verb (used with object), pat·ted, pat·ting.

  1. to strike lightly or gently with something flat, as with a paddle or the palm of the hand, usually in order to flatten, smooth, or shape: to pat dough into flat pastry forms.
  2. to stroke or tap gently with the palm or fingers as an expression of affection, approbation, etc.
  3. to strike (the floor, ground, etc.) with light footsteps.

verb (used without object), pat·ted, pat·ting.

  1. to strike lightly or gently.
  2. to walk or run with light footsteps.


  1. a light stroke, tap, or blow with the palm, fingers, or a flat object.
  2. the sound of a light stroke or of light footsteps.
  3. a small piece or mass, usually flat and square, formed by patting, cutting, etc.: a pat of butter.


  1. a pat on the back, a word of praise, congratulations, or encouragement: Everyone needs a pat on the back now and then.
  2. pat down, to pat or pass the hands over the body of (a clothed person) to detect concealed weapons, drugs, etc.
  3. pat on the back, to praise, congratulate, or encourage: The boss patted him on the back for the deal he made yesterday.

verb pats, patting or patted

  1. to hit (something) lightly with the palm of the hand or some other flat surfaceto pat a ball
  2. to slap (a person or animal) gently, esp on the back, as an expression of affection, congratulation, etc
  3. (tr) to shape, smooth, etc, with a flat instrument or the palm
  4. (intr) to walk or run with light footsteps
  5. pat someone on the back informal to congratulate or encourage someone


  1. a light blow with something flat
  2. a gentle slap
  3. a small mass of somethinga pat of butter
  4. the sound made by a light stroke or light footsteps
  5. pat on the back informal a gesture or word indicating approval or encouragement


  1. Also: off pat exactly or fluently memorized or masteredhe recited it pat
  2. opportunely or aptly
  3. stand pat
    1. mainly US and Canadianto refuse to abandon a belief, decision, etc
    2. (in poker, etc) to play without adding new cards to the hand dealt


  1. exactly right for the occasion; apta pat reply
  2. too exactly fitting; gliba pat answer to a difficult problem
  3. exactly righta pat hand in poker


  1. on one’s pat Australian informal alone; on one’s own


  1. an informal name for an Irishman

n.c.1400, “a blow, stroke,” perhaps originally imitative of the sound of patting. Meaning “light tap with hand” is from c.1804. Sense of “that which is formed by patting” (as in pat of butter) is 1754, probably from the verb. Pat on the back in the figurative sense attested by 1804. adv.“aptly, suitably, at the right time,” 1570s, perhaps from pat (adj.) in sense of “that which hits the mark,” a special use from pat (n.) in sense of “a hitting” of the mark. The modern adjective is 1630s, from the adverb. v.1560s, “to hit, throw;” meaning “to tap or strike lightly” is from 1714; from pat (n.). Related: Patted; patting. The nursery rhyme phrase pat-a-cake is known from 1823. Alternative patty-cake (usually American English) is attested from 1794 (in “Mother Goose’s Melody, or Sonnets for the Cradle,” Worcester, Mass.). as a fem. proper name, short for Patricia. As a masc. proper name, short for Patrick; hence a nickname for any Irishman. In addition to the idiom beginning with pat

  • pat on the back
  • also see:

  • stand pat
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