under the table

This page is about the idiom under the table

American English


If something is done under the table, it's done secretly, usually because it's illegal or unethical.

For example

  • If I do any overtime, can you pay me under the table so I won't have pay tax on it.

  • If you make under-the-table payments to customs officials, you can get goods through the port without having them inspected.

If this idiom is used to qualify a noun or a noun phrase, hyphens must be used, as in "under-the-table payments".

Origin: Probably related to the fact that if a package or an envelope is passed under a table, other people cannot easily see what's going on.


This idiom is typically used in American English but may be used in other varieties of English too.

Quick Quiz

Newspapers reported that some basketball referees have received under-the-table payments for

a. refereeing their games

b. influencing the score in some games

c. playing golf in their free time
a) refereeing their games b) influencing the score in some games c) playing golf in their free time

See Idiom of the Day today

Contributor: Matt Errey