What does the idiom "give way to" mean?

You are wondering about the meaning of the phrase give way to, maybe you heard it in a TV show, movie or theater play. Although this idiom is not used very often, it enriches your capacity of expression and strengthens communication. In which case is the expression give way to used and what is its meaning?

Meaning of "give way to"


The idiom ‘give way to’ has two distinct meanings. The first is to yield to something, to surrender to an obstacle or force. The second is to give space to, to make way for someone or something else.


The idiom ‘give way to’ is believed to have originated in the late 16th century United Kingdom. The etymology of the phrase comes from the nautical term, ‘give way’, which means to move away from a fixed point, such as a dock.


The literal meaning of the phrase ‘give way to’ is used in many maritime contexts. It’s important for vessels to give way to one another, in order to avoid collisions or accidents on the water.

The figurative meaning of ‘give way to’ is applied most oftenly in everyday life. It’s used to describe a situation in which someone or something is yielding to a more powerful force or giving way to another person or thing. It can also be used in instances where one thing is prioritized over another, and the first is ‘giving way’ to the second. For example, someone could ‘give way to’ an urgent work project, meaning they prioritize it over other tasks or activities.

The phrase ‘give way to’ can also be used to describe a physical space or location. It implies that someone or something is trying to move through or take a space, and another is ‘giving way’ to make room for them.

Example Sentences

  • We had to give way to the bigger vessel in order to avoid a collision.
  • My plans had to give way to my work obligation.
  • He had to give way to the other cars on the road.
  • I had to give way to the crowds of people trying to get through the door.

The meanings of the words in the "give way to" idiom

Idioms with similar meaning

"Don't judge a book by its cover" is an English idiom that means you shouldn't make assumptions about someone or something based solely on its appearance. In Japanese, the similar idiom is "Hana yori dango," which translates to "Dumplings rather than flowers." This idiom means that substance is more important than appearance.


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