Definition 2024


turn the tables



turn the tables

  1. (idiomatic) To reverse a situation, such that the advantage has shifted to the party which was previously disadvantaged.
    • 1822, Sir Walter Scott, Peveril of the Peak, ch. 13,
      Well, the tables are turned—the times are changed. A peaceful and unoffending man might have expected from a neighbour, now powerful in his turn, such protection.
    • 1884, Horatio Alger, Do and Dare, ch. 30,
      "The tables are turned, my red friend!" said the hunter, coolly. "It's your life, not mine, this time!"
    • 2011 December 21, Helen Pidd, “Europeans migrate south as continent drifts deeper into crisis”, in the Guardian:
      Since its conception, the European Union has been a haven for those seeking refuge from war, persecution and poverty in other parts of the world. But as the EU faces what Angela Merkel has called its toughest hour since the second world war, the tables appear to be turning.

Usage notes

  • Often used in the passive voice: the tables are turned, or similar forms e.g. the tables are turning.
  • Often used with on. Turning the tables on a person means that the person is now at a disadvantage.


See also