put into perspective: meaning and explanation

We use the expression to put into perspective to say that we are able to see the true value, size or importance of something by comparing it to something else.

For example, you know that a trillion is a big number, but it is difficult to appreciate how big it is. However, if you compare it to something else (e.g. a trillion seconds = 30,000 years), then that can help to put it into perspective.

We often use this expression when talking about problems. For example, imagine you are worried because you have an exam coming up. This might seem like a big problem to you.

However, imagine you turn on the news and see a terrible story about a war or a financial crisis. Or imagine you speak to a friend or relative who has a serious health problem. Compared to these problems, your problem suddenly seems small – you realise that it isn’t as important as you had thought. In these situations, we say that something (watching the news, speaking to your friend about their health problems) has put your problem into perspective.

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: North America

, .
devastated exam results, a chat teacher helped to .

About the sentence

…I was devastated

The speaker in this example says she was devastated. This adjective means extremely shocked and upset. e.g. I’m not going to lie – I was pretty devastated when I didn’t get the job, but there isn’t much I can do about it

Micro-listening #2

Accent: Scotland

Reading refugee my problems .

Micro-listening #3

Accent: Northern England

her problems mine .

About the sentence

…really put mine into perspective…

This is an example of how you can use pronouns to avoid unnecessary repetition – the speaker uses mine instead of my problems.

Extra practice

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

  • Here’s Nasa’s photograh of the day page, which features amazing images of our solar system, distant galaxies, and Earth from space. How do these images make you feel? Do they help to put things into perspective?
  • Have you ever had an experience which put things into perspective for you? This could be a conversation you had, someone you met, or something you saw. What happened?