'The Tables Have Turned': Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Shanea Patterson, updated on April 4, 2023

Have you heard someone say that ‘the tables have turned’? Are you wondering what they meant by that? Below, we’ll take a look at the definition and origin and provide some examples of how to use the phrase correctly in a sentence.

In short:

  • ‘The tables have turned’ means the situation has reversed, and someone may have gained the upper hand.

Essentially, it means that someone has reversed their position relative to someone else’s position by turning a disadvantage into an advantage.

What Does ‘The Tables Have Turned’ Mean?

The phrase ‘the tables have turned’ means that a situation was reversed in some way. It’s an idiomatic expression used to let someone know that things are going to be different or change somehow. This common idiomatic expression can be used to let someone know that you’re about to take your revenge on them.

  • You might have heard it in a movie or TV show when the bad guys close in.

In the movie Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, when the bad guys catch up to Kevin after he plays a slightly harmful trick on them to lose them, one of them says to him:

  • “My, how the tables have turned” because now Kevin’s in a vulnerable position (to be kidnapped).

However, in a previous scene, Kevin had the upper hand and was able to get rid of them by putting them in trouble with a random woman on the street. (He grabs her inappropriately and then blames it on the kidnapper/burglars).

In the hit TV show The Office, Michael Scott messes this idiomatic expression up by saying:

  • Well, well, well. How the turntables…” and trails off as guest star Idris Alba rolls his eyes, clearly annoyed at Michael’s latest antics.

Where Does ‘The Tables Have Turned’ Come From?

The phrase ‘the tables have turned’ comes from the game backgammon and other related games that used to be called table games.

If someone turned the tables, he reversed the fortunes of the players, and the person who was winning became the one that was losing (and vice versa).

The phrase has been around for about 400 years.

Examples of ‘The Tables Have Turned’ in a Sentence 

How would you use ‘the tables have turned’ in a sentence?

Let’s look at some examples:

  • It looked like the game was just about won, but in the last quarter, the tables have turned all of a sudden. It looks like it could be a close one, after all.
  • Oh, my god. The tables have turned for the main character in this new fiction book I’m reading. I wonder what’s going to happen – I’m hooked!
  • My sister used to be a lot better than me at the violin, but the tables have turned, and she’s stopped playing. Now, I’ve surpassed her, and I’m going to be in the New York Symphony Orchestra.
  • We were all glued to the TV screen the minute the tables turned. It was such an amazing night; we all got incredibly drunk celebrating our team’s victory.
  • I can’t believe the tables have turned so much in this match. Everyone’s watching closely to see who the winner will be. My money’s on the one in red.
  • Going back through my old artwork, I realized that I used to be horrible. But my, how the tables have turned. Now, I’m winning art contests left and right.
  • A guy named Bryce used to bully me in middle school. But the tables have turned in adulthood. Now he’s working at Burger King, and he constantly gets bullied by his manager.
  • I’m so grateful that the tables have turned for me when it comes to my modeling. I never used to get so many jobs, but these days, I’m booked and busy.

Other Ways to Say ‘The Tables Have Turned’

What other words and phrases convey the same meaning as ‘the tables have turned’?

Here are a few examples:

  • Things have changed
  • Everything changed
  • Much has changed
  • The roles were reversed
  • The situation was reversed
  • Turned it around
  • Turned things around
  • Things are different
  • Things are different now
  • Things have taken a turn
  • Oppose
  • Equalize
  • Offset
  • Counteract
  • Balance out
  • Repeal
  • Reverse
  • Undo
  • Nullify
  • Quash
  • Abrogate
  • Work against
  • Counter
  • Void
  • Abolish
  • Transform
  • Evolve
  • Avenge oneself
  • Payback
  • Get you back
  • Fight back
  • Even the score
  • Take revenge
  • Retaliate
  • Return tit for tat
  • Hit back
  • Repay
  • Take vengeance
  • Give someone their comeuppance

Final Thoughts on ‘The Tables Have Turned’

To recap, we learned the following:

  • ‘The tables have turned’ means the situation has reversed, and someone may have gained the upper hand.

Essentially, it means that someone has reversed their position relative to someone else’s position by turning a disadvantage into an advantage.

If you ever get stuck on anything, feel free to come back and review what you learned. We’ve got a whole library of content on Idioms you might find useful as you’re learning the language. Go check it out.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.