by the book: meaning and explanation

If you do something by the book, then you follow all the rules and regulations that you are supposed to. You don’t cheat, take shortcuts or ‘bend the rules’.

This expression can be used in a neutral or positive way (as with the first micro-dictation), but can also be used as a way of criticising someone for being inflexible and unprepared to do things in an unconventional way. e.g. If you’re looking for someone to come up with a creative solution to this, then don’t bother asking Mike. He always does everything by the book.

Have a go at these micro-dictation exercises to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Micro-listening #1

Accent: England (RP)

, .
You don’t to worry , you’ve done .
You don’t anything to worry , as long you’ve done everything the book.

Micro-listening #2

Accent: Scotland

. .
Don’t to bend once in . You don’t do everything .
Don’t afraid to bend the once in a . You don’t always to do everything by the .

About the sentence

…Don’t be afraid to bend the rules

to bend the rules = to do something which is usually forbidden or not allowed. This expression may be used to avoid saying to break the rules, which is more explicit and would be likely to have more negative connotations. e.g. I know that you’ve been told not to let anyone else in, but maybe you could bend the rules just this once?

…once in a while

Once in a while = ‘very occasionally’. e.g. The CEO is pretty hands off, but once in a while she likes to pay us a surprise visit.

Micro-listening #3

Accent: Ireland

isn’t flexible – to be .
boss isn’t flexible – everything to be by book.

About the sentence

…takes determination, vision and flexibility

In this sentence, the verb take means require. e.g. It took a lot of hard work, but we managed to complete the factory refit ahead of schedule.