nail biter


also, nail-biting


  • a situation like a close contest, which induces anxiety or tension.
  • in a literal sense, someone with the habit of biting their nails.
  • a suspenseful situation.
  • an anxiety-provoking situation.
  • a game with a tied score.
  • a situation that is tense enough to make you want to bite your nails to reduce the tension.

Examples in Sentences

  1. Friday’s nail-biter of a win over the Houston Texans was an excruciating contest.
  2. The election turnout was high. The amendments were defeated in a nail-biter.
  3. A tight match was contested in Tucuman, Argentina’s searing heat. It concluded in a 1-1 stalemate before the Austrians held their nerve in the nail-biting shootout.
  4. It was a nail-biter for me to be her caregiver until she could get the necessary legal documents.
  5. The United States emerged victorious at the championship after a nail-biting final.
  6. The nail-biter election generated the highest voter turnout rate in over a hundred years.


The phrase is formed from the words “nail” and “bite.” The first use of the idiom happened in the mid-19th century. Since the 1500s, people have recognized the act of biting one’s nails as a symptom of anxiety. Many people bite their nails when under stress. Therefore, the idiom “nail biter” can have a literal meaning, indicating individuals who bite their nails. The idiom has been used as the title of a horror comic book series created by Mike Henderson and Josua Williamson. Image Comics published the series; the first issue was released on May 7, 2014.

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