Understanding the Idiom: "make matters worse" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
  • See Thesaurus:make matters worse

When we face a difficult situation, it’s natural to try to find a solution. However, sometimes our actions can have unintended consequences that only make things worse. This is where the idiom “make matters worse” comes in – it refers to making a bad situation even more difficult or complicated than it already was.

Throughout history, people have used idioms like this one to express complex ideas in a concise way. Understanding these idioms is important for effective communication, as they are often used in everyday conversation and writing.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “make matters worse”

The phrase “make matters worse” is an idiom that has been used for many years in English language. It is a common expression that describes a situation where someone or something makes a bad situation even worse. The origins of this idiom are not entirely clear, but it is believed to have originated in the 16th century.

During this time, people often used idioms and sayings to communicate their thoughts and feelings. The phrase “make matters worse” was likely born out of this tradition as a way to describe situations where things were going from bad to worse. Over time, the idiom became more widely used and eventually found its way into everyday conversation.

Throughout history, there have been many events and circumstances that have contributed to the use of this idiom. For example, during times of war or economic hardship, people may have used the phrase to describe how things were getting progressively worse with each passing day.

Today, “make matters worse” remains a popular expression that can be heard in all sorts of contexts. Whether you’re talking about politics, business, or personal relationships, there’s always a chance that someone will use this idiom to describe how things are going from bad to worse.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “make matters worse”

The idiom “make matters worse” is a commonly used expression in English that describes a situation where something bad happens, and then another action or event makes the situation even worse. This phrase can be used in various contexts to describe different scenarios where things go from bad to worse.

  • One common variation of this idiom is “to add insult to injury,” which means to make a bad situation even more painful or difficult for someone.
  • Another variation is “pouring salt on the wound,” which refers to making someone’s pain or suffering even greater by adding insult to injury.
  • In some cases, people may use the phrase “kick someone when they’re down” as an alternative way of describing how one action can compound another negative outcome.

This idiom can be used in both personal and professional settings. For example, if someone loses their job and then gets into a car accident on their way home, you could say that these events made matters worse for them. Similarly, if a company experiences financial difficulties and then loses its biggest client, this would also be an example of making matters worse.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “make matters worse”


There are several synonyms for “make matters worse” that can be used interchangeably in certain contexts. Some of these include:

  • Aggravate
  • Exacerbate
  • Worsen
  • Compound
  • Further complicate

These words all share a similar meaning to “make matters worse”, but they may convey slightly different nuances depending on the context.


In contrast to synonyms, antonyms are words that have an opposite meaning. In terms of “making matters worse”, some antonyms could include:

  • Improve
  • Mitigate
  • Ease
  • Alleviate
  • Cease
  • Each of these words has a positive connotation and implies actions that would help resolve or lessen negative situations.

    Cultural Insights

    The use of idioms varies across cultures and languages. In some cultures, people may rely more heavily on idiomatic expressions than others. For example, English speakers tend to use idioms frequently in everyday conversation while other languages may not have as many commonly used idioms.

    Additionally, some idioms may be specific to certain regions or countries within a language’s speaking population. It is important to consider cultural context when using idiomatic expressions in order to avoid misunderstandings or confusion.

    Practical Exercises for Enhancing Your Understanding of “Make Matters Worse”

    Exercise 1: Identify the Idiom

    For this exercise, read a short paragraph or sentence and identify if it contains the idiom “make matters worse”. If it does, highlight or underline it. This exercise will help you become more familiar with how the idiom is used in written texts.

    Exercise 2: Create Your Own Sentences

    In this exercise, create your own sentences using the idiom “make matters worse”. Try to use different verb tenses and forms to make your sentences more varied. You can also challenge yourself by incorporating other idioms into your sentences.

    For example:

    • The car broke down on our way to the airport, and to make matters worse, we missed our flight.
    • I forgot my keys at home today, which made matters worse because I was already running late.
    • The company’s financial troubles were bad enough, but when they lost their biggest client, it really makes things worse.

    By practicing these exercises regularly, you’ll be able to confidently incorporate the idiom “make matters worse” into your everyday conversations and writing.

    Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “make matters worse”

    When using idioms in English, it is important to understand their meanings and usage. The idiom “make matters worse” is commonly used to describe a situation where someone or something makes a bad situation even worse. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this idiom.

    One mistake is using the wrong tense. The correct form of the idiom is “made matters worse,” not “makes matters worse.” This is because the idiom refers to something that has already happened, not something that is currently happening.

    Another mistake is using the idiom too broadly. While “make matters worse” can be used in many situations, it should only be used when describing a situation that has become significantly worse as a result of someone’s actions or decisions.

    It’s also important to avoid overusing this idiom. Using it repeatedly can make your writing or speech sound repetitive and unoriginal.

    Finally, it’s crucial to use proper context when using this idiom. Make sure you provide enough information about the situation so that your audience understands why things have gotten worse.

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