I found this sentence reading. But I didn't get the meaning. Could you explain it to me?

The sentence is:

It takes a bigger man to walk away from a fight than it does to stay and fight

It takes what? And it takes more or less? Because we have "than" so more than or less than ... I need an explanation because it seems like something is missing in this sentence. Thank you.


5 Answers 5


"It takes" is an idiom that refers to the skills, character, or other qualities necessary to achieve something. "It takes a bigger man to walk away from a fight" means that the man who can walk away from a fight is superior in morals, judgment, intelligence, etc.

  • 15
    "Bigger" here is also a turn-of-phrase. It means (as SarahT hinted at) "better man", not a physically bigger man. In fact, the original saying I've heard is "It takes a big man to fight, but it takes a bigger man to walk away from a fight". Here it's almost a pun, because "big" is being used in both senses. Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 22:11

Answering directly your first question: It takes what?

According to the Free Dictionary

what it takes

The necessary expertise or qualities

She's got what it takes to make a good doctor
Inherited wealth is what it takes to maintain that lifestyle.

This idiom uses what in the sense of "that which" and take in the sense of "require."

The linked source extracts the text above from The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer

According to the Oxford Dictionary


7.1 (of a task or situation) need or call for (a particular person or thing)
It will take an electronics expert to dismantle it

Notice the distribution of the elements in the example, that match the ones in your question:
It takes - It's required
What? An electronics expert / A bigger man
For what? To dismantle it / To walk away from a fight

The comparison being made in your sentence, the one that uses "than", is between the man who avoids the fight and the one that stays. The first is bigger morally speaking.

Let me rephrase your sentence:
A more qualified man (First Man), morally speaking, is required for avoiding a fight than the one (Second Man) that stays.

First Man is bigger than Second Man.

And last but not least, notice that we are in front of a kind of proverb:

a short, well-known pithy saying, stating a general truth or piece of advice.

  • Fair enough. I got it. Good explanation. Thanks
    – slim Hass
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 7:04
  • 3
    English is my first language and I had a hard time following this. The answer by SarahT while lacking references seems to be much more clear, as well as accurate. Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 17:52
  • @JamesJenkins Well, English is not my first language, I don't deny it and I've upvoted Sarah's anwser. But I've tried to adress all questions asked by OP with references and examples. And he thinks that it was a good explanation from the point of view of a learner. Which part did you find so hard?
    – RubioRic
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 18:14
  • @RubioRic I find the general presentation and everything just hard to follow as well. I can't point to exactly why it's so hard to follow; but I agree that it does seem hard to follow. I don't know if it's too much information that makes it hard to follow, or the formatting, or what.
    – JMac
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 18:40
  • @JMac Thanks? I don't know what to say. Maybe the first part is not relevant and I've made an unnecessary link between the what asked by OP and the what in the idiom. I can't improve my answer with just "it's hard to follow". I'll try my best in the next one. But let me insist, OP thinks that it's a good explanation and he was the one having the doubt. Cheers
    – RubioRic
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 19:23

What the sentence is really saying is, "A man who refuses to fight is braver than a man who stays and fights."

The sentence structure is the same as "It takes a hotter furnace to melt iron than it does to melt tin." In other words, the furnace which is needed in order to melt iron is hotter than the furnace which is needed in order to melt tin.

I admit that the exact phrasing is a little strange. Why would we write something like "It takes a braver man" instead of "It takes more bravery"? Maybe there isn't a good reason. But that's the way the saying goes.

  • I agree that it's a rather clumsy and confusing statement. It's like the writer tried to do a parallel construction but they didn't get it quite right.
    – JonathanZ
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 2:31

The meaning of take in the sentence is to require or to need:

to need:

  • Parachuting takes a lot of nerve.

  • Transitive verbs take a direct object.

  • [ + -ing verb ] His story took some believing (= was difficult to believe).

Big man is an idiom; a big man is exceptionally masculine (usually implied to be tough and strong).

The sentence is saying that, to start a fight, you must be a big, tough, manly man. The than in the sentence compares the "big man" who would start a fight to a "bigger man" who has the wisdom to avoid the confrontation.


This is actually a normal comparison with than. The phrase should actually be simplified for understanding the structure:

It takes a bigger man to walk away from a fight than it does to stay and fight

It takes more now than it took in the past

In both cases, the structure is roughly:

[subject] [verb] [object in comparative] than [subject] [verb].

and it is equivalent to phrases:

He plays football better than I do

He is taller than me ( = ...than I am)

The only difference is that in our sentence, the comparative does not depend directly from the verb, but rather from a noun and it is that noun that depends from the verb (it is verbal object).

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