Take a toll and take its toll

  • The phrases take a toll and take its tollare idioms. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken in conversation or are considered informal or conversational. An idiom can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. Many English as a Second Language students are confused by these expressions. They do not understand idiomatic expressions as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning English vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the  language of idiomatic phrases and slang in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the definition of the phrases take a toll and take its toll, their origin and some examples of their use in sentences.


    Take a toll and take its toll are phrases that describe something that causes damage to someone or something, something that is hard on someone or something or destroys it. For instance, illness may take a toll on one’s body. Sending a child to college may take a toll on one’s bank account. Highway driving may take a toll on a truck’s tires. The phrases take a toll and take its toll are most common in conversational English. The idioms, using the phrases in a figurative sense, appeared in the 1800s, though the idea of literally taking a toll dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years. At that time, various bridges and pathways were owned by the communities in which they were situated. These communities charged a toll for using their bridges or roads. The toll was sometimes a set amount, but sometimes the toll was a percentage of what the traveler was carrying. Sometimes, the bridge keeper extracted a heavy toll, which was an unpleasant experience. The explanation of the meaning and usage of many idioms begins in a literal sense. For instance, hit the sack, meaning go to bed, came from the fact that mattresses used to literally be made of a sack. Letting the cat out of the bag, meaning divulge a secret, came from the fact that swindlers often placed a cat in a bag in order to pass it off as a pig. Words that may be found in a thesaurus as synonyms of the phrases take a toll and take its toll are harm, destroy, damage. Related phrases are takes a toll, took a toll, taking a toll, takes its toll, took its toll, taking its toll. Note that the word its does not have an apostrophe, as it is a possessive pronoun.



    There is an undercurrent of pain and purpose to this incarnation of Fisk, as if even simple daily activities like eating or sitting quietly by himself take a toll on his soul and inflict physical discomfort. (Forbes)

    Reese believes that the expenditure of the tree’s stored energy this late in the year will take a toll on all tree species next spring and summer. (The Port City Daily)

    As Jose Mourinho prepares to face former club Chelsea on Saturday (Sunday NZT), he is admitting for the first time that the perceived “manhunt” against him is starting to take its toll personally. (The Telegraph)

    Being on the road so much can take its toll on one’s physical and emotional well-being. (USA Today)

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