I somehow have in my mind, that

"get the basics straight (first)"

is a valid phrase/idiom in the meaning of, that someone needs to understand the basic concepts of something or get to know the basic facts of a situation, before he can further follow up on something.

While (in my mind) this sounds perfectly good - Google only has 14,900 results for it, which makes me think, that it doesn't really exist in proper English at all.

Is it correct and just not widely spread, or is there any related idiom which has the above mentioned meaning?

  • I changed the Google search from Google.de (with 2,080 alleged hits) to Google.com (with 14,900 alleged hits). Many of these alleged hits are probably duplicates. COCA, BNC, and Google ngrams are probably better sources.
    – Jasper
    Sep 15, 2015 at 14:48
  • 1
    @Jasper a shame you can't reach the google.com results from outside the US - it always redirects. I tried it in Google Books and it again has only 34 hits, but one of them is in a book called "Good Writing for Journalists" - I guess the author should know ...
    – s1lv3r
    Sep 15, 2015 at 15:04
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    It is perfectly good British English, but "go back to [the] basics" is probably more common (and has 141 million hits on google.co.uk).
    – alephzero
    Sep 15, 2015 at 17:51

3 Answers 3


"Get the basics straight" and "Get the basics straight first" are valid English, but are not idioms. In a context where an author is trying to:

  • Be polite (perhaps sarcastic, but neither rude nor obscene nor profane)
  • Point out the basics of something, before pointing out more advanced features
  • Write clearly
  • Use the second-person imperative

"Get the basics straight" or "Get the basics straight first" is a natural thing to say.

Here are some alternatives that are idiomatic. Notice that some of these alternatives are quite rude, or compare the reader to a baby, toddler, or young child:

  • You have to crawl before you can walk.
  • You need to walk before you can run.
  • Learn the ABCs of <topic>
  • Get your shit straight.

Here is an idiomatic alternative that is polite:

  • Start with the basics.

You could say "get the basics straight" but doesn't have the same impact as "Get your facts straight".

Better use:

"that is not right! Take it from scratch and get your facts straight "

  • So you think it's proper English? Why doesn't it occur in any dictionary and has only 2080 Google hits? Is it locally restricted? Other idioms like "Kill two birds with one stone" have hundred thousands of Google results ...
    – s1lv3r
    Sep 15, 2015 at 14:10
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    It's not wrong and one can understand its meaning but I wouldn't use it. And in my opinion, this phrase is not getting many hits because it's not an idiom and not something people actually use .
    – V2k
    Sep 15, 2015 at 14:14
  • Is there any alternative phrase with a similiar meaning, which you would recommend to use instead?
    – s1lv3r
    Sep 15, 2015 at 14:16
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    People who would use it, in my opinion, are those which have another language as their mother tongue and they are using a direct translation. I don't think it's correct , even if it's understandable.
    – V2k
    Sep 15, 2015 at 14:17
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    You could say: "that is not right! Take it from scratch and get your facts straight "
    – V2k
    Sep 15, 2015 at 14:19

(Have a) grasp (of) the fundamentals.


I don't really have a good grasp of the fundamentals of string theory.

If you read Gordon's recipe book, you will quickly grasp the fundamentals of shouting at restaurant staff.

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