English phrase of the day: Move the goalposts

YouTube video

Hi everyone! I heard today’s phrase of the day when a woman was complaining about a difficult project at work. She’s a graphic designer and she was trying to design a website for a client, but the client kept moving the goalposts, so the project was never finished and the client was never satisfied.

To move the goalposts means to change the rules, conditions, or objectives in a way that makes them more difficult to reach the goal. Imagine a soccer game where the players were trying to score a goal, but someone kept moving the goal side to side, or further away -that would certainly make it a lot harder to get the ball in the goal!

In the case of the graphic designer and her client, the client moving the goalposts might mean the client kept changing their mind, or requesting extra features, so that it was hard for the graphic designer to actually complete the project.

Moving the goalposts is not a good thing; it’s considered rather unfair or even corrupt. Let’s say you’ve been working at a company for 4 years, and your supervisor said you’d be promoted at 5 years. But then when you reach 5 years, your supervisor changes the conditions and says you also need to complete an advanced training to get the promotion. After you complete the advanced training, the supervisor says you’re not quite productive enough to be promoted, and you need to produce 20% more. The supervisor is moving the goalposts -changing the conditions for receiving the promotion -and you’d probably be pretty frustrated by this.

Can you think of an example where you’ve seen a person, company, or government move the goalposts, changing the rules or requirements and making things more difficult?

Thanks for watching today’s phrase of the day, and I’ll be back tomorrow with another one!

Learn phrases and expressions to improve your spoken English!

English phrase of the day: Move the goalposts Espresso English

Learn more about the Speaking Courses