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If I had to tell someone that they are searching for something (could be objects or answers to a question) in the wrong place, what idiom could be useful?

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Bark up the wrong tree: can be used in that sense:

  • Waste one's efforts by pursuing the wrong thing or path, as in If you think I can come up with more money, you're barking up the wrong tree.
    • This term comes from the nocturnal pursuit of raccoon-hunting with the aid of dogs. Occasionally a raccoon fools the dogs, which crowd around a tree, barking loudly, not realizing their quarry has taken a different route. [Early 1800s]

(AHD)

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