can't see the forest for the trees

Cultural Dictionary

can't see the forest for the trees definition


An expression used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole: “The congressman became so involved in the wording of his bill that he couldn't see the forest for the trees; he did not realize that the bill could never pass.”

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

can't see the forest for the trees

Also, can't see the wood for the trees. Focus only on small details and fail to understand larger plans or principles, as in Alex argues about petty cash and overlooks the budgethe can't see the forest for the trees. This expression was already a proverb in John Heywood's 1546 collection.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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