Take the reins

Take the reins is an idiom that has been in use for hundreds of years. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common saying take the reins, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Take the reins means to take charge, to take control, to steer a government, company, organization, or situation. The expression take the reins exploded into popular use in the 1750s, though it had been a well-known idiom for a long time before the 1750s. The image take the reins evokes is of a rider steering a horse by means of reins on a bridle. Related phrases are takes the reins, took the reins, taken the reins, taking the reins.


It’s not going to happen overnight, but with some patience, the hope is that the Pistons can have the core of a winning team in a couple of years when the rookies start to take the reins from Griffin and Rose. (Detroit News)

The new Idaho National Laboratory director is ready to take the reins of the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development. (East Idaho News)

Will the Egyptian president try, like his predecessor Hosni Mubarak, to prepare his eldest son to take the reins? (Africa Report)

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