Why so say: ""a fifth wheel""?

Why so say: ""a fifth wheel""?

The modern person uses a set of the phraseological units, sayings and proverbs which reached us since ancient times. One of such expressions – "a fifth wheel". What does it mean and in what cases it is used?

What's the big idea?

The phrase "a fifth wheel" appeared as an image for definition of illogical, silly and ignorant actions which are not necessary and can be inappropriate in this situation.

The phrase became such because the mare, according to rules of the nature, has a tail therefore it will be senseless to attach one more, and actions can be regarded as nonsense. From here and other meaning of a popular expression – action or business is already finished, it is not necessary to add anything to it or to improve somehow.

Why and in what cases it is used

There are several examples when and in what cases it is possible to use expression:

  • The popular expression "a fifth wheel" describes a certain absurd situation and emphasizes inappropriate actions, it can be used in all cases when someone suggests to make some unnecessary or frankly harming business action.
  • As the mare in itself is an animal self-sufficient and with one tail, expression is told "a fifth wheel" in that case when the person made something useless or inappropriate for this place or a situation.
  • One more situation at which the words "a fifth wheel" can be used is a designation of any serious irrelevance in appearance, actions or objects of the person. For example, one may say, that clothes at the girl beautiful, but here a handbag, improper on a style, – just "a fifth wheel".

Important point: now there is not one, but two option of use and pronunciation of a phraseological unit "a fifth wheel" - with a particle "not" and without its use. Nevertheless, regardless of pronunciation, both phrases will describe something unnecessary, superfluous and disturbing in this situation.


The phraseological unit has a set of analogs from which it is possible to distinguish the following:

  • On which to a goat bayan;
  • As the fifth wheel;
  • Like one needs a hole in the head;
  • Like a fish needs a bicycle and others.

All these and other expressions are used for the same purpose – to describe illogicality of the taken actions. Also these and other phrases can describe the unnecessary person or a part of his appearance.


Expression "A fifth wheel" appeared in the people long ago and could be fixed both in informal conversation, and in literature and cinema. Saying a phraseological unit, people most often apply it in relation to unnecessary actions.

Also the phraseological unit is used concerning the person obviously superfluous in this company. The phrase has several analogs, but in each case it is about unnecessary and useless things – an umbrella for fish, the fifth leg for a dog and others.

Author: «MirrorInfo» Dream Team