What Does It Mean to Do Your "Level Best"?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

The phrase "do your level best" is another way of saying to do your very best. This phrase is a figurative expression that is commonly used in some regions instead of similar literal phrases that have the same meaning. For example, if a person is taking an important test, someone who cares about him may tell him to do his level best. Likewise, if an individual is doing a favor for another but feels unsure of his ability to succeed, the recipient of the favor may ask him to do his level best. Since this phrase is used in figuratively rather than literally, it is referred to as an idiom.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

In many cases, people incorporate idioms into their speech and casual writing. Idioms are creative ways of expressing oneself and allow a person to share a thought, feeling, or desire, without having to use literal phrasing. Some people use idioms because they find this type of speech fun while others use them out of habit because they are so common where they live. The phrase "do your level best" is one such idiom. It means to do one's very best or put one's utmost effort into an action or task.

An individual might use the phrase "do your level best" when he is trying to encourage another party to perform well in some capacity. For example, an individual might feel anxiety over his ability to pass a test or give a speech. In such a case, a person who cares about him may want to encourage him to do well by telling him to do his level best. This implies that no matter what the outcome, the effort a person puts into an action is worth it and valuable as long as he tries his hardest.

Sometimes a person will also use the phrase "do your level best" when he is asking another party to help him in some way. For example, if a person is having trouble with a mechanical device, he may ask a party with good technical skills to fix it for him. If that party is unsure of what has caused the problem with the device or his ability to fix it, he may express doubt about the outcome of his efforts. In such a case, the person in need of help may ask him to do his level best. He would be using this phrase to indicate that he understands that the device may prove impossible to fix but hopes the person he's asked for help will put maximum effort into it.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


My boss is fond of encouraging us to do our level best to get a new project completed. I never really understood what the word "level" had to do with it, though. I think I agree with Ruggercat68 on the limitations. The way I view the expression, I can do my level best to help my son prepare for a test, but I can't take the test in his place. That would be too risky and unethical. My level best would be a maximum effort within the boundaries of professional behavior.


The way I see it, doing your level best means balancing your ability with reason. In other words, if you're a plumber you can tell a customer you'll do your "level best" to stop the leak, but the customer would have to know you aren't going to take risks. The word "level" implies there are limits to what you'd be willing to do in order to fix the problem or get the job done.

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