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In French, there is the expression "jamais deux sans trois" (literally: "never twice without a third [time]").

We use it to express that something which has already happened twice is likely to happen again.

Can someone point to a good, idiomatic, English equivalent?

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Not an expression. But there is a quote that goes something like: "Do something once and it's an accident. Twice, a coincidence. If you do it a third time, then it's a natural law". Google also points to what appears to be an adaptation by Paulo Coelho of your French expression: "Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time". –  coleopterist Sep 24 '12 at 15:05
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"Once is chance; twice, is coincidence, but three times is enemy action". –  Brian Hooper Sep 24 '12 at 15:14
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@BrianHooper: Thank you, Mr. Goldfinger. –  Robusto Sep 24 '12 at 15:54
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To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness (Oscar Wilde, 1895). To lose three parents would be truly miraculous (FumbleFingers, 2012) –  FumbleFingers Sep 24 '12 at 16:53
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One beer's plenty, two's too many and three ain't half enough. No wait... –  Kevin Sep 24 '12 at 17:42
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6 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I'm not superstitous but I have often heard more superstious people say:

Bad things come in threes!

so that might be something. This is most often said after occurence two in anticipation of occurence three.

I would have thought "jamais deux sans trois" would be more like "never twice without a third [time]", and I guess I would suggest that while not an idiomatic expression there is nothing wrong per se with a basic translation as a phrase.

If it happened twice, it will probably happen again!

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Yes, that's what the French means, my original translation was a pointless attempt at brevity. –  Philippe Sep 24 '12 at 15:23
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They also say good things come in threes. –  Robusto Sep 24 '12 at 17:27
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There is a classic Wizard of Id cartoon in which the Little King throws a servant in the dungeon for 20 years for being late to work. The King's advisor whispers that this was the first lateness in 20 years of service. The King replies

Can't you see the pattern forming?

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One could always say it is a safe bet or a good bet that 'whatever' will happen again. (reference)

Or, depending on the situation, one could always say history repeats itself to convey that a situation is happening again, or is likely to happen again. (reference)

(I personally prefer the second option over the first one)

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A more generalized version would be "When it rains, it pours", which I was taught back in French class was equivalent at least in usage if not literal meaning to "jamais deux sans trois".

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I always say "Once is a mistake, twice is a habit". Habits will occur again.

I use the philosophy while helping users with computer issues. Error occurs once? Nothing out of the ordinary. Strange things happen with computers, connections, programs talking to each other, windows doesn't like monday, etc.

Once the same thing happens twice, it's a habit and needs to be explored further to find the root cause of the habit and how to break it.

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