idiom: to throw (someone) for a loop

The idiom to throw someone/something for a loop means to cause great surprise, confusion, or astonishment. The related idiom to knock someone/something for a loop has the same meaning.

The main idea is that things are going well, circumstances are good, and suddenly something unexpected happens that causes trouble, confusion, surprise, or amazement.

Take the quiz below to check your understanding, or read on for more details!

Example sentences using to throw someone for a loop.

1. Just when you think you have life figured out, something will come along and throw you for a loop. (surprise you with some challenge or difficulty)

2. Here is one last grammar point that throws learners for a loop. (causes learners to be confused)

3. The Brexit vote result threw Wall Street and the global markets for a loop. (caused confusion and/or surprise)

4 Polar bears are getting thrown for a loop as the polar ice disappears due to global warming. (the lack of habitat is causing confusion and trouble for the bears)

As the examples above illustrate, to throw someone/something for a loop is also used in passive constructions with the verbs to get and to be

to get thrown for a loop
to be thrown for a loop

Let’s look at the polar bear and Brexit examples using these passive constructions:

1. Polar bears are getting thrown for a loop by climate change.

2. Polar bears are being thrown for a loop by climate change.

idiom throw for a loop

The disappearing polar ice caps are throwing polar bears for a loop.

1. Wall Street and the global markets got thrown for a loop by the Brexit vote.

2. Wall Street and the global markets were thrown for a loop by the Brexit vote.

Subject verb agreement is important in these constructions. Remember that it is the first verb (the finite verb) that needs to be changed to match the agree with the subject. Try the quiz below to practice using to throw/knock someone for a loop!

Can you use the idiom to throw someone/something for a loop correctly? Take the quiz and find out!

Idiom Quiz: To throw someone/something for a loop


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043 – Real English conversations: Lori scores a year’s supply of toilet paper (archive)

Hi English Learners! Lori here, your teacher from Better at For your listening practice today, I’ve got another Real English conversation. It’s actually one of my favorite conversations from deep in the Better at English archives. I’ve re-edited it so that new listeners can enjoy it.

This conversation features lots of idioms and slang, and is a good example of a spontaneous, authentic English conversation between two people who know each other well. It also features lots of narrative tenses. You can read more about the verb tenses used in this conversation here.

As always, you can find the complete transcript and vocabulary study guide at

Are you ready to practice your English listening skills? Here comes the conversation.

Conversation transcript

Lori: Yeah, something kind of funny happened to me when I was shopping for office supplies today.

Andy: OK, what happened?

L: Well, my boss had, had given me a list of office supplies to buy on my way home from a teaching gig, because I drive right past the office supply shop.

And I’m always happy to do it, ’cause, as you know, I LOVE office supplies — it’s almost like my, my “office-supply porn” — I can go in and get my daily fix of all the nice things for, you know, keeping organized, and folders and notebooks, and…I had a whole list of things to buy.

And when I got up to the register and the clerk was ringing me up, the total came to over a thousand Swedish crowns. Which is not a problem, I mean, they just just send us an invoice; it wasn’t like I had to worry about money. But then he said, “Because you spent so much money here today, you can go pick one of those rolls of toilet paper over there.”

A: Toilet paper!

L: Yeah, toilet paper! And, I mean, we’re always happy to get free toilet paper; you know, it’s one of those useful things that, that, you know, a business has to buy…

A: You can never have too much.

L: Yeah, exactly. But the thing is, I looked at where he was pointing, and it was these HUGE, GIGANTIC, industrial-sized packages, all shrink-wrapped in plastic, of toilet paper…I mean, it was HUGE, I could NOT BELIEVE that I was getting one for free.

A:OK, like a year’s supply of toilet paper.

L: At least.

A: [laughs]
Continue reading…

Just a sec! Three informal English phrases for asking people to wait a moment

If you have ever taken an English course, you probably learned the phrase “One moment, please” or “just a moment” for politely asking someone to wait for a very short period of time.

Phrases using moment are useful for formal situations. But in everyday conversational English they can sound stiff and unnatural.

Here are three informal ways to ask people to wait for a very short time. Informal expressions like these make your English sound more relaxed and conversational.

  1. (just) a minute
  2. (just) a second
  3. (just) a sec* / one sec

* sec is short for second


Context: Imagine you are at work, sitting at your desk writing an email. You need a very short time – somewhere between 10 seconds and one minute – to finish it. Your colleague approaches and asks you a question. You want to tell him that you can help as soon as you’re finished.

Colleague: Hey, can you help me with the copy machine? The paper’s jammed again.
You: Just a sec, I just need to finish this email.

Colleague: Hey, we’re about to order lunch from the deli. Do you want anything?
You: Just a second, I’m almost done here.

Colleague: Hey, have you got a minute to go over the Henderson Report?
You: Sure, just a minute. I just need to backup this file in case my computer crashes again.

Adding a reason for the inconvenience

Notice that in each example, you give your colleague a reason for the delay (I’m almost done here, etc.). Needing to wait can feel inconvenient for the person who wants your attention. Giving someone a reason for inconveniencing them is a way to “soften the blow” in polite English.

Of course, in face-to-face situations the other person will often be able to see why you need a little bit of time, so you don’t have to give the reason. Your friendly tone of voice and body language will be polite enough.

However, if you are using these phrases on the phone, where the other person can’t see what you’re doing, it’s more important to give a reason for the inconvenience. For example:

Colleague on phone: Hey, could we meet up this week to go over the Henderson report?
You: Sure! Just a sec, let me pull up my calendar.

Bonus vocabulary

To pull (sth) up (phrasal verb): In the context of computer programs and digital files, like the calendar in the example above, to pull something up means to make something visible on your computer screen so you can use it.

Here are a couple more examples of to pull something up:

1. We just need a minute to pull up the Henderson report.

2. Could you pull up my account details?

English learning tip

You may have noticed that many of the expressions above include the word just. Just is extremely frequent in English (no. 66 according to corpus data). Just has an intimidating number of meanings and uses.

Trying to memorize and apply every rule about how to use a word like just can drive you crazy. For most English learners it’s more useful to focus on one specific use, and then learn a couple of useful phrases that you can use right away in your spoken English practice. Trying to remember and use newly learned language frequently is the fastest way to make it a natural part of your active vocabulary. When one use is familiar, you can choose another one.

I hope you have enjoyed learning these informal ways to say “One moment, please.” Have fun using them!