The Meaning of In Turn: What It Is and How To Use It

This article will give you all of the info you need on the term in turn, including its meaning, usage, origin, synonyms, example sentences, and more!

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What is the meaning of the phrase in turn?

According to Cambridge Dictionary, Fine Dictionary, and other dictionary apps, the phrase in turn is a phrasal verb that can either mean “because of” or “one after the other.” This phrase is considered very polite, and can frequently be seen in speeches, essays, or other professional settings. The first definition can be used to describe a cause and effect or a part of a connected series of events. For example, not drinking water can in turn cause dehydration. Dehydration is the effect of not drinking water. For the second definition, this can describe things happening in a proper order. For example, the teacher passed out the worksheets to her students in turn. This means that she did not scatter the papers around the classroom willy-nilly, but rather passed them out in a methodical order. 

This is not to be confused with the phrase “turn in.” Turn in, according to MacMillan Dictionary, can mean to give something to its rightful owner or someone in authority, such as a teacher to a student. It can also mean to tell the police about someone or to go to bed. According to Phrases, the phrase turn in is nautical in origin according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Sailors did not have bunks or barracks in the 1830s when the phrase was originated, but hammocks. Therefore, in order to go to bed, someone had to physically wiggle and turn to get into bed. This phrase should also not be confused with the phrases turn on, turn up, or turn out. The phrase in turn is used in both British English and American English

What is the etymology of the phrase in turn?

According to Etymonline, the origin of the word turn comes from the Late English turnian, which means to rotate, or to revolve. This can in part also come from the Old French torner, meaning to turn away, change or transform. This definition meaning change can give cause to the first definition of in turn, which relates to cause and effect.

Tourner and torner come from the Latin tornare, meaning to polish or round off, which comes from tornus, meaning lathe. This comes from the Greek tornos, which also means lathe. A lathe is a tool for drawing circles.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the phrase in turn?

If one wished to use a different phrase or word with the same meaning of in turn, they could use a synonym. A synonym is a word or phrase that has the same meaning of a given word or phrase. One might choose to use a synonym to expand their vocabulary or to avoid repeating themselves. This list of synonyms for the phrase in turn is provided by Thesaurus.

  • consecutively
  • sequential
  • following
  • one after another
  • successively
  • in order
  • orderly
  • in sequence
  • succeeding
  • in proper sequence

If someone wished to describe something that was not done in a proper order, that person could use an antonym to the phrase in turn. An antonym is a word or phrase that means the opposite of a given word or phrase. This list of antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus.

  • disorganized
  • scrambled
  • in disarray
  • unsettled
  • confused
  • disorderly
  • disordered
  • tangled
  • misunderstood
  • unsorted
  • out of order
  • untidy
  • blurred
  • cluttered
  • disarranged
  • jumbled
  • messy
  • mixed-up
  • chaotic

How can the phrase in turn be used in a sentence?

Since the phrase in turn has two different definitions, this means it can be used in two different contexts. Below are two different examples of the ways in which the phrase in turn can be used. In the first example, the phrase in turn will be used to mean “because of.” In this first example, Mara and her son Trevor are at Trevor’s school for a parent teacher conference.

Mara: Trevor, would you like to explain to everyone why it is you’re failing?

Trevor: She doesn’t like me.

Mara: For Pete’s sake. You and I both know that isn’t the truth. Why don’t I let your teacher explain it to us?

Teacher: Happy to. Trevor, you turn in no assignments, you don’t show up to class, and in turn, you’re failing. You are the one doing this to yourself. I would be happy to give you a good grade on assignments if you would actually turn them in.

Mara: I am so sorry for all of this trouble. Just know he is in for a wake up call. You’re lucky we caught this early, Trevor. If this was your final report call, let’s just say boarding school wouldn’t be out of the questions.

Here, the teacher uses the phrase in turn to describe why Trevor is failing. In this next example, the phrase in turn will be used to mean one after the other. The teacher is telling the class to come to the front of the room and collect their assignments.

Teacher: Okay, class. Starting from the right, we’ll go one row at a time in turn. Once everyone from the first row is done collecting their assignments, the second row can come up.

Trevor: What if I don’t want it?

Teacher: What did you say?

Trevor: Nothing.

Overall, the English phrase in turn has two different definitions. The first definition is “because of.” This refers to a consequential sequence of events, or a cause and effect. Something happens, and in turn, something else happens. The second definition of in turn is “one after another.” People in a line can be given things “in turn.” This is also related to the phrase “wait your turn.”