Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Jessica Beck
"Director of IELTS Training"

Have you ever heard somebody say “if the shoe fits” and wondered what that meant?

Did you pick up on the fact that it doesn’t seem like a positive comment in American English?

There are phrases like this in English that may seem difficult to understand at first.

We’re going to show you what this phrase means and how you can use it in conversation in an appropriate and fitting way.

Here’s a question that ask about this very phrase since it can be a bit confusing.

Hey Lindsay,

Thanks for all of your amazing work and effort you and Michelle put into things. You really improve my listening skills a lot, and I’m kind of addicted to your podcast now! I  listened to nearly 200 episodes just in two months.

I have a question–recently I heard an episode from a BBC podcast,  and they were talking about an idiom that I couldn’t fully understand in the end. It was “if the cap fits”, and they’ve said that it’s used to tell when a criticism fits someone. I find it really hard to understand and to use. Can you make a suggestion or make it easier or clearer to understand? Could you perhaps give us some good examples? 

Thanks in advance,

Omar Mahmoud

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Understanding Tricky Phrases Such As This

There are some phrases that don’t necessarily make sense unless in context.

You might not hear “if the cap fits”, but this is similar to another common phrase.

Though it may not make sense logically, there is a reason behind it and way of using it.

You will typically hear something like “if the shoe fits, then wear it.”

This is a common phrase that expresses something that may not be nice or sound good, but it’s true.

Using This Phrase In Conversation

The words that you say may not be complimentary, but they may be true and therefore fit the person or the occasion.

It’s not a warm or positive phrase, but it gets the point across and is widely understood and used.

An example may be something like this:

A: “Oh wow, my teacher gave me an “F” because she said I didn’t do my homework on time.”

B: “Well if the shoe fits–you probably deserved that grade if you didn’t put in the work.”

Things To Keep In Mind With Such A Phrase

You may hear a phrase such as this used frequently in conversation.

Though you can use it and it makes for great practice, it can also be important to recognize a few things surrounding it.

Be sure that you are aware of these things before you begin using it in your conversations.

  • This is not a NICE phrase, so be careful who you say it with/to. You may offend someone even if you don’t really mean to. You can say it in a joking way but it’s hard for it not to come across a bit sassy. 
  • Sometimes we say “wear it” at the end, but you can also leave it off with intonation. 
  • The expression may or may not be known depending on where you are.
  • Just use it cautiously and if you’re unsure, either don’t use it or say it with a smile to make it less offensive.

Go in knowing what you are saying and use it in the right way for effect.


There are some phrases that you may have to practice using to get just right.

This is one of those phrases that may feel unnatural or even offensive until you use it a couple of times.

Just be sure that you use it in the right situation and with the right attitude to get your point across.

You can make connections by using frequently used phrases in the right way in your conversations.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can. 

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