the last thing we need” means something you not want or avoid, however, occasionally it means oppositely the thing finally necessary.

Example: In an article of the Independent (Independent, Jan 4, 2016) introductory paragraph says ‘Rochdale is a town used to making the headlines for the wrong reasons. So the last thing it needs as it tries to rebuild its reputation is another sex scandal.’ and in three paragraphs later it says —”Rochdale already has a bad name,” said Donna Pearson, 28, a mother-of-three who was shopping in Yorkshire Street. “It needs improving and bringing back up. This is the last thing we need.” Obviously these two “the last thing it needs” mean totally opposed as far as I perceive, confusing me as a non-native English speaker. So, could someone advise me about how they can be distinguished? Or should it be distinguished only in context?

  • 1
    The second occurence in your quote is using the phrase in exactly the same sense -- referring to exactly the same scandal -- as the first occurence. I suppose there is a possibility of the opposite sense (one thing we need is A, another thing we need is B, and the last thing we need is C), but I don't recall ever encountering such. Context would be the only way to distinguish the senses.
    – JPmiaou
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 4:09

3 Answers 3


For me, "the last thing we need" is used when we first don't really need anything, but all of the sudden we do need that as the last thing we could use or take. The second sentence you mentioned above is the same with the first one. For example: i have a problem with my PC, the last thing i could do is to have it fixed by an expert. the second example, i have few candles here, the last thing we need to do is to buy some more candles. Hope this helps

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    Your understanding of the phrase is incorrect. 'The last thing we need' normally means 'the worst possible thing that could happen to us'. I don't think Mrs Pearson meant that 'improving' was 'the last thing Rochdale needs'. Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 16:31
  • I think that phrase could be negative and positive depending on the case. The last thing we need also means negative that we urgely need that and it also means positive if we talk about procedure, so the last thing we need is really the only thing we need as the last step Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 9:57
  • To express that idea you would say "All we need now is ..." It is not idiomatic to use 'the last thing we need' in that sense. See dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/… Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 9:13
  • Thank you for giving me clear explanation. I thought that would still make sense if we used "the last thing we need" as really the last thing that we need. By the way, sorry for my not-so-good english since still i'm learning english, and always need improvement when it comes to giving opinion or try to explain something. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 7:45
  • To me it’s clear ‘the last thing we need’ almost always means ‘if we need anything at all, it’s so clearly not that, whoever suggested it might be trying to sabotage our efforts’ but a few rare times, it can mean the opposite. If that happens it will always be clear from the context and usually emphasised by an affected, prolly ironic and even ‘stagey’ tone… which is why it can almost never work in pure reported speech. Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 1:49

In most cases, "the last thing we need is X" will be meant sarcastically, and it really means that we don't want X at all, and right now would be an especially bad time to get X. I'm already late getting to work, the last thing I need now is a flat tire.

Sometimes people say "the last thing we need is X" and mean it literally - that should be clear from context. "I bought almost all the ingredients for Joe's birthday cake, the last thing I need now is 38 candles". The candles are the last thing on my shopping list, and I actually want them. This use is rare compared to the sarcastic one.


the English interpretation leaves no doubt.

the last thing (one) needs TFD

Something which one absolutely does not want or has no use for.

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