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can't see the forest for the trees American English

Meaning: If you can't see the forest for the trees, you can't see the whole situation clearly because you're looking too closely at small details, or because you're too closely involved.

For example:

  • I don't think we can see the forest for the trees at this stage, so let's get an outsider to take a look at the project and give us a progress report.

  • Mark is so focused on product details that he can't see the forest for the trees when it comes to the overall needs of the company.

Note: The British and Australian equivalent is "can't see the wood for the trees".

Variety: This idiom is typically used in American English but may be used in other varieties of English too.

Quick Quiz:

Our operations manager can't see the forest for the trees because
  1. he doesn't know where to look
  2. he's too deep in the forest
  3. he's too involved in day-to-day matters

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