Take a toll

When something takes a toll on you, it has a negative impact on your physical or emotional state. The impact usually happens slowly over time. 

If you have had very little sleep over the past few months, it has likely taken a toll on your health. This means that it has had a negative effect on your health. Similarly, if you have received negative feedback on your last few projects at work or school, it has likely taken a toll on your motivation. This could mean that you are feeling unmotivated or discouraged. 

We use this expression to show the gradual result of a sequence of events. It is usually used to convey information about a negative situation. For example:

  • James’ busy work schedule is starting to take a toll on his marriage.
  • Eating fast food for many years has taken a toll on Stephanie’s health.

A. Have you seen the condition of the roads lately? They’re horrible!
B. I know. I think the heavy traffic has started to take a toll on them.

Did you know? This expression dates back hundreds of years when communities would charge travelers a toll, an amount of money, to use their bridges or roads. The idea behind this idiom is that you can use the bridge or road, or continue doing a certain action, but that it comes at a price. The price can be monetary, or it can be harmful to your health or emotional well-being.