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Take A Toll On / Take Its Toll On

Idiom: to take a/its toll on; used as a verb

First Example:
Sharon: Wow, you’ve been working late a
lot lately!
Geoff: Yeah, and it’s beginning to take a toll on me.
Sharon: What do you mean?
Geoff: Well, I’ve been really stressed,
and my health is getting worse because I haven’t been going to the gym or
getting enough sleep. I’ve gotten sick twice in the last two months!
Sharon: Wow, maybe you should take some
time off.
Geoff: I’m planning on it, once I get
this report finished.

Meaning: When something “takes
a toll on
” something, it means that the subject is having a negative
effect on the object of the idiom. 
Usually, the idiom “take a toll on” is used when a person or thing has
been doing a certain action a lot, and that action is starting to have a
negative impact on the person or thing doing it.  In
the example above, Geoff has been working late a lot, and the extra time at work
and stress is having a negative impact on, or “taking a toll on”,
Geoff’s health.  The expression can be
used with the word “a” or “its” interchangeably, so the
example above could have also been “Yeah, and it’s beginning to take its
toll on me” without a change in meaning. 
Look at another example involving an object that is being affected: 

Michael: I need to get a new car.
Jennifer: I thought you said you would never
get rid of that BMW?
Michael: Yeah, I love the car, but traffic is
really beginning to take its toll on the engine.  I’ve broken down twice in the last month, and
there’s a weird sound coming from under the hood.

Jennifer:  How old is the car?  
Michael: It’s from 1972, and it was great
when I drove short distances, but I don’t think it was made for sitting in
traffic.  Hopefully I can find a
collector who wants to restore it.  Then
I can use the money as a down payment on something a little newer and more

In this example, Michael says he
needs to get a new car because the traffic is “taking its toll” on his current car.  He thinks sitting in traffic is having a
negative effect on the older car, so he is thinking about selling it and buying
something newer.  Notice that Michael used “its” instead of
“a” in the idiom (although “taking a toll” would also be technically
correct in this instance).

This idiom is from LSI’s new edition
of “Reading Horizons,” which will be used in the Level 6 Reading
classes. For more information, please visit

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