Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Financial, Acronyms, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
Related to forest: deforestation

can't see the forest for the trees

Cannot see, understand, or focus on a situation in its entirety due to being preoccupied with minor details. The way he's obsessing over one doorknob when we're renovating the entire house makes me think that he can't see the forest for the trees. Now I'm just waiting to hear if I got into my first-choice school, and the uncertainty is killing me. I can't stand it!
See also: forest, see, tree

cannot see the wood for the trees

 and cannot see the forest for the trees
Prov. Cannot perceive the overview or important things because of concentrating too much on details. The information presented in this textbook is so disorganized that I can't see the wood for the trees. The politician's opponents claimed that she couldn't see the forest for the trees, because she spent so much time trying to solve minor problems.
See also: cannot, see, tree, wood

not able to see the forest for the trees

Cliché allowing many details of a situation to obscure the situation as a whole. (Not able to is often expressed as can't.) The solution is obvious. You missed it because you can't see the forest for the trees. She suddenly realized that she hadn't been able to see the forest for the trees.
See also: able, forest, not, see, tree

can't see the forest for the trees

Also, can't see the wood for the trees. Focus only on small details and fail to understand larger plans or principles, as in Alex argues about petty cash and overlooks the budget-he can't see the forest for the trees . This expression was already a proverb in John Heywood's 1546 collection.
See also: forest, see, tree

not see the wood for the trees


not see the forest for the trees

If someone can't see the wood for the trees, they are so involved in the details of something that they do not understand or pay attention to the most important parts of it. He often helped those who could not see the wood for the trees reach the correct decision. A picture is emerging of an agency that can't see the forest for the trees.
See also: not, see, tree, wood
References in classic literature ?
The Bonanza king of the Black Forest lives to a good old age, blessed with the love of his wife and of his twenty-seven children, and the still sweeter envy of everybody around.
My heart beat as I travelled through the forest in dark and loneliness like that of the night, and ever I looked round searching for the eyes of the Amatongo.
And, maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did Goodman Brown grasp his staff and set forth again, at such a rate that he seemed to fly along the forest path rather than to walk or run.
But it was not these inspiring and magnificent evidences of Nature's grandeur that took my immediate attention from the beauties of the forest.
How Thurid and Matai Shang were to land I could not imagine, though later I was to learn that to the level of the forest top there rises in each city of Kaol a slender watchtower which guards the Kaolians by day and by night against the secret approach of a hostile fleet.
That night he slept in the forest not far from the village, and early the next morning set out slowly on his homeward march, hunting as he traveled.
Thus they hid in the depths of Sherwood Forest for seven days and seven nights and never showed their faces abroad in all that time; but early in the morning of the eighth day Robin Hood called the band together and said, "Now who will go and find what the Sheriff's men are at by this time?
He took them both and laid them carefully upon the grass near to the edge of the forest.
As the pursued and the pursuer raced madly toward the distant forest the battle behind them raged with bloody savageness.
His judgment told him that the death of a single bird in this forest which teemed with birds could scarce be of sufficient moment to warrant that which followed.
They are as many as the leaves of the forest," cried one of the women, in attempting to explain the enemy's force.
Also, there are the Tree People who dwelt in the forest between Long Lake and the mountains.
A HERDSMAN tending his flock in a forest lost a Bull-calf from the fold.
Two or three miles along, the head of the column approached a dense forest of cedars bordering the road on both sides.
The land is hilly, but not mountainous, and is covered by one great forest, except where a few green patches have been cleared round the thatched cottages.