What Does Put the Cart Before the Horse Mean?

Put the Cart Before the Horse Meaning

Definition: To do something in the wrong order; to do the last step before the first step.

Origin of Put the Cart Before the Horse

This expression has existed in English since the early-1500s. However, other languages had the same expression hundreds of years before that.

It comes from the literal meaning of a horse pulling a cart. The horse always goes in front, and the cart is pulled behind. Imagine if someone put the cart in front of the horse. It would not be very effective.

Therefore, this expression emphasizes that something done in the wrong order will not be effective.

Examples of Put the Cart Before the Horse

cart before the horse similar idiomsIn this example, a young woman uses the expression while discussing how her friend should clean her house.

Cassie: What are you doing?

Rebecca: I’m cleaning up. You’re a guest in my house. I want you to feel welcome and like my house.

Cassie: That’s not what I meant. I meant why are you dusting your shelves now? You just finished vacuuming.

Rebecca: So what?

Cassie: You shouldn’t dust after you vacuum. You’ll just add more dust to your clean floors. You’re putting the cart before the horse. You should dust first, then vacuum.

Rebecca: Huh. I never thought about it. That’s a good idea.

horse before the cartIn the dialogue below, two friends are discussing a crush that one of them has.

Antonio: Hey! I just met the most wonderful woman.

Igor: Really?

Antonio: Yeah, she’s amazing. I think she would make a wonderful wife and mother.

Igor: Did you already go on a date with her?

Antonio: No, she’s a new coworker of mine. I barely know her at all, but if we had children together, I think I’d name them Alejandro and Alexa.

Igor: Okay, just don’t put the cart before the horse. Maybe you should get to know this woman a little better before planning your whole life with her.

Antonio: Yeah, okay. I guess you’re right.

More Examples

The article excerpt below is about lawmakers who passed a new law regarding animals without first making sure the law would be effective. 

  • Edita Birnkrant, campaigns director for the nonprofit Friends of Animals, says de Blasio has put the cart before the horse. –New York Daily News

This article excerpt is about an athlete who won the skiing record for most World Cup downhill wins.

  • “I just need to ski solid and not have any mistakes and then the results will come, and then the records will come. But you can’t put the cart before the horse.” New York Daily News


The phrase put the cart before the horse describes doing the last steps first and, therefore, making a strategy ineffective.