Which one is the correct way of using the idiom: "spoilt for choice"

There are lots many varieties of clothes available for women, that's why they are spoilt for the choices.


There are lots many varieties of clothes available for women, that's why they are spoilt for choice.

  • BTW, Americans are more likely to use "spoiled" instead of "spoilt".
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 17:42
  • @Andrew: Apparently they are (according to that chart, the "regular" past tense spoiled is as common as spoilt in AmE). But I would also point out that if you switch to the BrE corpus on that link you'll see that even if you combine both versions, the basic expression is maybe 7-8 times more common in BrE (essentially, it's not an AmE usage). Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 17:50
  • @FumbleFingers This is all due to Harry Potter and the large Netflix library of BBC programmes -- see, even I'm doing it!. Nowadays I can't help but go around wishing people "Happy Christmas" and calling redheads "gingers". Although I'm probably a statistical blip since if you expand the chart to 2008 it shows "spoiled" became more common after 2000. Possibly as a backlash to the aforementioned British invasion.
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 18:06
  • @Andrew: Truth be told, I don't think NGrams always accurately reflects even historical usage, let alone current usage (if you extend charts beyond the default upper limit 2000, you'll often find oddities that probably reflect poor data quality rather than actual usage shifts). But I seem to recall Rowling argued long and hard about numerous apparently pointless / picky changes the American publishers insisted on (I think they wanted loads of unnecessary additional commas included too). So if the expression occurs in Harry Potter perhaps that's the only exposure for some Americans. Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 18:21

1 Answer 1


It's always singular with no article (idiomatically, you can only be spoilt for choice, not spoilt for the choice or spoilt for choices, etc.). The meaning is always unable to choose because there are so many possible good choices (that definition is Cambridge Dictionaries, but they'll all be similar).

In practice, the idiom is usually used with positive connotations, since we tend to think of having more choice / greater freedom to choose as a good thing. But as the New York Times reported several years ago...

There is a famous jam study [which concluded that] in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.

My guess would be that the origin of the expression was (perhaps jokingly) "literal" - your ability to make the best choice may be adversely affected (spoilt) by having too many options to consider. But because of the familiar "meaning reversal" as used today, if you did use the idiom when talking about the effect noted in that jam study, it would effectively be facetious. So it wouldn't be surprising to see it in "scare quotes" in such contexts, alerting the reader not to understand the expression as it's normally used.

With acknowledgement to @Andrew's comment, I should just point out that (however it's spelt - spoilt or spoiled), the expression is many times more common in British English than American. But I expect most reasonably articulate Americans would be familiar with it though, even if they might not be so likely to actually use it.

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