To go out on a limb

What does it mean?

When you go out on a limb you put yourself in a disadvantageous position. Often this is because we support something that we believe in although it may mean we risk criticism. For example, a government minister may go out on a limb to support environmental policies.

When we say to go out on a limb, we are not referring to limbs as in arms and legs but the limbs (or branches) of a tree. The literal idea of this idiom is that when climbing a tree, the further you are away from the trunk, the more likely a branch is to break.

idiom to go out on a limb meaning

Where does it come from?

As mentioned above, this idiom refers to the act of climbing trees. Although people have been doing this for a long time, the earliest known use of this idiom is in the late 19th Century in America.

How can I use it?

Most commonly this idiom is used with a future construction such as will or going to. We use it in this way to say something that we believe is true. In this case we use the pattern future construction + go out on a limb + and + bare infinitive.

  • I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s the greatest movie of all time.
  • I’ll go out on a limb here and say United are going to win.

As you can see above, we often add the word here. This doesn’t really add much to the phrase but to emphasise that what follows is relevant to something happening now or that we have just said.

We might also talk about our willingness to go out on a limb. Note that we can extend these phrases as before with and + bare infinitive.

  • I‘m willing to go out on a limb…
  • I‘m not prepared to go out on a limb…
  • Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb…
  • He‘s not the type to go out on a limb for someone.

And is not the only word we can use to extend this idiom. As you can see above we can use for. We use this when we put ourselves into a disadvantageous position supporting somebody else. We can also use to, for example:

  • You’re really going out on a limb to try and prove me wrong.
  • I hope you didn’t go out on a limb to do that.

What are some examples?

  • I’m willing to go out on a limb here and say that Messi is the greatest footballer of all time.
  • I need ideas people… and don’t be afraid to go out on a limb.
  • It sucks that you guys broke up. You really went out on a limb for him.
  • You don’t have to go out on a limb to try and protect me.

What are some similar or related expressions?

  • to stick one’s neck out

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Photo by Allan Mas from Pexels.

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