In a nutshell

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In a nutshell is an idiom with its roots in Greece, nearly two thousand years ago. We will define the phrase in a nutshell, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The phrase in a nutshell describes something that is brief or to the point. The expression in a nutshell may refer to an explanation that is given in a concise and precise manner, without referring to extraneous details. An argument that is delivered in a nutshell avoids confusion by explaining the fundamental points that sum up the speaker’s idea. Someone may explain the plot of a book or a movie in a nutshell, leaving out elements that do not contribute to understanding the main action. However, explaining things in a nutshell may sometimes leave out important information that may make a difference in one’s opinion or course of action. Usage of the phrase in a nutshell was first seen around 77 A.D. in the work Natural History by Pliny the Elder: “Cicero hath recorded, that the poem of Homer called the Iliad, written on parchment, was enclosed within a nutshell.” In this instance, the phrase within a nutshell was used to illustrate something that literally happened. Natural History was translated into English in the 1600s. By the 1800s the idiom in a nutshell was in general use. Synonyms of the idiom in a nutshell that may be found in a thesaurus are: briefly, concisely, succinctly. Note that the word nutshell is sometimes seen rendered as two words, as in nut shell. This is incorrect. In a nutshell is a prepositional phrase as it begins with the preposition in.


In a nutshell, the farmers have learned when to plant these salad crops so that they grow just big enough to harvest, and by November the plants enter a state of stasis. (The Ravalli Republic)

In a nutshell, USB-C is a new standard that uses one cable to connect everything from headphones, to external monitors, to flash drives, and even to wall chargers — it all uses one port that’s standard across devices. (Business Insider)

In a nutshell, it involved upgraded facilities, hiring a coach with a national profile, scheduling winnable non-league games, creating a culture allowing players to thrive and coaches who would want to stay in Pullman. (The Oregonian)

In a nutshell, we will convert Reynolds Place into a 260-seat black-box theater with retractable seating, like that in the Hanesbrand Theatre, so it can continue to be a multi-faceted events venue. (The Winston-Salem Journal)

Want to know more idioms? Check out some others we covered: