There are plenty of famous idioms and sayings in English that it’s important to understand if you want to better your grasp of the native speech. One such example is “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Let’s look at what it means, where it came from, and when to use it!
What Does “The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts” Mean?
The meaning of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is that when one single thing is grouped by a collection of individual parts and properties, it will be fairer, more beautiful, or more perfect than any of the parts would be on their own. It’s saying that individually, certain systems and things aren’t all that great, but when combined, it turns them into something excellent that we can’t live without.
There’s a great example of this when we think about relationships and attraction. If we were to look at your partner, you would consider them very attractive in their own right. However, they are the “whole” in this phrase. The “parts” that make them up to come down to the individual things like genetics, atoms, organs, and personality. All of that combined turns them into the perfect partner that you’ve got today. However, individually, those things might not be nearly as appropriate for you.
It’s the idea that when we combine things, we’re turning them into something beautiful. Even though some things are designed to work well on their own, we’re encouraging people to explore options to combine things.
Examples Of How To Use “The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts”
Let’s look through some examples to help you understand the meaning a little better. We’ll include contexts and ideas that might come up when we’re using the phrase in a conversation with these examples. Read through them to see what we mean, and maybe you’ll start being able to use this phrase for yourself! It’s great to apply to many different situations if you can use it correctly.
- She’s beautiful. They do say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
- This is the machine I’ve made. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
- The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We wouldn’t be a united front without everyone’s efforts.
- Without you, this charity wouldn’t have taken off. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
- This world is recovering from all the damage we’ve caused. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
- You’ve all worked so hard to get us here. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
- I can’t thank everyone in this company enough for all your hard work. You’re all noticed. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
- The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Without your input, we wouldn’t have come this far.
- This is the best football team I could ever ask for. It’s true; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
- The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s why we’ve done so well on this project together.
In What Situations Is It Appropriate To Use This Expression?
When we’re using this expression, it’s typically designed to group many people into one single unit. That way, everyone feels included in part of a group and feels like they’ve all contributed to the outcome that came from it. Rather than singling a few people out, it’s better to make everyone feel like they worked together to become the “whole.”
We’ll find this phrase is most commonly used when large groups get together for a common cause. For instance, in the case of charity drives, where people are trying to raise money or do right, the more people that get involved, the more likely someone is to say, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It’s also really common in something like a team sport, where everyone has to work together to win a game.
What Is The Origin Of The Phrase “The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts”?
The phrase was originally coined by Aristotle, who lived between 384 BC and 322 BC. Since then, it’s been used in various situations to apply a group label to people working hard together for one absolute goal. The most common transition over the years came when people started to get more involved in team sports. It is a mantra that many sporting teams adopt to show that they’re working together as a team.
It’s an idea that shows synergy. Synergy is the term we give to anything that works well together to create one outcome. For instance, cogs in a machine synergize to get the machine to work properly, just like how teammates synergize to get to the victory at the end of the match.
Synonyms For “The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts”
There are a few synonyms that we thought it would be good to share with you for “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This way, if you don’t want to use the phrase, or you’d like to see what other phrases follow the same meaning, you’ll have a good idea. We’ll make sure to keep these phrases as closely related as we can for you.
- There’s no I in team.
This is a good way to encourage teammates to work with each other by showing that “I” (meaning the person) isn’t part of the overall spelling of “team.”
If you’re looking to get your team or group to work together, it might be as simple as telling them to “synergize” with each other. This is a great way to understand that they need to work together to get to the common goal.
- It’s a team effort.
Again, we’re just reminding people that they’re part of a team and have to remember that to win.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.