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to throw a spanner in the works


Click below to listen to the phrase.

Choose the correct definition a, b or c.

a) to round off a project

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b) to add insight

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c) to destroy a plan

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To throw a spanner in the works means to do or say something that causes a plan to fail.

It is said to have first been used by P. G. Wodehouse in 1934.

French translation

mettre des bâtons dans les roues, poser problème

How NOT to translate : *jeter une clé de serrage dans l’engrenage

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Examples in context

‘Can work make me cancel annual leave at the last minute?

When you’ve spent months looking forward to spending some quality time away from the office, it can be gutting to realise your well-laid plans may be turned upside down at the last minute.

While planning successfully for this should be the responsibility of company management, unexpected new projects can always throw a spanner in the works, creating last-minute staffing needs. It’s important to note that employers do have the right to tell their staff when to take leave, and to ask employees to postpone leave already arranged.’

The Telegraph, 30 December 2015

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‘Team of former Manchester United stars have mansions on market - but no one’s biting

A squad of former Manchester United stars have put their multi-million pound mansions on the market.

As the current team comes under fire for their poor form and boring style, fans could be forgiven for casting an envious eye at some of the players who have departed.

But while the exclusivity is part of the lure for the big-earning and big-spending footballers, it can throw a spanner in the works when they try to sell up.

The mansions boast everything a millionaire player could ever want - with features like gyms, cinemas, games rooms, swimming pools and even stables.’

The Mirror, 26 December 2015

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Everyday usage

We were really optimistic about this project, but the current state of the market has really thrown a spanner in the works.

The project proposal is really late, and it’s thrown a spanner in the works for us- I just hope we can catch up.


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