I couldn't find the exact definition of "hanging over someone's shoulders" online. I am not referring to the literal meaning, when, for example, you feel there is a ghost hanging over your shoulders.

How would you explain the idiom "hanging over someone's shoulders", and are there any other variations to the phrase?

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    I am not sure feeling like there is a ghost hanging over your shoulders is a literal meaning; I would consider this figurative.
    – Mixolydian
    Mar 21, 2019 at 18:17
  • 1
    The only thing hanging over one shoulders would be a shawl or wrap or straps for a contraption. Otherwise, in the plural, it is a no-go.
    – Lambie
    Mar 21, 2019 at 18:47
  • Good point. You're right
    – pilti
    Mar 22, 2019 at 15:00

3 Answers 3


It depends somewhat on the thing that is hanging over your shoulders, and how it is affecting you.

If you feel that you are being observed constantly, then someone or something is looking over your shoulder:

I can't concentrate with you looking over my shoulder all the time!

If you are uneasy because of some pressure or responsibility being placed upon you, there are a few phrases that would work:

I'm always stressed because of all the work that's been put on my shoulders.

I'd like to go out tonight, but I have an important deadline hanging over my head.

If something is irritating you because of its constant presence, you could say that it's on my back:

My boss is always on my back about getting these reports done.

If you can just barely sense the presence of something or someone, they might be lurking.

There were ghosts lurking in every corner, just out of sight.

  • "Hanging around like a bad smell" might be an alternative, if the attention was unwanted. Mar 22, 2019 at 3:24
  • Is "hanging over one's shoulder" a common phrase used? Looking/standing is what I found when I did a search for it.
    – pilti
    Mar 22, 2019 at 15:05
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    I don't think "hanging over one's shoulder" is a common phrase, which is why I didn't include it.
    – Jesse
    Mar 22, 2019 at 19:10

fall/rest on someone's shoulders means to be someone's responsibility.

All the work of cleaning fell on my shoulders.

But by extension hang can also be used in place of fall/rest.


I hear it in the singular, not plural. "Hanging over one's shoulder." When Tom (for example) is hanging over Steve's shoulder, Tom is looking at what Steve is looking at. The implication is that Steve does NOT want this; "hanging over one's shoulder" is usually a negative comment. "Tom, please stop hanging over my shoulder."

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    In Britain, I think we would be more likely to say "standing" or "looking" over one's shoulder, meaning excessively and dominantly supervising or checking what one is doing, or being inquisitive. Mar 21, 2019 at 18:29
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    @Michael Harvey You can be "hanging over someone's shoulder at a computer" or something like that. And that has nothing to do with BrE or AmE. But it would always be singular, yes.
    – Lambie
    Mar 21, 2019 at 18:45
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    So "standing/looking over one's shoulder" is a phrase used instead of "hanging"? Is "hanging" wrong to use in this context?
    – pilti
    Mar 22, 2019 at 15:04

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