'Put Your Best Foot Forward': Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on October 17, 2023

You've probably heard the saying, 'put your best forward.' But do you know what it means? I'm guessing that's why you're here. Well, you're in the right place! In this article, you'll learn the meaning behind this famous idiom, as well as its possible origins and how to use it in a sentence.

Before we get started, though, here's the short version for those of you in a rush:

  • To put your best foot forward is to try to make a good first impression by behaving well.

What Does 'Put Your Best Foot Forward' Mean?

This saying perfectly exemplifies how idioms can't be interpreted literally. If someone tells you this, they're not talking about the physical act of putting a foot forward. Instead, putting your best foot forward means making a deliberate effort to present your best qualities, abilities, or appearance in a particular situation. It involves showcasing your strengths and making a positive impression on others.

This idiom is often used in various contexts, such as job interviews, social gatherings, presentations, auditions, and any situation where making a positive impression or achieving a desired outcome is essential. Imagine, for instance, if you had a job interview coming up, your friend might say to you:

Be sure to put your best foot forward to impress the hiring manager.

Since this idiom contains a verb, you might see it in different forms, including 'putting your best foot forward' (present participle) and 'puts his/her/their best foot forward' (third-person singular).

Where Does 'Put Your Best Foot Forward' Come From?

While the precise origin of this idiom is not well-documented, it likely dates back several centuries and may have originated from the practice of taking careful, deliberate steps.

Various Theories About Its Origins

Here are a couple of theories about the origins of this phrase:

  • Ancient Walking Etiquette: In ancient times, there was a social expectation for people to walk gracefully and with good posture, especially in formal or important situations. This involved putting one's best foot forward while walking. This figurative expression eventually evolved to mean presenting one's best self or efforts in any situation.
  • Curtseying Etiquette: Men and women used to be required to curtsy when meeting someone of importance, which involves putting one foot forward. Legend has it the common advice was to put their best foot forward so they could make a good first impression. How did one decided which foot was the best? Some say the right foot was automatically considered superior.
  • 16th Century Literature: The phrase "put your best foot foremost" appears in some English literature dating back to the 16th century. For example, it can be found in John Lyly's play "Euphues and His England" (1580), where it suggests the idea of making a good impression by displaying one's best qualities.

Over time, the term "put your best foot forward" has become a common piece of advice, encouraging individuals to present their most positive and impressive qualities when facing challenges, meeting new people, or pursuing opportunities. Its origins may be somewhat elusive, but its meaning and usage are well-established in the English language.

The Superlative Controversy

Shakespeare famously changed the word 'best' to 'better' in his play The Life and Death of King John, which he is believed to have written in the mid-1590s.

He says:

Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.

This was much to the delight of grammarians the world over, who believed superlative adjectives should only be used to compare three or more items. They argue that the comparative 'better' is the correct term to use.

This view is a little archaic. Nowadays, it's perfectly okay to use both comparative and superlative adjectives to compare just two items.

Examples in Sentences

Now we've covered the idiom's meaning and its possible origins; here are some examples of it being used in a sentence. I'll show you some of its most popular forms, including present participle and third-person singular.

At the audition, the young actress put her best foot forward, delivering a flawless performance.

To win the contract, the company had to put its best foot forward by showcasing its talent.

When meeting your partner's parents for the first time, it's essential to put your best foot forward and be polite and respectful.

The team captain encouraged the players to put their best foot forward in the championship game.

As a manager, it's crucial to put your best foot forward in the office to create a warm atmosphere.

When applying for college scholarships, students should put their best foot forward by highlighting their academic achievements and extracurricular activities.

In a competitive market, businesses who are constantly putting their best foot forward attract and retain customers.

The candidate knew that the debate was a chance to put her best foot forward and showcase her knowledge and speaking skills.

When launching a new product, the company always puts its best foot forward with a strong marketing campaign to capture consumers' attention. 

You need to put your best foot forward and show him you have the skills he needs.

Other Ways to Say 'Put Your Best Foot Forward'

Of course, just like with most idioms, there's always more than just one way to say something. Here are some other ways to tell someone to put their best foot forward.

  • Put everything you have into something.
  • Give 100 percent
  • Give it your all
  • Bring your A-game
  • Do your utmost
  • Make a good impression
  • Step up to the plate
  • Put forth your best effort
  • Give your best shot
  • Show your strengths

Concluding Thoughts

Well, that pretty much concludes this article on the popular idiom. If you want to help someone by telling them they should behave very well in order to make a good impression, you can tell them to 'put their best foot forward. 

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for even more idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!   

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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