see the forest for the trees (third-person singular simple present sees the forest for the trees, present participle seeing the forest for the trees, simple past saw the forest for the trees, past participle seen the forest for the trees)
- (idiomatic) To discern an overall pattern from a mass of detail; to see the big picture, or the broader, more general situation.
- Smith is good at detail, but can't see the forest for the trees.
- (idiomatic, in the negative, by extension) To be overwhelmed by detail to the point where it obscures the overall situation.
- This is almost always used in negative constructions, often starting with can't, as it is a negative polarity item.
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