It's an article in Reuters I can't get the meaning of bold part

In three hours of blazing exchanges with his rivals, he took on targets once seen as all but untouchable, including the judicial establishment and the Revolutionary Guards, the elite military force that controls much of Iran's economy.

would you give me the meaning of that part word by word?

  • took on is a phrasal verb; once seen as all but untouchable modifies targets. It could have appeared before the noun as once-seen-as-all-but-untouchable targets. For all but, see ell.stackexchange.com/search?q=All+but+ May 15, 2017 at 13:17

2 Answers 2


he took on - he engaged or focused on

targets - things

once seen as - formerly understood to be

all but untouchable - effectively unreachable


Without the full context I can't be sure, but I assume the he in this sentence was exchanging words with other people, perhaps politicians or leaders in a court or some sort of forum.

To say he took on targets means that he levelled some criticism at and/or insulted some groups (such as the judicial establishment and the Revolutionary Guards). To say that these targets were once seen as all but untouchable it means that the targets were so revered, respected, feared etc. that to challenge them or speak ill of them was something that wasn't even considered before this person came along. That other people thought they were too big or too important or too scary to say anything bad about or question.

With further context I can be more specific; there isn't enough context supplied to be exact.

  • Thanks, yes, you're right. I got the idea but what does ''once seen as all but untouchable'' mean? is it an expression? can you explain more
    – Masih K
    May 15, 2017 at 13:31

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