11 Idioms for Talking About Confusion
One way to improve your English is by limiting your use of overused adjectives like confused or confusing.
What can you say instead? Try one of these 11 idioms.
If you’re interested in learning more idioms, check out the idioms and phrasal verb section of the site.
mixed up (adj.), mix-up (n.)
If you are mixed up about something, it means that you are confused.
“Whenever we change the clocks for daylight savings time, I get mixed up and can’t figure out what time it is.”
“I’m a little mixed up. Is our meeting on Thursday or Friday?”
Mixed up can also mean to think that one person or thing is another person or thing. (MacMillan Dictionary)
“The server mixed up our orders. My salad and my wife’s cheeseburger went to another table.”
“I’m sure parents of twins can eventually tell their kids apart, but I can’t imagine not getting them mixed up when they are newborns.”
We can also use mix-up as a noun to talk about a confusing situation, usually one that results from confusing one thing/person with another.
“You may have seen in the news that a vaccine mix-up led to many children getting the wrong shots at a local hospital.”
“Realizing he was innocent, the police apologized for the mix-up and released the man from custody.”
to be all Greek to someone
To be all Greek to someone is an expression we use to explain that someone doesn’t understand anything, usually because the topic is beyond their comprehension.
“My roommates are talking about their engineering homework and I can’t understand anything they’re saying. It’s all Greek to me.”
“You’ll have to help us understand these accounting documents. Our background is in biology, so this is all Greek to us.”
clear as mud
If something is clear as mud, it means that it is very confusing and hard to understand.
“The assembly instructions that came with this bookshelf are clear as mud. Here, take a look. Can you make any sense out of this?”
“Does everyone know how to get to the event tomorrow? How were my directions? Clear as mud?”
to throw someone off/to be thrown off
If something throws you off, it confuses you or causes you to lose your concentration, get something wrong, or be misled. We can also say that someone is thrown off by something.
“Their money laundering scheme is so complicated that it’s been throwing off the authorities for years.”
“I get thrown off every time this software updates. Nothing is where I expect it to be.”
to throw someone off balance/to be thrown off balance
To throw someone off balance means to confuse or upset someone for a short time by saying or doing something that they are not expecting. (Cambridge Dictionary) We can also say that someone is thrown off balance by something.
“In high school, there was always that one kid in every class who would ask difficult questions to try to throw the teacher off balance.”
“I thought I would get the promotion for sure. I was thrown off balance when the company went with an outside hire instead.”
to throw someone for a loop/to be thrown for a loop
To throw someone for a loop means to cause someone to be very amazed, confused, or shocked. (Merriam Webster)
“Mike spent his whole life talking about how he wanted to be a doctor, so we were thrown for a loop when he dropped out of med school.”
“It always throws me for a loop when I hear British actors speaking with an American accent on screen.”
to mess with someone’s head
To mess with someone’s head means to cause someone to feel confused, frustrated, upset, or anxious.
“Have you ever see the move Inception? It really messes with your head. I still can’t figure out what happened.”
“When I was in elementary school and middle school, I loved math. Then I took algebra in high school, and all the variables and equations really messed with my head.”
to not be clear on something
If you are not clear on something, it means that you don’t fully understand something.
“After Obamacare passed in the United States, not everyone was clear on how the new laws would affect them.”
“It’s hard to do an effective job when we’re not clear on what our job functions are. Management needs to do a better job communicating our objectives to us.”
to scratch one’s head/head-scratching
To scratch one’s head means to think hard about something or to have difficulty understanding something. (Cambridge Dictionary) We can also use head-scratching as both an adjective and noun to talk about something that is confusing.
“All the plot twists in the TV show left viewers scratching their heads.”
“He wasn’t the best coach, and fans will remember him for his controversial, head-scratching decisions.” (used as an adjective)
“After a lot of head-scratching, our software developers were able to identify the problem and work on a solution.” (used as a noun)
For more idiomatic expressions, see these articles on idioms and phrasal verbs.