see the forest for the trees
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- see the wood for the trees
- see the forest but for the trees
- see the forest through the trees (very rare)
- see the trees through the forest (very rare)
Audio (AU) (file)
see the forest for the trees (third-person singular simple present sees the forest for the trees, present participle seeing the forest for the trees, simple past saw the forest for the trees, past participle seen the forest for the trees)
- (idiomatic) To discern an overall pattern from a mass of detail; to see the big picture, or the broader, more general situation.
- (idiomatic, in the negative, by extension) To be overwhelmed by detail to the point where it obscures the overall situation.
- Smith is good at detail, but can't see the forest for the trees.
- This is almost always used in negative constructions, often starting with can't, as it is a negative polarity item.
to discern overall pattern from details
to be overwhelmed by detail to the point where it obscures the overall situation
- big picture
- bigger fish to fry
- bird's-eye view
- grand scheme
- not see for looking
- ^ The Proverbes of John Heywood, 1546:
- "You cannot see the wood for trees. Continued proverbial, being found in an anti-popish tract of the reign of Charles II. From him who sees no wood for trees/ And yet is busie as the bees/ From him that's settled on his lees/ And speaketh not without his fees,/ Libera nos. A Letany for S. triers, 1682."