Looking Over Your Shoulder – Meaning and Sentence Examples

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Looking over your shoulder is an idiom that implies you are worried about something and are vigilant or attentive to events and people around you. For example, after one of my accounts began to lay off employees without reason, I began to look over my shoulder to see who might be next.

Idioms are phrases where the words together have a different meaning than their individual definitions. In this case, looking over one’s shoulder emphasizes the concern one might have concerning a situation. They are essential to understand to help you master the English language.

Keep reading to explore this expression’s meaning and possible origin and how to use it within various sentence examples.

Looking Over One’s Shoulder Meaning

Looking Over Your Shoulder – Meaning and Sentence Examples 1 1

When someone is looking over their shoulder, they are worried that something bad or unpleasant will happen. It is an idiomatic phrase that can be used to describe a situation in which one is paranoid or when one has a legitimate reason to be worried. The idea is that one is watching for someone or something to sneak up upon them.

Look over one’s shoulder has a second definition: to supervise someone too closely. For instance, one may say that a micro-managing boss is always looking over their shoulder, presumably to check one’s work.

Looking Over Your Shoulder Synonyms

  • Watching your back
  • Keeping an eye out
  • Being vigilant
  • Staying alert
  • Remaining cautious
  • Being on guard
  • Maintaining awareness
  • Being wary
  • Keeping a close watch

Looking Over One’s Shoulder Used in Sentences

  • After experiencing a break-in, she always felt uneasy and found herself constantly looking over her shoulder, even when in the most public of places.
  • In a competitive industry, it’s essential to constantly be looking over your shoulder to stay ahead of the competition.
  • Working in a high-pressure corporate environment, she always felt the need to look over her shoulder to protect her position.
  • When writing code, looking over your shoulder for syntax errors and bugs is essential.

Looking Over One’s Shoulder Origin

Over the Shoulder vs Looking Over Your Shoulder Ngram
Over the shoulder and looking over your shoulder usage trend.

The origins of looking over your shoulders are unknown, but it was recognized and used both literally and figuratively starting in the early 1800s.

It’s possible this saying, combined with the literal action of looking over one’s shoulder for a threat, began to be used to explain a distrust or paranoia concerning events, behaviors, and other situations unrelated to any real physical threat. In a way, it infers something was sketchy.

This is, of course, a theory that cannot be proven one way or another.

Let’s Review

Looking over your shoulder is an idiom that conveys a sense of vigilance, caution, or anxiety about potential risks or threats unrelated to an event. It can also point out another person’s watchful or distrustful behaviors.

There is no definite proof of its origins. However, it was recognized and used literally and figuratively in the early 1800s.