The English expressions:

  • throw a spanner in the works
    • put a spanner in the works
    • throw a (monkey) wrench in the works

Mean: to do something that prevents a plan or activity from succeeding:
Example: The funding for the project was withdrawn so that really threw a spanner in the works.

and also:

  • To put a spoke in someone's wheel
    Meaning: to make it difficult for someone to achieve something they had planned to do
    Example - His letter really put a spoke in our wheel.

My questions:

1) Based on all the mentioned explanations, these four expressions mean so close that I cannot distinguish them. I wonder if you could give me a hand to differentiate between them.

2) Is it normal if I use throw a spanner in the works regarding a specific person and say: throw a spanner in [someone's] works or throw a spanner in the works of [someone]?

3) I would be appreciative if you could also help me to regionally devide them so that I discover which one is widespread in which country (AE and BE.

  • If sb's means somebody's, please spell out the full word. May 7, 2019 at 15:43
  • I'm sorry @Jason Bassford. I will do my best.
    – A-friend
    May 7, 2019 at 18:04

1 Answer 1


1) As you mentioned, all of these statement are very close in meaning to each other. A slight difference in meaning I see is that while 'putting a spoke in his (or their) wheel' always indicates interfering with the plans of someone else, 'putting a monkey wrench/spanner in the works' means that you are fouling up a particular system but not always the plans of someone else. Fouling up a system may also mess with the plans of whoever cares about that system, so the meanings can be the same, but if for example you threw a wrench into the works of a system that was malfunctioning or out of control, you may not be messing up the plans of anyone else.

2) Normal usage is 'throwing a spanner/monkey wrench in the works' when you are messing up a system and 'putting a spoke in his wheel' when messing up someone's plans.

3) 'Spanner' is the UK/British English term for what Americans call a 'Wrench'. A monkey wrench is a specific type of adjustable wrench, often referred to as a 'pipe wrench')

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