Look out! Talking about being careful.

two white mice hiding inside a hole - a white cat is visible outside
Michael Blann/The Image Bank/GettyImages

by Liz Walter

It is natural to want our family and friends to be safe, and this post looks at words connected with being careful – both for advising people to be careful and for describing careful people and actions.

When you see someone who is in immediate danger, you might call to them to look out, watch out, or in British, but not usually American English to mind out:

Look out! That tree’s about to fall!

More generally, we often tell people to take care (of yourself) or to stay safe. These phrases can be used casually when saying goodbye or more seriously to a person who is facing some sort of potential danger:

See you next week. Take care.

Have a good journey and stay safe.

If you take precautions, you do things to prevent something unpleasant or dangerous happening. We can describe such an action as a precaution against something, or as a precautionary measure:

You’ll need to take precautions to prevent infection.

She advised taking antibiotics as a precautionary measure.

More informally, we might give advice to someone using phrases such as just in case or make sure you:

Take your phone, just in case you get lost.

Make sure you don’t go out alone at night.

If there is something specific someone needs to do to stay safe, we could say pay attention to … and if there is something specific that could cause a problem, we could say be on your guard for …:

Pay attention to the traffic.

Be on your guard for thieves.

A cautious person is careful not to take risks. If you do something very carefully because you are afraid of it or think you might be hurt, we can say you do it gingerly:

I’m very cautious about trusting people.

We walked gingerly along the icy road.

The idiomatic British English phrase belt and braces means that you have done more than is necessary in order to prevent problems or accidents, while if you play it safe, you decide not to take any risks:

We took a belt and braces approach to navigation with paper maps as well as GPS on our phones.

The risk of infection was low but we decided to play it safe and hold the meeting online.

I will finish with two well-known proverbs. Better (to be) safe than sorry means that it is best to be careful, even if the measures you need to take are boring or hard work. Look before you leap means that you should think carefully before deciding to do something.

I hope you find these words useful and take good care of yourselves!

12 thoughts on “Look out! Talking about being careful.

  1. Thank you very much for this post. As usual, this is another very helpful and enjoyable one. I would like to add one further saying related to the topic, which in fact I expected to see among those included here when I first read the heading: “Discretion is the better part of valour.”

    1. I thought valour was about bravery and courage, Murozel…

      And *discernment* is often a word about being careful more, perhaps, than *discretion*.

      Glad you enjoyed and were helped by this post!

      1. Thanks for your reply! Setting aside the meanings of the individual words, the saying I mentioned is present in the Cambridge English Dictionary as it is. It is used in the situations like when one thinks or advises that it is better to avoid unnecessary risks.

Leave a Reply