Glossary Home Idioms

To make matters worse

“To make matters worse” is an English idiom that’s used to describe a situation that’s escalating in its difficulty or negativity. 

It’s possible to use the phrase in a variety of situations. For example, among friends, family members, and close colleagues. Since it’s usually used as part of a complaint, it’s best used among those who aren’t going to mind hearing about someone’s problems. 

To make matters worse meaning

“To make matters worse” Meaning

“To make matters worse” is a common idiom that’s used as a way of commenting on how things are changing for the worse. If someone uses the phrase, they’re trying to comment, sometimes in a humorous way, that their situation is deteriorating further.

This phrase is usually used before one describes what it is that is actually making matters worse. For example, someone says, “To make matters worse, it’s also raining.” While the new issue might not be the worst thing in the world, it’s not improving the speaker’s day. It’s also quite common that someone uses this phrase as a way of creating humor in their everyday life. For example, using it when telling a funny story, “To make matters worse, I locked my keys in the car after deciding that I wanted to get it washed.” 


The phrase “to make matters worse” has an unclear origin. It likely came from either the United States or the UK sometime during the 1700s. Most phrases originated during this period and came into common use during the mid-1800s or mid-1900s. Like most idioms and proverbs, it’s more than likely that this one evolved over time. For example, it might have begun with one series of words and evolved to use others as the popularity of different words shifted. 

How to Use “To make matters worse”

It’s possible to use “to make matters worse” in a wide variety of situations. The phrase is easy to use among friends, family members, close colleagues, and even in some more serious/professional situations. It’s easy to use as a complaint and therefore may fit well into situations in which one is telling a story about a difficulty they faced. 

One should be aware that if it’s used too liberally it could become annoying or frustrate the people listening. For example, if you continue to complain about your job to your boss using “to make matters worse,” they might walk away with a poor opinion of you. One might say, “and to make matters worse I had to come here this morning” or “and then, to make matters worse, I had to come to work today.” 

As noted above, it’s also possible to use it humorously. For example, when telling an entertaining story or creating a joke. For example, one friend might use “to make matters worse” when describing a ridiculous day they had where one thing after another went wrong. 

Example Sentences

  • And to make matters worse, she’d already gotten him something for Christmas. 
  • I struggled to get to work today and to make matters worse, I missed a meeting. 
  • To make matters worse, we aren’t going to be able to go to your show. 
  • I worked hard all week to have a weekend off and it didn’t happen. To make matters worse, I also got sick. 
  • I have to tell you, and this is only going to make matters worse, it’s raining today.

Why Do Writers Use “To make matters worse?” 

Writers use “to make matters worse” in many different situations. It could be used in a dialogue between two characters or within a narrator’s description of an event or broader scene. For example, a narrator might comment, in a way only the reader can hear, “to make matters worse” when they’re trying to pass judgment on someone.

“To make matters worse” is a very common idiom, so much so that it’s unlikely that anyone hearing it isn’t going to know what it means. This means that many readers are going to know exactly what it means. By using it, one might inspire their reader to connect with a character.

But, at the same time, it’s also possible that proverbs and idioms like this one get overused and feel cliché to readers. This is going to make the reader disconnect from the text, having likely found the dialogue unbelievable. 


What is the purpose of “to make matters worse?” 

The phrase “to make matters worse” is used when someone wants to emphasize the difficulty of a situation they experienced or one that they’re worried about. It can also be used humorously or in a more lighthearted manner. 

Where does “to make matters worse” come from? 

It’s unclear where exactly this phrase came from. But, it likely originated in everyday speech and evolved to become a part of colloquial conversations. 

Is “to make matters worse” an idiom?

Yes, this phrase is an idiom. This means that it requires context, in most cases, to understand. The individual words do not convey the phrase’s meaning on their own.


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