What does the idiom "tooth and nail" mean?

You are wondering about the meaning of the phrase tooth and nail, 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 tooth and nail used and what is its meaning?

Meaning of "tooth and nail"


The phrase "tooth and nail" is an idiom that typically means to fight or struggle as hard as possible in order to accomplish something. It is an expression that is used to emphasize how vigorously one is going to pursue something, or how much effort they are willing to put forth. It is commonly used to describe a person's dedication and determination to achieve a goal, often in a time of adversity.


The phrase "tooth and nail" has its roots in medieval England. It is believed to have originally been used to describe knights who, in battle, would fight with both tooth and nail. This was a metaphor for the great lengths to which the knights would go in order to protect their country or honor, even to the point of using their teeth and nails to defeat their enemy. Over time, the phrase evolved to become a popular idiom in English and has been used to describe any situation where someone is putting forth a great amount of effort.


The phrase "tooth and nail" is typically used to describe someone's effort or dedication to a cause. It implies that the person is working hard and doing everything they can in order to reach a certain goal; it is also often used to describe how someone is fighting off adversity or challenging times in order to reach their goal. It can be used in both a literal and figurative sense, and is often used in a positive light to describe someone who is determined and persevering.

Example Sentences

  • John fought tooth and nail to save his business from bankruptcy.
  • Sally was determined to get into the college of her dreams and worked tooth and nail for her application.
  • The team was determined to win the championship, and fought tooth and nail to get there.

The meanings of the words in the "tooth and nail" 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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