The tables have turned

During a chess match, the tables can turn.

If someone used to be in a better position than you in terms of wealth, power or overall advantage, but now you are in a better position than them, then the tables have turned. We say that the tables have turned when the roles between two people (or groups of people) have reversed and are now the opposite of what they used to be. It means that the person who once had the advantage in a situation now has the disadvantage, and vice versa.

This expression is often used to reflect on major changes between two parties, or to imagine what would happen in a hypothetical situation where the roles were reversed. For that reason, this expression is often used with the present perfect and in conditional sentences. It is appropriate for use in both personal and professional contexts. For example:

  • My brother used to be a lot better than me in soccer, but the tables have turned ever since he broke his ankle. He never fully recovered, so now I'm much better than him.
  • When I first started at my job, I reported to Jaclyn, who was the Team Lead at the time. Now, after years of hustling and working hard, the tables have turned and she actually reports to me!

A. I had my first meeting with Client X today but it didn't go that well. It was scheduled for 2:00pm but they showed up at 3:15pm. On top of that, they didn't even reach out to let me know that they were going to be delayed!
B. That's unfortunate... I imagine you were polite about it, but I wonder how they would have reacted if the tables had been turned and you had kept them waiting for that long.

Did you know? This expression dates back as far as 1612 and relates to board games such as chess and backgammon. If someone turned the table, they would change the position of the board so that the person who was winning had to play the game from the side of the person who was losing.