at cross purposes

at cross purposes


  • With aims or goals that conflict or interfere with one another.
  • Being at cross-purposes means a confusion that arises by thinking you’re both talking about the same thing but both of you are actually discussing different, but kind of related, things.
  • Also means failure or confusion because of talking or working towards different objectives thinking they’re the same.
  • It also means a contrasting or opposing purpose.

Example Sentences

  1. It will be difficult for us to be successful if we continue working at cross-purposes.
  2. Yesterday, we were at cross-purposes with Steve. We had a conversation about Georgia, only to realize later that I was talking about Georgia in Russia but he was talking about Georgia in the U.S.
  3. Sam and I were at cross purposes the other day. We had a talk about Kevin, but I was talking about Kevin my brother, but he thought we were talking about our mutual friend also called Kevin.
  4. Today I was discussing football matters with an Asian friend, but we were at cross-purposes. All the while, I was discussing American football, but he thought I was talking about soccer.
  5. The members of Lord’s House fear the two government departments are working at cross purposes.


At cross-purposes idiom traces back to the 17th century. It is believed that the phrase might have begun as an indoor game known as “cross-purposes” or “cross-questions”. In the game, a series of questions (subjects) were distinguished from their answers (explanations) then distributed across the room for selection. Players would then give ridiculous responses by associating subjects taken from one player with explanations retrieved from another player, even if the two were completely unrelated. For instance, one might provide an answer to a question from a player directly opposite him or her with complete disregard to the question.

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