Set your sights on

When you “set your sights on” something, you have an ambition or you want to achieve something.

Today's story: Ukraine updates
Explore more: Lesson #452
Keywords:

Take control of your English

Use active strategies to finally go from good to great

Listen

  • Learning speed
  • Full speed

Learn

TranscriptQuizYour turn
Simple TranscriptEspañol中文FrançaisPortuguês日本語ItalianoDeutschTürkçePolski

Set your sights

Today’s English expression is to set your sights on something. You’ll want to use this phrase when you have an ambition or when you want to achieve something. If you really want to do something, you’ve set your sights on achieving it.

This phrase originates with imagery of shooting. A sight is the part of a gun that you look through as you set your aim. If you’re hunting and you set your sight on, say, a turkey, then you’ve aimed your gun at that turkey.

Most of the time, though, we use this metaphorically. In today’s lesson, I said Russia set its sights on Ukraine . That meant that Russia had ambitions in Ukraine. I didn’t say specifically what Russia’s ambitions were because that’s still not known. But I said that Russia had taken over territory from the Republic of Georgia in 2008 and from the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014. It killed opponents abroad. It shot down an airline. Then, it set its sights on Ukraine again: it had ambitions there. And the imagery of a hunter finding his target through the sight of a gun is not a bad way to think about this phrase, in this case.

It doesn’t always have to be violence, though; in fact, most of the time it doesn’t involve any type of violence. Here are a few peaceful examples.

ESPN is a major broadcaster of American sports, but its American football broadcast has been awful in the past few years. I personally think it’s unwatchable. ESPN carries the Monday night game. The Monday night game—there’s only one per week—it used to be the most prestigious game of the whole week. But ESPN’s broadcast is so bad that the Sunday night game is now considered the most prestigious game and gets higher ratings.

ESPN is going to broadcast the Super Bowl for the first time in 2027. They wanted to prepare by improving the quality of their broadcasts. So they set their sights on Troy Aikman and Joe Buck. Aikman and Buck were both on FOX, a competing network. But ESPN wanted them; ESPN set its sights on both broadcasters. ESPN got them both, and I might finally watch a Monday night football game again.

Joe Biden became president in January 2021 at age 78. He finally reached his goal. But he set his sights on the presidency as a much younger man. That means, he made it his goal to be president a long time ago. He first ran for president in 1988, more than thirty years ago. He tried again in 2008. Finally he won in 2020. But he had had the presidency in his sights for over thirty years.

Silicon Valley is full of ambitious entrepreneurs. Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb, set his sights on disrupting the hospitality business; I think we can say he achieved that ambition. Elizabeth Holmes set her sights on revolutionizing blood testing ; that didn’t work out so well.

Quote of the Week

Here’s a quote for today in these uncertain times. “True security lies in the unrestrained embrace of insecurity — in the recognition that we never really stand on solid ground, and never can.” It’s by Oliver Burkeman, a British journalist.

I don’t know if this makes me feel better or worse. But if you want the world to stay the same…you’re going to have a hard time being happy. It seems like one global calamity after another, a financial crisis, a pandemic, a war in Europe. I can’t believe I’m saying the words “war in Europe,” but I am.

Anyway, here’s the quote again, “True security lies in the unrestrained embrace of insecurity — in the recognition that we never really stand on solid ground, and never can.”

See you next time!

And that’s all for today’s lesson. We’ll take a break from this topic for the next few lessons, but we’ll revisit it in a couple of weeks when, hopefully, the situation has changed for the better. Until then, remember we’re here every Monday and Thursday with a new Plain English lesson. See you soon.

Use realistic expressions like a native speaker

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

Test your knowledge

Take a 4-question quiz to make sure you understand today’s Expression

Plus+ feature

Write a sentence with this Expression

Get personal, human feedback on the examples that you write. Build the confidence to use this Expression in the real world

Story: Ukraine updates