to go off the rails: meaning and explanation

to go off the rails = to begin behaving in an unacceptable or outrageous way.

We tend to use this expression to say that someone’s life has started to go in the wrong direction (in a sudden and dramatic way).

Imagine a gifted student – his life was “going in the right direction” until he broke up with his girlfriend, and then everything started to go wrong. If he went off the rails, maybe he stopped studying, started partying every night, drank too much, stopped taking care of himself and so on.

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

Dictation #1

Accent: Northern England

My sister rails during of university out.
My sister off the rails during first year of university ended up out.

…and ended up dropping out…

There are two phrasal verbs in this sentence: to end up doing something, and to drop out. Do you know them?

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • Have you ever gone off the rails, or do you know anyone who has? What caused it and what happened? How did you get your life back on track?
  • Is it normal for teenagers to go off the rails at some point?

Was this helpful?