What Does Bite Off More Than You Can Chew Mean?

Bite Off More Than You Can Chew Meaning

Definition: To take on more work than can conceivably be done.

This idiom refers to attempting to do more work than you are able to. Perhaps you are already involved in too many other activities, or it is a new task for which you don’t yet have the skill, or the deadline is too soon.

In any event, when someone has bitten off more than he can chew, he has promised himself or others to do a task that cannot be completed. This idiom suggests that one should do work in manageable chunks.

Origin of Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

bit off more than i could chewThe origin of the phrase itself comes from the act of putting too much food in your mouth at one time and not being able to chew it properly. It similarly relates to taking a bite of tobacco that is too large to chew.

The metaphor of taking on too much work dates to the late 1800s in America, though it is unclear when
or where it first appeared.

Examples of Bite Off More Than One Can

bite off more than they can chewIn the modern day, this expression is primarily used to talk about a workload that is too demanding.

Consider this dialogue between two friends,

Sarah: They asked me to organize the party, and I said yes.

Courtney: Are you sure? You have a lot going on at work right now. Are you sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew?

Sarah: I definitely bit off more than I can chew with this new job. It’s really difficult and no one is helping me.

Here is another example of a father speaking with his son,

Son: Dad, I am going to try out for the baseball team.

Father: Are you sure, son? You are already on the basketball team. Will you have enough time to do your homework?

Son: Yeah, my schoolwork is easy.

Father: Okay. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew. If your grades slip, I’m taking you from the team.

More Examples

  • “We want to begin immediately to repeal Obamacare… trying to deal with solvency issues with Medicare at the same time falls into the category of biting off more than you can chew. It’s an important issue… but a little humility here would be in order. We can’t do everything at once, and we shouldn’t try.” –The Washington Post
  • There I was, a 24-year-old Catholic catechumen, broke and alone in a brand new city, feverishly calculating ways to persuade a lot of highly intelligent, middle-aged, (mostly) atheist men that they should support my bid for admission into the ranks of the intellectual elite. Some days I was fairly sure I had bitten off more than I could chew. –The Federalist


The English phrase bite off more than I can chew means that you are unable to complete a task, either because it’s too difficult and beyond your ability or you don’t have enough time, or both.