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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.
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

BRITISH or

not see the forest for the trees

AMERICAN
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

cannot see the wood for the trees

fail to grasp the main issue because of over-attention to details.
The North American version of this expression is cannot see the forest for the trees .
See also: cannot, see, tree, wood

not see the ˌwood for the ˈtrees

(British English) (American English not see the ˌforest for the ˈtrees) (informal) not have a clear understanding of a situation because you are only looking at small aspects of it and not considering the situation as a whole: The situation is so complex that many people are unable to see the wood for the trees.
See also: not, see, tree, wood
References in periodicals archive ?
The newly forested land will connect with existing areas of forest, reducing habitat fragmentation and providing protective forest cover.
When Smith explored the Chesapeake in 1608, about 95 percent of that basin was forested.
Community leaders, faced with a responsibility for both themselves and their forested back yards, partnered with equally exploited ecosystems.
Under the FFP's proposed demonstration program, the Forest Service could hire a stewardship contractor to help restore an area - by restoring streambanks, for instance, or by thinning dense stands to reduce the forest-fuels load, to give other trees more room to grow, or to return to forested conditions more in keeping with historical patterns.
A little faith goes a long way - or in this case, a richly forested way - thanks to the employees and customers of specialty retailer Eddie Bauer in their efforts toward the Eddie Bauer/Global ReLeaf Add a Dollar, Plant a Tree campaign.
While much of the lower part of the river was forested and offered good habitat, its ability to support fish was greatly reduced: The water that rolled off the upstream farms was too warm - and too polluted with sediments and animal wastes - to support high-quality fish habitat.
This mass of fallen trees and broken limbs, which accumulates in any forested waterway, is critical to the stream environment (see Thumbs Up for Streams' High-Fiber Diet, page 39).
Historically, about 20 percent of Iowa was forested and almost all those trees were in riparian areas.
When John Smith arrived, it was about 95 percent forested; less than 60 percent is forested today.