axe to grind


have an axe to grind
also have an ax to grind


  • have a private or selfish reason for doing something
  • have an ulterior motive
  • have a strong opinion or point of view about something
  • have a dispute to take up with someone

Example Sentences

  1. He should not become the chairman of the committee as he has too many axes of his own to grind.
  2. When I see him strongly supporting someone who could be his rival, I cannot help but think that he has an axe to grind.
  3. He has no political axe to grind, he is just concerned about the state of affairs here.
  4. I think he is gunning for the top job because he has an axe to grind with some of his colleagues.
  5. Some new reports may be biased because the reporters have an axe to grind.
  6. What started as a casual discussion flared up into a heated debate because both of them had an axe to grind.
  7. They have been constantly arguing with each other. They seem to have an axe to grind.


The phrase is used with the meaning “having ulterior motive” in America and “having a dispute to take or point of view to express” in Britain. Both the versions however have a sense of having an agenda in common and it is believed that the phrase originated in America and travelled to Britain. The phrase, with the American meaning, is commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Two of his works during 1771 to 1790 have similar references, but the exact phrase is not present. In some opinions, the phrase is attributed to Charles Miner, who, like Franklin, lived in Pennsylvania, USA. Miner was the first to have the exact phrase in print, in two similar articles in 1810 and 1812. These articles are so similar to Franklin’s stories that some suggest Franklin is the real originator of the phrase.

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People seem to mix this up with “bone to pick”, or meaning a general grudge.

My preferred definition means something more ulterior. My example… “Senator Todd refused to vote for the Health Care bill, claiming it will raise spending. However, many believe he just has an axe to grind for not being selected to Chair the Health Care Committee.”

I would NOT use it like this. “Senator Todd refused to vote for the Health Care bill because he had an axe to grind about government spending”

‒ Dinkypoopoo January 3, 2018

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