To Burn Bridges


Senior Member
Standard American English
This is an idiomatic expression that all English speakers understand. To burn bridges means to suffer the ultimate consequences of personal betrayal: termination of relationship. In standard English, the correct verb is to estrange.

There are many reasons why people would want to terminate relationship (burn bridges), and they can be personal, business or financial. For example, there are two boys who have been friends for years. They developed a bond through the years. If one stole away the girlfriend of the other, that would be grounds for terminating the relationship.

"I can't believe you stole my girlfriend. You've just burned your bridges."

There can be a business proposition where one side of the party failed to hold up his end of the deal, and due to the failure the other side was adversely affected.

"I can't believe you didn't show up at the meeting. I spent a whole month getting the meeting together. You just burned your bridges, mister!"

Is there an expression in Russian? If writing in Russian, please indicate which vowel is stressed.
  • Of course, there is the same expression in Russian, and literally it means completely the same as in English.

    Сжечь (все) мосты
    Сжечь за собой (все) мосты
    RhoKappa, according your explanations I could suggest that in English to burn bridges means unpremeditated relationships termination while a betrayal. In Russian I think this expression has a little different shade. For example when a man is going to change his life on the score of his views changes he sells his flat or house, changes his phone number, leaves his job, closes the bank account and it say он сжиѓает мост́ы i. e. he consciously rapture with the past making all this things I wrote before. I don't think that we could say somebody burns the bridges accidently making a mistake or a dirty deed.

    Actually, the expression is pretty formal. I don't think someone could use it in a conversation. It might meet in movies or literature or may be in some tasteless songs.
    I also think Russian and English idioms coincide only literally. In fact they mean quite different things, the Russian being closer to the initial military sense - burning the bridges (boats) to cut off the path of retreat.
    Maybe the reason is that the English expression became quite common and thus changed the sense, while the Russian one remained bookish.
    Actually, the expression is pretty formal. I don't think someone could use it in a conversation. It might meet in movies or literature or may be in some tasteless songs.

    Really? Is it your personal opinion?
    As to me, I like, for example, the song with Levitansky's words very much!
    Горящими листьями пахнет в саду,
    Прощайте, я больше сюда не приду,
    Дымится бумага, чернеют листы -
    Сжигаю мосты, сжигаю мосты. (full text here)

    And according to the Idioms Dictionary, I agree with Ptak, it looks the same with our "сжигать (за собой) мосты":
    burn one's bridges (behind one)
    1. Lit. to cutoff the way back to where you came from, making it impossible to retreat. The army, which had burned its bridges behind it, couldn't go back. By blowing up the road, the spies had burned their bridges behind them.
    2. Fig. to act unpleasantly in a situation that you are leaving, ensuring that you'll never be welcome to return. If you get mad and quit your job, you'll be burning your bridges behind you. No sense burning your bridges. Be polite and leave quietly.
    3. Fig. to make decisions that cannot be changed in the future. If you drop out of school now, you'll be burning your bridges behind you.You're too young to burn your bridges that way.

    burn your bridges
    to permanently and unpleasantly end your relationship with a person or organization Welles had burned his bridges so badly with the movie studios that they laughed when you mentioned his name.
    Etymology: based on the military action of burning a bridge you have just crossed to prevent the enemy from crossing it after you
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    I dont really think "burn bridges" means betrayal or not holding up your end of the deal etc. I think it's more of how one comes out of a situation or reacts to it(which COULD be betrayal), not the initial situation. For example in a fight between friends, burning bridges would be to go and sleep with the friends boyfriend out of anger. That insures that there is no way to resolve the fight, it is final.

    In Russian I think it can be used in this way and also in a more literal sense.
    Then here is a question: how use it in the imperative clause as an admonition? For example, you can see a so-called friend setting you up for some scam. You tell him, "Please, don't burn your bridges with me." Как по-русски?
    "Не сжигай мосты"
    Though in the above mentioned situation in my opinion this phrase doesnt make any sense. (in Russian or English)