Scratch the surface

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Scratch the surface is an idiom that is been in use for over a hundred years. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom scratch the surface, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

To scratch the surface means to make minimal progress, to make minimal effort, to treat something in a superficial manner. The phrase is often used as a protestation that one has not had time to thoroughly accomplish a task or that someone else has been lazy in his efforts. The expression scratch the surface came into use in the 1880s and is an allusion to the image of only inflicting shallow scratches on an object. Related phrases are scratches the surface, scratched the surface, scratching the surface.


While many have turned to wine, shared memes and the occasional scream, these coping mechanisms barely scratch the surface of supporting working parents through their current reality. (Forbes Magazine)

Miller said putting in “a couple hundred thousand dollars a year is not going to scratch the surface.” (Journal-News)

For the first five games of the season we watched the University of Hawaii football team barely scratch the surface on its considerable potential. (Honolulu Star Advertiser)