What Does Riled Up Mean?

Have you ever heard someone described as being “riled up” and wondered what it meant? In this post, we’ll explore the definition of this common expression so that you’ll understand its meaning the next time you hear or read it, and so that you can use it yourself when writing and speaking.

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What Does Riled Up Mean?

Riled up is an idiom. Typically, idiomatic expressions have figurative rather than literal meanings that can’t be deduced just by looking at the words that comprise them (keep reading to learn more). But that’s not exactly the case with this particular phrase. To figure out its meaning, all we need to do is look to the definition of rile and the definition of up.

Rile (verb):

1. To make angry and agitated/irritated

2. To roil, which means to stir up, disturb, or cause disorder; in the case of
roiling water, it means to stir up sediment and make the water muddy

Indeed, rile is actually a variant or different spelling of roil; as you can see from above, they mean, for the most part, the exact same thing. According to Merriam-Webster, the spelling and pronunciation rile was first used for roil in 1624. 

Of course, up can mean to a higher place or position, among other things. But below is the definition we need to know when it comes to the expression riled up.

Up (adverb):

Into a more advanced state, to a greater degree of excitement; at a higher level of intensity, action, or volume, e.g. He spoke up. or She turned the volume up.

Now, let’s put the definitions or rile and up together: to agitate to a greater degree or more advanced state. In other words, if you rile someone up through your words or actions, you make them more agitated than they were before you spoke or acted. And if you are riled up, you’re more irritated or angrier than normal.

We also need to look closely at the definition of roil to arrive at another way this common idiom is often used. To stir up and cause disorder doesn’t necessarily have to mean to anger, right? This is the case especially when used with up, meaning to bring to greater intensity or into a state of greater excitement. That’s why the phrase riled up can be used to describe being overly excited, chaotic, or hyperactive. It’s often used to describe children, especially young children, who are, to use another common expression, bouncing off the walls.

Here are several example sentences using the phrase riled up:

  • I get so riled up when my neighbor’s dog goes to the bathroom in my yard. 
  • After drinking lemonade and eating cupcakes at the birthday party, all of the kids were very riled up!
  • At the rally, the politician got his supporters riled up with his speech. 
  • After the argument with her boyfriend, Sarah was so riled up she couldn’t sleep. 
  • Once the kids got out of the car from the long drive to New York, they were as riled up as they could be. 
  • Being isolated during the coronavirus pandemic got me really riled up.

Note that you can also break up the phrase with either a noun or pronoun. For instance:

  • Seeing the driver in the car in front of mine throw trash out of his window really riled me up. 
  • It really riled Wesley up when his dad wouldn’t let him get a new video game.
  • My boss riled me up when he didn’t send a follow-up email after our conversation.

You may often hear this phrase preceded by the word all for emphasis. For example: Jim was all riled up after the court hearing didn’t go his way.

What Are Idioms?

As mentioned above, an idiom is an expression with an intended meaning that can’t fully be understood just by looking at the words within it. Again, these words and phrases usually have a figurative rather than literal meaning: They don’t mean what they appear to mean. Even if you’ve never heard the term idiom, you have most likely heard many idiomatic expressions. Here are just a few of the most common idioms used today:

You’re in hot water.
His boss gave him the ax.
It’s time to face the music.
You’ve hit the nail on the head.

If you took the first example literally, you’d think it was describing a person standing in a bathtub full of hot water, perhaps. But the expression is actually used to describe a person who’s in trouble. Likewise, rather than literally being handed a tool for chopping wood, if you get the ax from your boss, it means you’re getting fired. It’s time to face the music means that it’s time to come to terms with the consequences of your actions. And when someone has hit the nail on the head, they’ve gotten an answer exactly right or done something exactly as it should have been done.

However, riled up isn’t your typical idiom. In its case, you are able to look to the definitions of the individual words rile and up to make sense of its meaning. However, you do have to dig a bit deeper into the definitions of these words to arrive at one figurative way in which the expression is commonly used: to describe someone who is hyperactive—often, a child.

Discover the meanings of many more idioms here.

Other Ways to Say Riled Up

There are a great deal of synonyms for rile in particular. Below are several choices; a thesaurus will turn up additional similar options. If you want to use one of these related words to take the place of riled up in text or dialogue, know that you may need to add “ed” to the end of the word or to otherwise change the tense of the word. For example, if you want to use annoy in the sentence Brian riled me up, you would need to say, Brian annoyed me, and not Brian annoy me

  • Annoy
  • Agitate
  • Aggravate
  • Bother
  • Bug
  • Chafe
  • Disturb
  • Exasperate
  • Irk 
  • Irritate
  • Nark (British)
  • Nettle
  • Peeve
  • Pique
  • Provoke
  • Ruffle
  • Upset
  • Vex

There are also many synonyms for hyper and hyperactive that you may be able to use in place of riled up, such as:

  • Animated
  • Bouncy
  • Bustling
  • Buzzing
  • Chipper
  • Energetic
  • Excited
  • Excitable
  • Frenzied
  • Frisky
  • High-strung
  • Lively
  • Overactive
  • Peppy
  • Perky
  • Spirited
  • Spry
  • Spunky
  • Uncontrollable
  • Wild
  • Zippy

If you’re looking for a similar phrase, and possibly another idiom, to use in place of riled up, consider:

  • Got under one’s skin
  • Rubbed the wrong way
  • Ruffled one’s feathers
  • Shook up
  • Stirred up
  • Tried one’s patience
  • Worked up

Summary

Riled up is a common expression used to describe someone who is either very angry or extremely irritated, or super excited and hyperactive. The latter definition is often used when talking about young children, although it can be used to describe a person of any age or even, perhaps, an animal. The word rile is actually a variant of roil, that is thought to date to the 1600s; meaning, these two words are spelled and pronounced differently but have the same meaning.

PS: Rile and roil are great Scrabble words! For more, check out Words That Start With R: Scrabble Cheat Sheet.