.

  • Thanks, Justin. I'll try to be there.

  • Tom Hodgers says:

    Hi Jason. here’s another:
    You can always tell those who aren’t interested in your blog to “Sling their Hooks” hahaha.

  • Thanks for the nice comment Gustavo! That means a lot coming from you. Good job with your English! It keeps getting better and better.

  • Thanks for the nice comment Gustavo! That means a lot coming from you. Good job with your English! It keeps getting better and better.

  • good place

  • It's very useful this information. Writing or speaking is very different.

  • Peter Barzey says:

    now I have different way to use Hook up

  • Great! So illuminating this lesson! Thank you so much!

  • Andrea says:

    It is sucha a helpful lesson! But my concern is that I told a friend ” lets hook up next weekend” I hope he doesnt take me wrong!! I meant without romantic intentions!!
    Sometimes I wonder myself if I am really going to learn well this language!!!

    • Justin says:

      Hey Andrea, I’m sure you’re fine. That’s a perfectly valid definition too. Only when the person wants to read it that way hahahah!

  • Salem says:

    Your great efforts are highly appreciated. This article and similar ones are of great support for English learners

    • Justin says:

      Aww yeah, thanks for your support!

  • Cherry Sampson says:

    Hey Justin! Just read this article in 2023. Hope life is treating you well.