AE 273 – Expression: To Take The Bull By The Horns

Learn Australian English in this expression episode of Aussie English where I teach you how to use the expression TO TAKE THE BULL BY THE HORNS.

AE 273 – Expression: To Take the bull by the horns

G’day guys. How’s it going?

Welcome to this episode of Aussie English. Episode Two hundred and seventy three.

So this is an expression episode, and before we dive into things today I just want to have a chat to you about everything, about what I’ve been up to, about what Aussie English has been up to.

So at the moment I am sitting in my room, obviously. I am recording this podcast.

It is Saturday afternoon, 2:00 p.m., and it is raining quite heavily outside.

So I had to run out there earlier and grab my clothing, my clothes, off the line, off the clothesline, because they were drying out there, and the rain suddenly started pouring down.

It started raining cats and dogs as we often say in English, and I had to run out there.

Got my feet wet. Got a little bit wet as well on the top of the head.

Although, the water tends to fall straight off my bald head.

And I managed to grab all of my clothing and bring it inside before it got too wet.

So aside from that I’ve been working at the restaurant. That’s been fun.

It was pretty busy in the last few weeks, because we had three of the Spanish speaking people there go either on a holiday or go home.

So one of my friends Carlos went back to Spain, back to Barcelona, and another girl from Chile were in Canada for a week, and a Colombian girl, Sandra, was travelling around Australia with her family.

So her family came over to see her and she’s been travelling around.

Aside from that, obviously, I’ve been working on Aussie English.

I’ve been doing quite a few videos recently, guys, where I’ve been trying to help with Australian pronunciation and different words that we pronounce differently.

So if you haven’t checked out the YouTube channel I definitely recommend that you jump over there.

Just search Aussie English on YouTube, and check out some of the more recent videos that I’ve put up.

I put up one last night on the /ɑ/ sound that we say at the end of words that end in -er, -re, -or, -ar, -a, -ure and -our.

Quite often in English they are pronounced /ɑ/, at least in Australian English with our dialect.

Anyway. That’s a nice little intro there for you guys. I should dive into the expression.

Cut to the chase. Get to the crux of the lesson today.

So the expression today is to take the bull by the horns, to take the bull by the horns.

As usual, we’ll go through and define the words first in this expression.

So “to take”. We’ve gone over this a few times in recent expressions.

“To take”, in this example “to take” means to hold, to grasp or to grab it.

So if you take something or someone by something you are holding something of theirs and leading them somewhere.

So if you took someone by the hand it means that you have grabbed their hand, you’ve grasped their hand, you’re holding their hand and you’re potentially leading them somewhere.

So you’ve taken someone by the hand.

“A bull”. “A bull” is a male cow, you know, mooooo. “A bull” is the male cow it’s the cow that has horns.

At least, I think most cows have just the males with horns.

There could be breeds where both the males and females have horns.

But typically the bull is the large male cow that has horns.

And “a horn”, “a horn” is a bony protrusion.

So something that protrudes, it comes out of the head of a bull.

It grows out of the animal’s head and other animals have horns including the rhinoceros, which can have one or two horns on its nose on its head.

Deer have horns. Moose have horns.

And then we even have animals like rhinoceros beetles, you know, those small beetles with big horns on their head that they fight one another with.

There’s (there’re*) chameleons that have horns.

These are those lizards that can change colour, chameleons.

Some male chameleons I think can have horns.

And then obviously creatures like a unicorn can have a horn.

The mythical horse that has a big horn coming out of its head.

And then even species of whales. So the Narwal is a species of whale that has a horn.

Although the horn is actually a tooth that grows through the front of its head.

And I found some cool stuff out about Narwals recently.

I might have to do an episode on that in the future.

So to define the expression “to take the bull by the horns”.

“To take the bull by the horns” means to confront a problem head on, right away, versus sitting back and waiting for it to resolve itself, or for a person to tackle it, to confront that problem for you.

And “grab the bull by the horns” is also a very similar idiom that’s commonly used.

So it’s similar, but it uses the verb “to grab” instead of the verb “to take”, but it means the same thing.

So as usual, I looked up the origin of this expression.

And the exact origins of this phrase aren’t really known.

It said that it originated from bullfighting around 1800, and the term likely alludes to grass being a safely tethered bull and not one that the matador is fighting in the ring.

However, other people have argued that the idiom originates from the American West, instead of bullfighting in places like Spain, and that it found its roots in rodeos where it was common for ranchers and cowhands, so the people who grew and took care of bulls, and, you know, raised them as livestock, and then sold them.

It was common for these guys to attempt their luck at steer wrestling.

So “steer” as in the male cow, so bulls. A steer as a young one.

And it was said that the only way to really control and bring down a steer, a young bull, was to grab it by the horns, and then you could control the head.

And if a person tried to grab it elsewhere they stood the risk of being bashed or gored by the horns of the steer or the bull.

So, regardless of the exact origin there is one thing that is certain and that is that it’s a bad idea to grab a ball by the horns.

So, let’s go through some examples, guys, of how you would use this expression.



So, example one, imagine that you have worked at your job for a very long time, and you are wanting to ask for a raise.

And “a raise” is a pay increase. So you want to go to your boss…

Maybe you work as an engineer or a lawyer or a scientist.

You want to go to the boss the guy who hires you or the guy who manages you, the guy above you, and you want to ask him for a pay increase.

You work more than what you paid. You do overtime. Maybe you work extra hours for free.

You even take your work home at times, which could make your partner incredibly unhappy or stressed.

You know you deserve a raise, but you’re very nervous when it comes to asking for one.

So, you’re worried that at best your boss will say no and at worst you may lose your job.

But ultimately you chat to your partner, your wife, your husband, and they tell you, “look, just take the bull by the horns and ask for a raise. Do the difficult thing. Take the bull by the horns. Grab the bull by the horns. Confront this difficult situation head on. Take the bull by the horns.”


So, example number two, maybe you want to travel, but you are worried about leaving your home country.

So you’re nervous about living overseas, somewhere foreign, somewhere unknown, without any friends, without any family nearby.

Although, you know that there are going to be many benefits and amazing experiences that you’re going to have when you travel abroad.

Your friends and family might say, “look just do it. Move abroad. See how you go. Grab the bull by the horns. Take the bull by the horns. You can do this. It’s time to take the bull by the horns. Buy the plane tickets and just go. Take the bull by the horns.”


Example number three. Imagine that a family member drinks too much.

So, this person has become a bit of a problem, and he or her (she*) has turned into a bit of an alco, and “alco” is slang for an alcoholic.

He or she drinks a lot of alco or a lot of booze at parties, at family events.

Maybe they always have a tinnie in their hand, or a stubby in their hand.

And “a tinnie” is a can of booze or alcohol, and “a stubby” is a bottle of booze or alco, alcohol, that you hold and drink.

So, imagine that they’re always at these family events getting drunk and then causing a scene.

So they’re doing something stupid. They’re saying something stupid.

Maybe they’re not even doing that. They’re falling over or spilling things.

It’s obvious that the alcohol has become a problem.

You and your family want the person to stop and you all agree that it’s time to take the bull by the horns and mention something to this person.

It’s time to say, “look alcohol is a problem. You need to do something about it.”

It’s time to take the bull by the horns.

It’s time to grab the bull by the horns and ask this person to do something about their drinking.

So you have to confront this problem head on and tell them it’s not on. It’s not okay.

It has to stop. It’s time to take the bull by the horns.

So let’s do a listen and repeat exercise as usual guys, and we’ll do this one in the Simple Past.

And remember “to take”, the verb “to take” is an irregular verb.

So when we turn this into the Simple Past the past participle is “took”.

I took, you took, he took, she took, we took, they took, it took. It’s all the same.

So listen and repeat after me guys.

Listen and repeat:

I took the bull by the horns.

You took the ball by the horns.

He took the bull by the horns.

She took the bull by the horns.

We took the bull by the horns.

They took the bull by the horns.

It took the bull by the horns.

One little thing that I want to mention here guys as I’ve been doing recently is a pronunciation tip, and we’re going to go over this in the Aussie English Support Pack in more depth.

But in this example sentence I, you, he, she, we, they, or it took the bull by the horns, there’s a dark L that is pronounced.

And it sounds a little more like a W.

And this is obviously at the end of “bull”. And you’ll hear me say “bull” instead of “bull”, “bull”.

So that is with the L well pronounced, “bull”.

But quite often across a lot of English dialects, not just Australian English, we will sort of mute the L and we don’t pronounce it like a “Leh”.

And it sounds more like a “ew” a W kind of sound. So, “bu-w”, “bu-w”, as opposed to “bull”.

So I’ll say some sentences to show you here guys.

“I’m not ab-ew to”, see I said I’m not “ab-ew” instead of “I’m not able”.

“I drove into the poo-w”. I said “poo-w” instead of “pool”.

“I drank a lot of mi-wk”. I said “mi-wk” instead of “milk” with the L sound there.

“He had a litt-w bu-w”. “Litt-ew” instead of “little”, and “bu-w” instead of “bull”.

And now I try and do a sentence with all of these.

“I wi-w be ab-w to see the bu-w in the litt-w poo-w that was fu-w of mi-wk”.

So I’ve tried to use dark L’s, as they’re called, the W sound in there instead of, “I will be able to see the bull in the little pool that was full of milk”.

So we’re going to go over this more in the Aussie English Supporter Pack guys.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. Just a quick mention if you guys want to upgrade your learning, if you want to learn faster, I really recommend signing up to the Aussie English Supporter Pack.

It’s a dollar to try it for a month.

In this episode, we’re going to have a vocab glossary and table, listening comprehension questions for this entire episode, a substitution exercise going over the phrase or verb “to turn into”.

We’re going to go over slang related to drinking.

We’re going to go over the dark L that sounds like a W for pronunciation and connected speech.

And then in the grammar exercise we’re going to compare the Simple Past with the Perfect Past.

If you sign up to this, guys, you’re going to really upgrade your English learning.

You’re going to learn a lot faster.

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So, I really recommend that you give it a go, guys.

If you have any questions feel free to message me on Facebook or email me and I’ll chat to you soon.

I hope you guys have a great week.

See you later.

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