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Something like "circle is narrow" (just total random)? For example I'm trapped by circumstances and don't know how to get away with that. Because every way of acting seems not to be good.

Thank you guys all! I did not expect I would get so much useful expressions! I wish I could accept all the answers! You put me in a tight spot choosing the best answer :)

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Consider "rat in a maze". – JEL Jan 25 at 19:41
Cornered? A threatening or embarrassing position from which escape is difficult "got myself into a corner by boasting." – NVZ Jan 25 at 19:42
Hemmed in. Gored on the horns of a dilemma. – Hot Licks Jan 25 at 19:53
And there's always having ones "back to the wall". – Hot Licks Jan 25 at 20:31
FYI, your question is not proper English... you mean to say "have few ways to act" not "have A few ways to act" – BlueWhale Jan 25 at 22:49

14 Answers 14

up vote 20 down vote accepted

In a tight spotTFD

in a difficult situation

"If there is a shortage of fuel, everyone who drives to work will be in a tight spot."
"Bob's in a tight spot right now because he has fallen behind in his work."

In a bindTFD

Fig. in a tight or difficult situation; stuck on a problem.

"I'm in a bind. I owe a lot of money. Whenever I get into a jam, I ask my supervisor for help."
"When things get busy around here, we get in a bind. We could use another helper."

Find oneself in troubled watersM-W

a difficult or confusing situation

Between the devil and the deep blue seaTFD

having only two very unpleasant choices

"Our country is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea - our leaders cause great suffering, but an invasion aimed at overthrowing them would bring many other problems."

This particular usage is common in several Indian languages, too.

Put someone in an awkward positionTFD

to make a situation difficult for someone; to make it difficult for someone to evade or avoid acting.

"Your demands have put me in an awkward position. I don't know what to do."
"I'm afraid I've put myself in sort of an awkward position."

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@Zuzel The sanctions put Iran in a tight spot. – NVZ Jan 25 at 20:01
also "in a jam" is used for this – sgroves Jan 25 at 22:05
Also Hemmed in; between a rock and a hard place; in a corner – Brad Nesom Jan 26 at 23:52

You are caught between a rock and a hard place. Meaning, you are facing a decision, and feel that all of your choices will lead to difficulties.

Note that the same link offers similar expressions "between the devil and deep blue sea" and others. However, I think rock and hard place is more common in everyday use.

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This is really more of an idiom than an expression. A non-native speaker would not likely have any idea what this meant, besides figuring it out roughly from context. – devios Jan 26 at 1:16
@devios I'm an Indian. I have seen this expression in at least 5 Indian languages. – NVZ Jan 26 at 4:50

In a corner or cornered:

  • A threatening or embarrassing position from which escape is difficult: got myself into a corner by boasting.


From The National : "Iran is cornered by sanctions: give it a face-saving way out"

  • Well, "they" have indeed come, and five years later Iran finds itself cornered by an elaborate, multi-pronged, gradually escalating diplomatic and economic squeeze.
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paint oneself into a corner

To do something which puts someone in a very difficult situation and limits the way that they can act I've painted myself into a corner here. Having said I won't take less than £20 an hour, I can't then be seen to accept a job that pays less. Cambridge Idioms Dictionary

[get oneself] up a tree

In a difficult situation. This expression alludes to an animal, such as a raccoon or squirrel, that climbs a tree for refuge from attackers, which then surround the tree so it cannot come down. [; early 1800s ]Random House

[get oneself] out on a limb

In a difficult, awkward, or vulnerable position. This expression alludes to an animal climbing out on the limb of a tree and then being afraid or unable to retreat. [Late 1800s] The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms

[get oneself] behind the eight ball

In a difficult situation. Etymology: from the game of pool (a game played on a special table with sticks and numbered balls), in which you do not want to have any ball positioned behind the black ball marked with a number 8. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms

[get oneself] in a box

Informal In a very difficult or restrictive situation. American Heritage® Dictionary

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These are unique. I like this answer. – ws04 Jan 25 at 20:29

Up shit creek without a paddle

In an awkward situation or unpleasant predicament. The Phrase Finder

In an awkward position with no easy way out. The Free Dictionary

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One further option that is in occasional use, and would likely be understood by native English speakers in the countries I have lived in (NZ, Australia, UK, Canada):

Hemmed in on all sides

Literally this refers to the act of sewing a hem in fabric (specifically folding cloth over and sewing it down). Figuratively, to be hemmed in on all sides would mean you have no means of escape, or at least no easy way out.

Ref: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hemmed

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You could consider using in a fix/pickle/spot which means:

Also, in a pickle or spot . In a difficult or embarrassing situation, in a dilemma.

For example, I was really in a fix when I missed the plane, or Lost and out of gas-how did we get in such a pickle? or John had lost all his money in the crap game-now he was in a spot.

The first of these colloquial usages dates from the early 1800s; pickle in the sense of a mess or quandary, sometimes put as in a pretty pickle, dates from the 1500s; spot, also put as in a bad spot or tough spot , dates from the early 1900s.

[The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms]

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"Snookered", to use a term from... well... Snooker (or Pool)!

When all direct lines between the cue ball and a legal ball are blocked and you have to come up with a fancy move like bouncing off the cushion to get out of it. But it's sometimes used as an idiom in other situations...

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Cornered, in distress, as in: Angry bystanders chased the thief into an alley and held him at bay until the police arrived .

This idiom originally came from hunting, where it describes an animal that has been driven back and now faces pursuing hounds. Its use for other situations dates from the late 1500s.

(from: thefreedictionary.com)

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For me, this one really gets at the specific situation asked about of having threats (hunting dogs in this case) circling around and preventing you from escaping a bad situation. – Josh Rumbut Jan 26 at 17:06

You are on "Morton's fork":

  1. An argument used by John Morton in demanding gifts for the royal treasury: if a man lived well he was obviously rich and if he lived frugally then he must have savings.

1.1 A dilemma, especially one in which both choices are equally undesirable.

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It may feel like the walls are closing in

(idiom) To enclose around; to tighten or shrink; to collapse. Sometimes it feels like the walls are closing in on me. (idiom) To catch up with in a chase; to near the end of a pursuit. The police closed in on the suspect.

I could only find a source for close in on, but often the implication is that you are out of good options and even your bad options are dwindling.

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Old military terms:

  • trapped
  • beset
  • beseiged
  • beleaguered

Chess terms:

  • pinned
  • forked
  • in zugzwang
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Google definition:



in a difficult or hopeless situation; ruined or broken.

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Catch 21 No matter which choice, there's no way out !

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That's catch-22, and I don't think it applies here. – jimm101 Jan 26 at 13:22
You're right that it's catch-22 not catch-21 but I do think it applies as the OP stated, "Because every way of acting seems not to be good." – colmde Apr 12 at 13:41

protected by Kit Z. Fox Jan 26 at 14:04

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