If you’re learning American English, you should know that the expression “branch out” doesn’t just describe a tree pushing limbs out of its trunk. Americans also use it to say they’re striking off in a new direction or trying something new.

Below are six more idiomatic phrases that also take their inspiration from trees:

Bark up the wrong tree


What it means: To look for something in the wrong place; to pursue the wrong person or object.
In conversation: “John wanted me to get him a job. He’s barking up the wrong tree. I don’t have that kind of power at my office.”

Knock on wood

What it means: A reference to the superstition of knocking on wood to avoid attracting bad luck.
In conversation: “I’m hoping to get a promotion this month. Knock on wood!”

Out on a limb

(© AP Images)

What it means: To take a risk.
In conversation: “Sam had a secure job with a high salary, but he dreamed about owning a restaurant. Last year, he went out on a limb and quit his job to open a small restaurant.”

Can’t see the forest for the trees

What it means: Not able to see a situation from a broader perspective; not able to see the whole situation; not able to see the big picture.
In conversation: “Yuki is very detail-oriented, but she is not able to see the forest for the trees.”

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree


What it means: A person grows up to be very similar to his/her parents, in behavior and/or physical characteristics; children are similar to their parents.
In conversation: “Jenna’s mother is a surgeon, and her father is also a doctor. Jenna will graduate from medical school next year. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”

Out of the woods

What it means: To be out of danger; to be out of a difficult situation.
In conversation: “My business was losing money for several months. I thought about closing the business. Fortunately, the economy is better, and my business is doing well now. I’m out of the woods.”

Learn more

ShareAmerica features materials on learning American English. Explore everyday conversations or learn idioms related to animals, colors and the word “free.”

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