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Idioms with “Can’t”

Published by My Lingua Academy on

Do you think it’s a good idea to judge a book by its cover? Or to hold your water about something? Find out the meanings of 10 idioms with “can’t”.


Can’t hold a candle to something/someone


When someone or something is much better than the other person or thing mentioned, we say that they can’t hold a candle to them.


For example:

  • Sam is a good cook, but he can’t hold a candle to Jill.
  • Although he’s a good tennis player, he can’t hold a candle to professional tennis players.


Can’t make head nor tail of sth


If you can’t make head nor tail of something, then you can’t understand it.


For example:

  • I’ve been trying to figure out this programme for quite some time, but it doesn’t make head nor tail to me.
  • I can’t make head nor tail of the weather these days. It’s totally bizarre.
Idioms with “Can’t”


Can’t see further than your nose


If a person can’t see further than their nose, then they lack understanding and insight.


For example:

  • That politician is so narrow-minded, he doesn’t see further than his nose.
  • She is so selfish! She can’t see further than her nose.


Can’t see the wood for the trees


You can say that some people can’t see the wood for the trees if they are too much occupied with detail so they can’t see the full picture.


For example:

  • The new project is so complicated that most people who work on it can’t see the wood for the trees.
  • His obsession with details prevents him from seeing the bigger picture. He simply can’t see the wood for the trees.


Can’t hold your water


If you can’t hold your water, then you are not able to keep a secret.


For example:

  • Don’t tell Fiona about the surprise birthday party for Mark because she’ll tell him. She just can’t hold water!
  • All you need to do is to hold your water and not tell anyone about our plans.


Can’t teach an old dog new tricks


This idiom means that it is difficult to make people change their ways or habits.


For example:

  • There is no way to teach your grandpa to read his news on the phone. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
  • The way they do business is much different than our way, but we really can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
Idioms with “Can’t”


Can’t judge a book by its cover


It means that it is impossible to know what someone or something is like based only on their looks.


For example:

  • He’s wearing shabby clothes and drives an old car but I heard that he’s one of the wealthiest man in the neighbourhood.
  • The restaurant looked unsightly and old but inside it was so glamorous. Well, you can’t judge a book by its cover!


Beggars can’t be choosers


The meaning of this idiom is obvious; sometimes we don’t have a choice so we must accept the only available option.


For example:

  • We could do with a spare room but we can’t afford it now. As you know, beggars can’t be choosers.
  • I will accept any job you offer me because I have bills to pay. Beggars can’t be choosers.


If you can’t beat them, join them


You may have a similar idiom in your language. The meaning is: if you can’t defeat your rival, the solution may be to join them in order to see what they do.


For example:

  • I never thought that I would advertise on Facebook but everyone is doing it. Well, if you can’t beat them, join them.
  • Everybody seems to be wearing computer glasses these days. I might get ones myself. You know what they say: if you can’t beat them, join them.
Idioms with “Can’t”


Can’t help something


If you can’t help something, then you can’t control it.


For example:

  • I can’t help laughing at you. Your hat is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!
  • My parents can’t help worrying about me when I’m away.

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