A bump in the road: talking about things that prevent progress

Listen to the author reading this blog post:

a car stopped on a rural road in front of a damaged section of tarmac with a warning sign - representing the concept of preventing progress
Arctic-Images / Stone / Getty Images

by Liz Walter

Today’s post looks at ways of talking about things that prevent or delay us doing things we want to do.

First, a quick reminder that if you want to use another verb after prevent, it has to be an -ing verb. Don’t use an infinitive – this is a common error for learners of English:

You will need to take medicine to prevent you from getting malaria.

You will need to take medicine to prevent you to get malaria.

The verb deter is usually used when someone makes you aware of problems with, or bad consequences of, something you wanted to do. The related noun is deterrent:

They installed gates to deter thieves.

We hope that high tobacco prices will act as a deterrent to smoking.

The rather formal word impede means to make it more difficult for something to happen or for someone to do something. It is always followed by a noun or a noun phrase. Less formally, you could say that something holds you back:

Bad weather impeded their search for the missing walker.                                .

She didn’t let her lack of formal education hold her back.

Something that sets you back delays your progress. The related noun is setback, which is often used with the verb suffer:

Changes to the law have set our work back by years.

The charity has suffered several financial setbacks.

If something frustrates your plans, it prevents them from being achieved, while if something hampers or disrupts them, you might achieve them in the end, but only with difficulty or by doing something differently:

Local people frustrated their attempt to build a new airport in the area.

Progress was hampered by a lack of clear leadership.

Our work was severely disrupted by the pandemic.

Someone or something that obstructs you or is obstructive prevents you from doing something, often deliberately. We might also say that someone or something is standing/getting in the way of your goals:

She was charged with obstructing a criminal investigation.

I wanted to arrange a meeting with Mrs Evans, but her assistant was very obstructive.

He allowed his gaming habit to get in the way of his studies.

An obstacle or a barrier makes something difficult to achieve. We often use the preposition ‘to’ after these nouns:

For these children, a difficult home life is often a major obstacle to learning.

Her shyness was a barrier to making friends.

I will finish with a couple of nice idioms. If someone throws a spanner in the works (UK) or throws a (monkey) wrench in the works (US), they do something that causes a problem or a delay. If you talk about a plan or project hitting a bump in the road, you mean that something is causing difficulties, but usually not anything too serious:

He threw a spanner in the works by refusing to sell us the land.

Our business hit a bump in the road last year.

I hope you found this post useful, and that nothing prevents you from increasing your English vocabulary!

10 thoughts on “A bump in the road: talking about things that prevent progress

  1. Have only just seen “Bump in the road”.

    When we talk about barriers:

    there are at least seven types.

    Two of the most common are ENVIRONMENTAL and ATTITUDINAL.

    And another might be a LEGISLATIVE barrier.

    We can usually get around – or avoid – bumps in the road.

  2. Marcel Beleyn

    Very interesting as usual. Perhaps you might also have included the noun ‘impediment’, which always reminds me of “admitting no impediment to the marriage of true minds’ (as in Shakespeare’s sonnet).

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