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Which is correct: worse comes to worst or worst comes to worst? The former seems more logical but the latter is what appears in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

The expression should be:

If the worst comes to the worst, ...

It means "if the worst thing that can happen does happen...".

Contracting it without the definite articles doesn't seem to me to justify 'worse comes to worst'; it should still be 'worst comes to worst'.

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2  
Originally the verb was in the subjunctiv ... if (the) worst come to (the) worst ... means if the worst possibility becomes (or comes to) the worst reality. –  AnWulf Feb 12 '12 at 16:40

It should be

"If worse comes to worst, then..."

Which means that, if a situation that is already bad (worse) deteriorates into a situation that is even "more bad" (worst), then...

or

If an already bad situation progresses into a catastrophic situation, then...

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Traditionally it was 'Worst comes to worst'. Nowadays 'Worse comes to worst' is used as it seems more logical.

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Like many idiomatic expressions, the phrase was never logical. Worst comes to worst is still a widespread usage. Merriam-Webster's dictionary of English usage says it took over a hundred years since it was first seen in print for Daniel Dafoe to try and make it logical by using worse comes to worst in Robinson Crusoe (1719). Yet the first form still persists nearly 300 years later. –  ghoppe Jan 17 '11 at 22:54
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Actually, it's very logical. What has changed is that originally the verb was in the subjunctiv ... if (the) worst come to (the) worst ... means if the worst possibility becomes (or comes to) the worst reality. –  AnWulf Feb 12 '12 at 16:39

According to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online, the following forms of the idiomatic expression are correct:

  • British English: if the worst comes to the worst
  • American English: if worse/worst comes to worst

I quote the relevant definitions of idiom and expression from my New Oxford American Dictionary to put things in perspective:

idiom: a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words

expression: a word or phrase, esp. an idiomatic one, used to convey an idea

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I was going to say, in (British) English, we almost always use the double worst. –  Orbling Jan 18 '11 at 0:21
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@Orbling: yeah, and with the definite article, worse would certainly not work! –  Jimi Oke Jan 18 '11 at 0:23

protected by Will Hunting Mar 27 '12 at 10:05

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