What Does Give an Inch, Take a Mile Mean?

Give an Inch, Take a Mile Meaning

Definition: If you yield even a little, you’ll be taken advantage of.

Origin of Give Them an Inch and They Take a Mile

This expression first appeared in writing in John Heywood’s collection of proverbs from the year 1546. However, it was written in a slightly different form, give him an inch and he’ll take an ell. An ell was a unit of measurement that was about 45 inches, or six handbreadths.

Sources speculate that the proverb changed its wording due to the fact that ell is no longer a common measurement. Another theory is that it changed to become more of a hyperbolic to give greater emphasis to how much advantage a person would take if allowed to bend the rules even slightly.

A similar proverb is one about a camel’s nose. The idea is that a camel was allowed to stick its nose in a shop. Once its nose had entered, it was much easier for the camel to force the rest of itself through. This same idea applies to the expression give an inch and they will take a mile.

Examples of Give Them an Inch and They Take a Mile

give someone inch they take a mileIn the dialogue below, two siblings are talking about how to convince their parents to allow them to go to a party.

Jordan: I really want to go to Nancy’s party.

James: Me too, but our parents will never allow that.

Jordan: No, they won’t. However, I learned about something called the foot in the door tactic. It means that if you can convince someone to let you do something small, then it’s easier to get him or her to allow you to do something bigger. I think that could apply in this situation. Let’s just tell our parents that we want to hang out with our best friends Jennie and Jonny. Once they agree, we’ll tell them that Jennie and Jonny want to go to a party and we’ll accompany them.

James: That might work, or they might just say that whenever they give us an inch we take a mile, and refuse to let us go. I guess it’s worth a shot.

i give you an inch and you take a mileThis dialogue shows a couple discussing their mutual friend.

Gertrude: I knew I never should have allowed Roberto to borrow our truck to move. Now that we let him borrow it once, he thinks he’s entitled to use it whenever he feels like it.

John: Give an inch and they will take a mile. That’s why I never lend any of my belongings to anyone.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about how to work with difficult people.

  • In my innate desire for everyone to get along, I have found myself eagerly trying to find peace with difficult people. If they would give an inch of acceptable behavior, I would want to take a mile, believing a healthy relationship could be formed. –Forbes

The second example is from an article about Nebraska prison workers.

  • “It’s going to take someone getting killed for the public to understand our problems,” Kreifels said, adding that many prisoners have a “give an inch, take a mile” mentality. –US News


The phrase give an inch and they will take a mile means making small concessions to someone will allow that person to take advantage of you in a much larger way.