What does ‘caught red-handed’ mean?

The idiom ‘caught red-handed’ means you are caught doing something bad at the time you are doing it.

It can be something illegal like stealing a car. But it can also be something less serious like taking a snack when you shouldn’t. The key point is you’re caught in the process of doing the bad action.

Here are some examples. 

Peter was caught red-handed stealing money from the drawer.

The police caught the gang red-handed robbing the convenience store. 

Sam caught his little brother red-handed taking another cookie from the kitchen. 

Sally tried to cheat in the exam but she was caught red-handed by a teacher.

It’s an uncomfortable idea, but people say this idiom comes from a murderer’s hands being red with blood after killing somebody 😮 But now it’s used for anything bad you’re caught doing. 

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‘Caught red-handed’ is an informal expression, so if you’d like something more formal, you can say to ‘catch [someone] in the act’. For example, ‘They were caught in the act of sealing from the shop’.

So, when were you ‘caught red-handed’ doing something? 😉

Extra tip!:  When the color red is used in English idioms, it is often associated with negative ideas. For example, ‘see red’=angry, ‘red-faced’=embarrassed, ‘in the red’=owe people money.

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