Is there an appropriate expression for this in English? The context is a sentence about a particular worker in a company who would be a good candidate for a senior administrative position, because he knows how to discern between what is important and what is trivial, i.e., he can "sift out" the trivial matters and focus on what's most important.

There's a nice expression for this in Hebrew - מבחין בין עיקר לטפל. I was wondering if something similar exists in English.

Oh, and to all the translators here, happy international translation day!

3 Answers 3


He can sort the wheat from the chaff

Prov. to separate what is useful or valuable from what is worthless. (-- freedictionary.com)

(The chaff being the husk around the valuable grain, usually to be discarded)

  • Hi JHCL - sorry for being pedantic, but doesn't this expression mean, basically, selecting the best of the bunch? Can this realistically be used in relation to issues or tasks, or is it only for tangible objects?
    – Ilanysong
    Sep 30, 2015 at 14:35
  • The metaphor is clearly describing a binary separation of the valuable from the worthless - 'chaff' is not simply an inferior example of 'wheat'; it's demonstrably different stuff. Whereas 'selecting the best of the bunch' suggests some subjective prioritising, which I didn't think was what you were looking for. And yes, it's often used in relation to intangibles.
    – JHCL
    Sep 30, 2015 at 14:54
  • @Ilanysong The "pick of the crop" would be selecting the best of the best.
    – VampDuc
    Sep 30, 2015 at 17:55

Get to the heart of the matter fits with the "focus on what's most important".

Definition: Find or determine the most important or essential facts or meaning. To discover, determine, and/or understand the essential, core, or most important aspect(s) of some issue, problem, or topic at hand.

Example: It's important to get to the heart of the matter before we make any decisions.

  • Hi - I think that "focus on what's most important" is probably the closest to what I'm after. "Getting to the heart of the matter" is close, but it describes a given situation, and that's not my context. Thanks for the input ! :)
    – Ilanysong
    Sep 30, 2015 at 10:52
  • 1
    @Ilanysong - you may also "focus on the essential".
    – Graffito
    Sep 30, 2015 at 12:08

In English, the word triage is often used this way (though in French it just means sorting). In English it generally means a gross sorting into very few classes according to importance/urgency. It is a first pass, leaving finer distinction for later.

For example, in an emergency, search-and-rescue operations include an operation of triage that separates people needing help into classes such as deceased (black), urgent/immediate (red), delayed (yellow), and minor/walking-wounded (green).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.