What is a strong expression for someone going though a hard ordeal to achieve something important? For example a mother who has lost her children will _______ to get them back.

  • 13
    "go to hell and back"
    – James
    Jul 27, 2015 at 19:02
  • 1
    ...do anything...
    – Drew
    Jul 27, 2015 at 19:47
  • 3
    walk through fire
    – shawnt00
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:25
  • 1
    go through fire and water Jul 28, 2015 at 5:23
  • with a slight modification: will get them back by any means necessary. (Think of Malcolm X.) Jul 28, 2015 at 5:24

10 Answers 10


Here are three fitting idioms for "going through a hard ordeal to achieve something important":

1) move heaven and earth idiom: Exert the utmost effort, as in I'd move heaven and earth to get an apartment here. This hyperbolic expression was first recorded in 1792.

2) fight tooth and nail idiom: Engage in vigorous combat or make a strenuous effort, using all one's resources. For example, I'm going to fight tooth and nail for that promotion. This expression, with its allusion to biting and scratching, was first recorded in 1576.

3) go through hell idiom: to have a very unpleasant experience, especially one that lasts for a long period of time. The poor woman's been going through hell over the last few months, not knowing whether her son was alive or dead.

(All linked definitions from The Free Dictionary)

  • Sorry, I thought I did that by including the link.
    – ewormuth
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:21
  • No, EL&U prefers direct quotations be explicitly credited, plus links become obsolete. Move heaven and earth is a good suggestion, but you could improve the answer by including supporting quotations for all your suggestions, w/links, citations, examples of usage - these will increase your up-votes (usually).
    – user98990
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:27
  • Thanks. As a newbie around here, I have a lot to absorb.
    – ewormuth
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:28
  • 1
    A great way to learn is to click 'edit' on posts you like the formatting of. Later, click it to see what Eva (hopefully) has done to yours for how to do it in the future.
    – Mazura
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:36
  • 1
    Thanks to both of you. I appreciate the help in fitting into the culture!
    – ewormuth
    Jul 27, 2015 at 23:02

One that comes to mind that fits right into your sentences is to move mountains (Farlex Free Dictionary).

move mountains

  1. if someone or someone's beliefs or feelings can move mountains, they can achieve something that is very difficult. If faith can move mountains, we'll win the Cup.
  2. if you would move mountains for someone, they are so important to you that you would do anything to please them. He'd move mountains for her but she treats him like dirt.

She will be disposed to go through hell and high water to get them back:

  • Fig. through all sorts of severe difficulties. (Use hell with caution.)

    • You'll have to go through hell and high water to accomplish your goal, but it'll be worth it.

The Free Dictionary

  • To be disposed in English is not exactly the same as disposta in Italian. è disposta a tutto means someone is "willing, desperate to do anything". You wouldn't normally say someone is disposed to do anything. (this might make for an interesting question on EL&U....)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 28, 2015 at 6:41
  • Disposed - having made preparations; "prepared to take risks". thefreedictionary.com/disposed
    – user66974
    Jul 28, 2015 at 7:29
  • "I am disposed to take a risk", meaning I am inclined, of a disposition to take a risk, is not exactly the same as the Italian disposta a fare tutto, which is what I think you meant to say. And I would use the present tense rather than pure future. But as I said previously, this could be a nice question for ELU, I don't think the English dispose has the same nuance as the Italian disporre, and WR seems to agree with me wordreference.com/iten/disposto
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 28, 2015 at 7:57
  • This is the nuance that the Italian 'essere disposto a' has: Disposed: adjective UK ( formal ) be disposed to do sth to be willing or likely to do something: dictionary.cambridge.org/it/dizionario/britannico/disposed
    – user66974
    Jul 28, 2015 at 10:50
  • 1
    @LittleEva - I do appreciate your comments. I think that the 'implacable determination' is conveyed by the idiomatic expression itself. Disposed to just means willing to . I know it is not a common expression and rather formal in usage (so not a perfect fit here) but a good occasion to ponder on an unconventional usage. :))
    – user66974
    Jul 30, 2015 at 14:49

You're asking for an expression describing an extreme sacrifice in exchange for great reward. One common such expression is to sell your soul, suggesting you are willing to give up your own freedom and life for your goal. This often has negative connotations and is frequently related to material gains, but could just as easily describe the desparation a mother feels searching for her lost child. In fact, many folk tales and fantasies depict a character quite literally exchanging their soul or the essence of their being with a godlike figure for some power, wealth, or the return of a lost loved one.

Another expression is the willingness to go to the ends of the earth searching for your goal. This alludes to the archaic belief that the world has edge-like boundaries far beyond the realm of experience most people can claim to know. Being willing to travel to the ends of the earth, therefore, implies being willing to leave your life and the whole known world behind, likely spending the rest of your days in search of your goal.


If the important thing to be achieved is spending time with someone with whom you're infatuated, then you might say that you would crawl on your hands and knees over broken glass just to do X for/with that person:

do anything to be closer to her, worship the ground she walks on I'm so in love I'd crawl on my hands and knees over miles of broken glass to see her photo.

-- From the Babylon online dictionary

Choosing X to be some utterly trifling and/or depraved activity can enhance the comic effect.


persevere: to persist in an undertaking despite counter influences, opposition or discouragement.

Webster's New Collegiate

  • perseverance - steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
    – Sun
    Jul 28, 2015 at 21:25

Stop at nothing is a pretty solid option.

Do everything in one's power, be prevented by no obstacle, as in She'll stop at nothing to get her revenge. This expression was first recorded in John Dryden's Aurengzebe (1676): "The World is made for the bold impious man; Who stops at nothing, seizes all he can."


Wrestle with the devil is an expression that I've heard.

  • 3
    Provide some examples, with citations and links, if possible kimb, this will strengthen what is otherwise an appropriate suggestion. And welcome to EL&U.
    – user98990
    Jul 27, 2015 at 21:56

The popularity of the movie The Shawshank Redemption has caused a line to enter the common vernacular: "...who crawled through a river of shit, and came out clean on the other side."

Reading your question, that line was the first thing to come to my mind.

It can be modified to fit grammatically into different sentences and still maintain its meaning.

The woman who ultimately saved her children crawled through a river of shit, but the story has a happy ending.

Spoiler alert: from The Shawshank Redemption


Running the gauntlet, you could say.

  • 1
    It's just a link senyb, give us more than that and your suggestion is more likely to receive positive votes.
    – user98990
    Jul 27, 2015 at 21:58

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