Number one for English language teachers

Theme-based expressions: countryside

Type: Article

Don’t beat about the bush and get straight to the point with Tim Bowen’s countryside themed expressions.


‘The government has embarked on a root and branch reform of secondary education.’ A root and branch reform is extremely thorough and involves all parts and sectors of a particular field of activity. Apart from reform, the expression can also be used with the nouns review and investigation

If a person can’t see the wood for the trees, they are too preoccupied with details and can only see these rather than understanding the bigger picture and the whole meaning or significance of something. 

Similarly, someone who makes a mountain out of a molehill, treats a minor problem as if it were something really important, and if that same person beats about the bush, they spend a lot of time getting to the main point of what they are trying to say, often because it is embarrassing in some way. 

If someone is barking up the wrong tree, they are doing something that will not get the result they want because they are wrong about the reason for something or the way to achieve something, as in ‘Blaming climate change on CO2 emissions alone is a classic case of barking up the wrong tree’. 

Finally, if you are looking for a needle in a haystack, you are trying to find something that is almost impossible to find.

Teaching tip: ask learners to use an English-English dictionary or a search engine to find the meaning of these phrases, which can also be used idiomatically and which are also related to the countryside: down to earth, the grass is greener on the other side, to have a field day, out in the sticks, a country mile.

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