Limitations and restrictions
bend the rules
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If you bend the rules you do something which is not allowed, either to help someone else or for your own advantage.
I’m prepared to bend the rules – I may even have to break them.
NOTE: You can also say that you stretch the rules.
He accused the company of stretching the sport’s rules to the limit.
the dos and don’ts
The dos and don’ts of a particular situation are the things you should and should not do in that situation.
Disasters can be avoided if a few general dos and don’ts are considered.
draw the line
- If someone knows whether to draw the line they know at what point an activity or situation stops being reasonable and starts to be unacceptable.
It is difficult for charities to know where to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable sources of finance.
- If you draw the line at a particular activity you would not do it because you disapprove of it or because it is so extreme.
I’ll do almost anything – although I think I’d draw the line at running naked across the stage!
NOTE: There are several theories about the origin of this expression. It may come from early versions of tennis in which the court had no fixed size: players agreed their own limits and drew lines accordingly. Alternatively, it may be connected with the 16th century practice of using a plough to cut a line across a field to indicate a boundary between two plots of land. A third possibility is that it refers to boxing matches in the past, when a line was drawn in the ring which neither boxer could cross.
a fine line between something
If there is a fine line between two different activities or situations there is a point at which they are very similar, often when one activity or situation is acceptable and the other is not.
There is a fine line between being nicely looked after and never being left alone.
NOTE: You can also talk about a thin line between two things or a narrow line between two things.
There is a thin line between being a good player and being one of the best.
There’s a narrow line between being interested and being nosy.
have your hands full
If you have your hands full you are very busy.
NOTE: You often use this expression to show that someone has many responsibilities or jobs and not enough time for any more.
She’s doing fine. She’s got her hands full with the kids of course.
NOTE: You can also say that someone’s hands are full.
He’s managing all three projects so his hands are full.
- If an area is off limits you are not allowed to go there.
The area was kept off limits to foreign journalists until early this year.
- If something is off limits you are not allowed to have it or do it.
Of course, smoking was off limits everywhere.
out of bounds
If a place is out of bounds you are not allowed to go there.
The area has been out of bounds to foreigners for more than a month.
NOTE: You can use out-of-bounds before a noun.
Avoid signposted out-of-bounds areas.
over the top
If you describe something as over the top you think that it is too extreme.
NOTE: During the First World War ‘to go over the top’ meant to climb out of the trenches (= long, narrow channels in the ground) and run into no-man’s land (= land that is not controlled by either side) in order to attack the enemy.
At one point, which I think is a bit over the top, he talks about the end of civilization.
NOTE: You can also say that someone goes over the top if they do something in a way that is too extreme.
Maybe he went a bit over the top with some of his language.
overstep the mark
If you overstep the mark you offend people by doing something that is considered to be rude or unacceptable.
NOTE: The ‘mark’ in this expression may be the line behind which runners stand before a race. Alternatively it may refer to boxing matches in the past, when a line was drawn in the ground which neither boxer could cross.
They agreed that by criticizing his manager so publicly, Taylor had overstepped the mark.
step on someone’s toes or tread on someone’s toes
If you step on someone’s toes or tread on their toes you offend them by interfering in something that is their responsibility.
Small shopkeepers know who sells what so they don’t step on one another’s toes.
She’s already seeing another doctor about this problem -I can’t tread on his toes.
with no strings attached or without strings
If you say that an offer of help comes with no strings attached or without strings you mean that accepting the offer does not require you to do a particular thing or give something in return.
I think this is an extremely generous offer. There are no strings attached and I will recommend that everyone accepts.
We must reduce our dependence on government money, which never comes without strings.
your hands are tied
If your hands are tied something such as a law is preventing you from acting in the way that you want to.
He would like to help but his hands are tied by the regulations.
NOTE: You can also say that you have your hands tied or that something ties your hands.
The present rule ties jockeys’ hands and I don’t feel it is fair.
She felt frustrated by it all. ‘We feel as though our hands have been tied because we have no power at all.’
Choose the best answer to complete the sentences.
1 There’s a fine ____________ between fact and fantasy in this TV programme.
a line b mark c limit
2 AM realized that this time he’d probably overstepped the ____________
a limit b mark c line
3 Perhaps I was a bit over the ____________ , accusing you of being a traitor.
a line b top c mark
4 I asked if he’s ever been tempted to bend the____________ for a good cause.
a rules b strings c line
5 The site of the disaster is completely off ____________ to reporters.
a strings b limits c bounds
6 The editor allowed the photos to be taken but drew the ____________ at publishing them.
a bounds b strings c line
7 When she’s not writing her hands are ____________ with her family.
a bound b empty c full
8 The spokesman said that his hands were ____________and he could not account for the delay.
a fine b tied c bound
Match sentence halves 1-6 with A-F to make complete sentences.
1 I’ll make it clear that the kitchen
2 The college said the donation
3 I want to make some changes but with no budget –
4 The director asked me to make suggestions but
5 A poster on the kitchen wall
6 I didn’t stop to talk because he obviously
A had his hands full.
B my hands are tied.
C I’m afraid of treading on his toes.
D had been made with no strings attached.
E shows all the important dos and don’ts.
F is completely out of bounds.
Use sentences A-F to answer questions 1-6.
1 Who has gone a bit over the top?
2 Who has decided to draw the line?
3 Who’s hands are full?
4 Who’s hands are tied?
5 Who doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes?
6 Who has decided to stretch the rules?
A Birgit’s got two part-time jobs and four children.
B Roger has refused to accept any more invitations.
C Leo asked his colleague if he was already dealing with the matter.
D It’s not usually allowed, but Atsuko has decided to let parents watch the class.
E Arif can’t complete the order without his boss’s permission.
F Jenny has told her teenage daughters they won’t ever be allowed to go out in the evening again.
Replace the underlined words with the idioms in the box.
|off limits | my hands are tied | step on someone’s toes | I’ve got my hands full | overstepped the mark | dos and don’ts|
1 I’m sorry I can’t help you at the moment. I’m really busy.
2 It’s a good idea to read the list of things you should and shouldn’t do before you arrive.
3 I’d love to help but I’m afraid I am not allowed to.
4 I want to make sure I don’t offend anyone by interfering with their responsibilities.
5 Going into the fields next to the school is not allowed. They are not accessible.
6 Please apologise. You’ve really done something unacceptable.
Match situations 1-8 with idioms A-H.
1 We are not allowed to use the roof terrace at the top of the building.
2 I’ve been given an amazing opportunity without having to do anything in return.
3 I think going on holiday in a private jet was a bit extreme.
4 Swearing in the classroom is unacceptable. Don’t do it again.
5 Sometimes you can do things that are theoretically not allowed.
6 How could you say such a mean and nasty thing? That’s very rude of you.
7 I’m afraid I can’t help you because you work for a different department.
8 I’ve got far too many other things to do just now.
A My hands are full.
B My hands are tied.
C It was over the top.
D I draw the line at it.
E You’ve overstepped the mark.
F It’s out of bounds
G There are no strings attached.
H You can bend the rules.
Correct the idioms in these sentences.
- There’s a full line between bravery and foolishness.
- When he occasionally overstepped the line he would immediately apologize.
- There is no classical music which is out of limits for children, they say.
- I am grateful to them for their co-operation, which was given with no lines attached.
- The policy is flexible – staff waiting for an important call can bend the toes provided the phone remains on silent.
- The publisher produces a booklet full of don’ts and dos for new authors.
- The council says their toes are tied by government spending limits.
- He was smart enough not to tread on his colleagues’ lines.
Are there any limitations and restrictions in your life? Use the idioms in this unit to describe them. For example:
I’ve got my hands full with schoolwork at the moment.
My friends went a bit over the top inviting everyone they could think of to their party.
1 a 5 b
2 b 6 c
3 b 7 c
4 a 8 b
1 F 4 C
2 D 5 E
3 B 6 A
1 Jenny 4 Arif’s
2 Roger 5 Leo
3 Birgit’s 6 Atsuko
1 I’ve got my hands full.
2 dos and don’ts
3 my hands are tied
4 step on someone’s toes
5 off limits
6 overstepped the mark
1 F 5 H
2 G 6 E
3 C 7 B
4 D 8 A
1 a fine line
2 overstepped the mark
3 off limits
4 with no strings attached
5 bend the rules
6 dos and don’ts
7 their hands are tied
8 tread on his colleague’s toes
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