(A fictional situation) I want to give a warning to someone about something I experienced because they are in a situation I had been through. That they will lose if they make a concession..In that case, would "if you give (someone) an inch, they will take a mile" be appropriate to use?

I'm trying to apply it to my role-playing script assignment in a class that requires including idioms. I only wrote this phrase down from a random book because it seemed an interesting expression and I wanted to memorize it. So, sorry I couldn't give a clear sentence or situation about that. I only had an impression that it is used in a negative way. My script concept is pretending that I'm an athlete or musician (I haven't decided yet), I'd like to advise another fellow athlete/musician who is about to participate in a match/contest with one of my past opponents.

  • A: Hi, how have you been?
  • B: I'm great. Thank you for asking. How about you? We haven't seen each other since the after-party a few weeks ago.
  • A: Nothing to complain. Hey, I've heard you are participating in the ABC contest in a week.
  • B: That's right. I've been preparing for it but, from the things I heard about, one of the participants is '(name)' and you know her talent is over the top. I'm afraid I don't know much about her style.
  • A: You are going to be great. Remember you were the winner of the other competition not long ago? So I know you've got a great talent as well. But fair warning, I had met her as my opponent in a similar situation and if you give her an inch, she will take a mile. Just do your best and try not to make any mistake.
  • B: Thank you for the encouraging words and warning. I guess I can only try to psych myself up and practice until the contest. I'd better go then. It was good to talk with you. See you later.
  • 1
    Why do you think it might be appropriate? Why do you think it mightn't be appropriate? There are many examples here: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/…
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 2, 2020 at 5:51
  • When I read this expression in some random book, the speaker uses it to describe someone who is not very nice. I thought if 'they will take a mile' means 'they will take advantage of you', it might be available to mean 'you will lose' in the described situation. But not so sure about it. (Or maybe, "give your enemy an inch, they will take a mile" would clarify the meaning well?)
    – longne
    Jan 2, 2020 at 10:13
  • If you have a specific example that you have read and are unsure of the exact meaning, please edit your question to include that example. Or if you're trying to work out how to use it yourself, please give an example with context (the necessary sentences before/after your sentence). At the moment it's a little hard to work out what you'd like help with.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 2, 2020 at 10:19
  • That's good information. You should edit it into your question. If you can think of roughly what you want to say in your script even if it isn't perfect (i.e. a rough draft), that would help people answer your question too.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 2, 2020 at 11:48
  • I just edited and roughly wrote the script. (I just paste my now-deleted-comment to OP~)
    – longne
    Jan 2, 2020 at 12:29

2 Answers 2


The phrase doesn't mean that the other person isn't nice, it just means they will take advantage of any small mistake or liberty. For example, someone living in a house where the landlord has said "No pets!" They ask the landlord to make an exception because they really want a cat. The landlord agrees, and the next thing the tenant has four cats and two dogs! The landlord would be justified in saying that they gave the tenant an inch and the tenant took a mile.

In the context of sport, you could give your opponent a literal opening (too much space) that they could use to get past you an score a goal. A small amount of extra space could be forced wider by them. I'm not sure how someone could take advantage of you in a music competition. Perhaps you have an interesting way they can do that!

It's not necessarily the case that you will lose if the other person takes advantage of you, just that they will gain far more than the mistake/liberty would initially suggest. You could recover and go on to win, but it will be much harder than if you hadn't made that small mistake.


The cliché "if you give an inch they will take a mile" is a warning that someone will take advantage of you. In your context it is warning that you should not be "kind" to your opponent. One can imagine, in a game of chess, a player might make a deliberately poor move, because they think it will open up the game and make it more interesting. But she won't be kind and help the game be interesting: instead she will push her advantage to the limit.

It can't just mean "she is a better player than you". It has to mean that she will take advantage of your kindness.

Be a little careful of using clichés. Native speakers do use them, but better writers use them less often.

  • 2
    Clichés should be used sparingly in prose, but in direct speech they're fine, because that's how people actually speak.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 2, 2020 at 22:46

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