... In addition, North America only has the second highest figure for the proportion of forest, yet it holds the lion’s share of timber production in the world.

I've just learnt the phrase "hold the lion's share of something" and wonder if I can use it in my writing this way. I was once told that "the share of something" is only used when the total amount of something is distributed into different categories, for example, when a government gives some proportions of its budget to different spending areas. According to this general rule, I'm not sure if I can use the phrase mentioned above this way because there's no entity dividing the world's timber into different shares. Despite all that, the sentence doesn't sound unnatural to my non-native ears. So, what do you think?

enter image description here

  • 2
    The total amount of timber production is distributed into categories, namely "timber production per country/region", so I don't think this breaks the guideline you mentioned.
    – Kaia
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 9:37
  • 3
    You wouldn't normally expect a somewhat quaint idiom like the lion's share to be used in a dry academic / technical analysis of global timber production. The lion's share of the water on Mars is locked beneath the surface as permafrost. It wouldn't surprise me if I'm the first Anglophone ever to use that metaphor in that context! (My Google Books link there is just to written instances of Most of the water on Mars...) Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 11:31
  • 2
    It is not always "holds"; it can be any number of verbs. The idiomatic expression is: the lion's share of [something].
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 16:47
  • @FumbleFingers That is simply not true. It is used all the time in all kinds of writing. See my answer.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 16:57
  • Your graphic misspells "North"
    – James K
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 22:28

5 Answers 5


No, a share doesn't have to be a formal division or category; it's just the amount of something that each person takes or owns.

However, you can't call 30% 'the lion's share' just because it's a bit bigger than any other. The phrase implies that the 'lion' grabs almost all of whatever is being shared out.

  • So I assume we can use The share of timber production in Africa since Africa owns this amount of timber production. Next, when I say, "The share of government spending on roads and transport in Italy is higher than that in England, at 30% and 25% respectively," the roads and transport category takes an amount of government spending, so it is also correct. Do I understand it correctly? Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 11:51
  • 2
    Your sentence is potentially ambiguous; it reads as though 'government spending on roads and transport' is what is being shared out. Better to say something like The share of [total] government spending allotted to roads... or The share of government finance spent on roads... Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 11:57
  • 1
    It's incorrect because nobody is 'sharing out' the boys. Better to use a word like proportion. Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 12:01
  • 1
    See my earlier comment. You are not talking about a 'share of Africa's timber production', but about Africa's share of global timber production. Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 12:53
  • 4
    @KenAdams There doesn't necessarily have to be a central authority or agent making an intentional distribution to use "share" as proportion. E.g. "market share" means a business's fraction of its respective industry. However, there isn't someone making that distribution (other than the "invisible hand" of the free market). Your "share of boys" example doesn't work well because the boys aren't distributed exclusively. Some may like football and chess, some may like three sports, etc. They aren't truly allocated to football the same way resources are allocated (e.g. timber).
    – Tashus
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 16:47

The underlying analogy is "taking the major portion of something to consume it". Admittedly many writers ignore that sense and use the phrase as if were merely a synonym for "most". But it isn't truly apt when used with the production of something. This strikes me as "off" though for many speakers it wouldn't seem semantically jarring:

The Philippines produces the lion's share of pineapple.

It would be more apt to say:

The Philippines controls the lion's share of the world market for pineapple.

but most apt to say:

Asia consumes the lion's share of pineapple.

[I don't know if that is actually the case -- just going by cuisine]

  • I don't see why "controlling the lion's share" is more apt than "producing the lion's share". Neither is an example of taking or consuming, and although that is the origin of the idiom, I don't find that it carries such a connotation - the lion's share simply implies singular ownership of the biggest part. The lion's share is the lion's share regardless of how you got it or what you're doing with it. Strange to think that the same exact pineapples would be the lion's share if we're talking about who eats them, but not the lion's share if we're talking about who grew them. Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 15:59
  • 2
    Controlling matches at least the "taking" or "seizing" element of the analogy. That's why I said it would more "more apt" than the pineapple "production" example. Most apt would be the final example of pineapple consumption. I don't think it's "strange" at all to disintinguish between providing and consuming. In the case of lions, very often it's the teamwork of the lionesses that brings down the prey, and the lion muscles in afterwards and takes what he wants. Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 16:03
  • Another example, I don't think it would be particularly apt to say of a philanthropist that he directed the lion's share of his charitable giving to medical research. Some people would have no problem with it. It has become watered down. Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 16:12
  • Another example of what I would consider a misapplication but many people wouldn't think twice about it: "The lion's share of seniors at the high school intend to pursue a four-year degree." Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 16:15
  • I would agree that "the lion's share of the high school seniors" is a little strained since students only metaphorically belong to the school. I have no problem with "the lion's share of his charitable giving" since that share does indeed belong to one entity, much like pineapples produced in the Philippines. Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 16:21

Idiom: the lion's share. [The word share is part of the idiom.]

Ludwig. guru (you have to sign up for this but it is free.)

Lion's share. A major share.

That's the lion's share. However, "holds" is not the only verb that can be used. The verb could just be "has"

  1. Los Angeles Times: "And soccer gets the lion's share".

  2. The New York Times: Afghanistan continues to produce the lion's share.

  3. The Economist: gather the lion's share of the business.

  4. The New Yorker: Roads, ports and electricity projects account for the lion's share.

  5. The Economist: Europe is consuming the lion's share of the IMF's resources.

  6. The Economist: However Mr Berisha "must take the lion's share".

  7. The Economist: Their companies both enjoy the lion's share of their markets.

  • 1
    I agree that the choice of verb is not really the important factor.
    – Tashus
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 17:04
  • 1
    What is "this" that you need to sign up for? Did you mean to include a website link?
    – Barmar
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 3:21
  • @Barmar You need to sign up for ludwig. guru. You have to type it in google.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 14:08
  • @Mari-LouA Maybe you can fix it. I tried and it didn't fix it.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 19:58
  • It looks OK to me.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 20:29

The expression "the lion's share" is too vague for an academic essay. Without the aid of the pie chart the reader might believe that North America (which also includes Canada) produces over 50% of the world's timber this is because the idiom means something has the largest share of all the rest. Without seeing the pie chart, we would assume that the rest of the timber production (perhaps 40-45%) was shared among the remaining four continents.

In academic essays, it is preferable to write accurately rather than compellingly. In the case of the OP, I'd suggest:
“North America produces (or harvests) 30% of the world's timber while timber production in Europe and South America appears to be evenly matched: 20% and 23% respectively.”

  • The expression is fine and is used all the time. This is a technical essay, but academic? Maybe. Of course, we can rewrite everything. If you look at my quotes from Ludwig.guru, all those publications are considered top-notch.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 19:59
  • @Lambie My main point was that "the lions share" in the OP's example is overly vague
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 20:27
  • How can the major share be vague? I just don't understand this opinion and apparently neither does The Economist...
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 19:21
  • @Lambie EDITED When the share of something is clearly less than 50% describing it as the lion's share is vague and inaccurate. Would you call 25% the lions share because four competitors divide the remaining 75% between them? Or are you suggesting that is unequivocal, and the reader fully understands? The Economist probably has a graph illustrating the portions, or they mentioned only two competitors, or one competitor has such a wide margin of profit that it is the logical conclusion. My answer refers to how the OP uses the expression, not how other publications use the idiom.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 19:40
  • @Lambie see Kate Bunting's answer: However, you can't call 30% 'the lion's share' just because it's a bit bigger than any other. The phrase implies that the 'lion' grabs almost all of whatever is being shared out. (emphasis in bold mine)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 19:45

I think I sense some of the fundamental aspects of your doubt.

I offer the following considerations:

I believe, "the lion's share" expression — or "lions' share", as in plural — implies a situation in the African savanna: a prey animal falls victim to hunting, and a number of different predators/carnivores gather to the scene: typically lions, hyenas, and vultures — at the minimum.

In this situation —due to their ability to inflict violence on the other animals (enabled by their strong weapons (teeth/talons), speed, agility, and representing themselves in numbers)— lions dominate the scene, they have a disproportional leverage over the outcome of the situation.

They use this dominant leverage to obtain whatever they want, while the rest of the animals will receive what the lions leave behind.

(Interestingly, while the lions' share describes the final distribution of the prey meat, a similar distribution of power and leverage might be observed that the lions enjoyed in this group of competing animals in the first place.)

I feel that the angle this expression takes on this situation signifies not only the specific distribution pattern (one entity obtains an outstanding share), but it actively invokes that this distribution had came to happen through dominant leverage in a fierce competition.

Questions are:

  1. Do you want to describe the situation with the timber so much beladen with the concept of fierce competition?
  2. Is it your aware intent to portray the highest timber producer as fierce a competitor as the lions in the African scene?

An additional aspect specific to "timber".

Timber is the corpses of dead killed trees. Now we know that there are methods of sustainable timber production, but it's not automatically given. Sustainable production needs aware intent, extra effort, dedication — and is perhaps verified through some certification. All the while the more primitive, more easily achieved way of timber production can happen through deforestation in a non-sustainable way, which is contributing to killing this planet's life-supporting ecosystems.

Invoking lions' share may invoke the majesty of power, the pathos of winning in a fair and noble fight — see how lions are depicted in the coat of arms of so many nations and military units.

Questions are:

  • Is trading with the corpses of killed trees as safe and as noble an activity that it can be safely and honestly be represented through the brave strength of the winning lion?
  • Is it a viable idea to portray various continents' capacity to host forests (while competing for habitat with human agriculture, with human industry and with human habitats) as some safe and sustainable competition?

I suggest the following alternative achieves a similar impact, while avoiding the additional invocations studied above:

holds the lions' share in production / is the highest producer of

  • 1
    Although the OP mentioned timber, it's not the focus of the question. Your answer would benefit from trimming some of the extra verbiage, and removing the second half.
    – barbecue
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 22:20
  • @barbecue: I feel both parts of my answer are justified and relevant: the first part explores the underlying origin and semantics of the expression fit for any abstract context, while the second half demonstrates how specific cultural considerations can apply in using the expression. Both of them are relevant and have an impact when producing a whitepaper or essay for an audience that matters — when there is a real stake in what is being delivered, what ends up being percieved (including percieved authenticity). Perhaps also could be described as a stylistic consideration.
    – Levente
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 22:39
  • Some extra verbiage is a valid point (e.g. lions' teeth — who cares), but I don't want to re-send the post to the top of the front page only because of that.
    – Levente
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 22:41
  • I didn't downvote, but someone did. I suspect the reason was the longer and less releveant second half. Up to you of course.
    – barbecue
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 22:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .