breathing down my neck: meaning and explanation

to breathe down somebody’s neck = to monitor someone very closely, watching everything they do.

When someone (e.g. your boss) is watching you very closely or checking up on you very frequently, it is almost like they are standing right behind you, so close that you can feel their breath on your neck. If you wanted to complain about this, you might tell a colleague or friend that your boss is always breathing down your neck.

We can use this expression whenever someone won’t give us space and is watching us too closely. e.g. I’ve been staying with my sister, but I really want to find a new place to live. She’s breathing down my neck all the time.

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: Northern England

wouldn't all the time – it's doesn't trust .

About the sentence

…I wish he wouldn’t…

Remember, we use the structure: I wish + subject + would/wouldn’t + verb when we want to make a wish about someone else, usually about something they do which annoys us. e.g. I wish he wouldn’t chew with his mouth open – it’s gross.

Micro-listening #2

Accent: England (RP)


impossible to work with my boss all day.

About the sentence

…I’m finding it impossible to work…

The structure to find it + adjective + infinitive is a useful way to express how you feel about doing something. e.g. I enjoyed the lecture, even though I found it difficult to understand everything she was talking about.

Micro-listening #3

Accent: North America

? .

me some space? I can't you .

About the sentence

…Can you give me some space?…

Giving someone space can be used in a simple, physical way – for example, someone might ask to be given some space if they feel they are being crowded.

It could also be used in a more metaphorical way – someone might need to be given space in the sense of having more freedom or independence in which to work or develop. Someone in a relationship might need some space in an emotional sense.

Extra practice

Here are some questions/links to help you learn the new vocabulary:

  • Have you ever had a boss who was breathing down your neck all the time? How did you feel about it?
  • When you were growing up, did your parents give you space (e.g. to play or do your homework) or were they always breathing down your neck? What about you and your children?