I would like to express the following:

Do X, and if it fails, do nothing.

For reasons that are out of scope here, I need it to be in the following form:

Do X or do nothing.

Now while this actually reflects what I want to say, I need the do nothing part to be only a single word. This means that I need a verb that expresses do nothing, but only uses a single word. Basically, something such as:

Do X or idle.

But "to idle" feels too weak here, as being idle is something different from explicitly doing nothing. Is there a word I might use?

  • I'm sure you've thought of 'wait,' stand-by,' or 'pray.' Without knowing X (we don't even know the number of syllables) it is not easy to help.
    – Hugh
    Sep 17, 2018 at 17:09
  • 4
    You could hang the 'nothing' on the first 'do': Do X or nothing
    – Jim Mack
    Sep 17, 2018 at 17:20
  • Will your readers understand that "if it fails" is implied in something like "Do X or idle"? Sep 17, 2018 at 20:25
  • How about "vegetate"?
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 21, 2018 at 14:45
  • Really, we need a context here. Do what? Build a tower, excavate earth, bake cookies?
    – Lambie
    Oct 21, 2018 at 14:55

5 Answers 5


Both refrain and abstain are possibilities, depending on the actual context.

From Merriam-Webster:


: to keep oneself from doing, feeling, or indulging in something and especially from following a passing impulse • refrained from having dessert


: to choose not to do or have something : to refrain deliberately and often with an effort of self-denial from an action or practice • abstain from drinking

Both are commonly used with the preposition from but they need not be.


Do X or refrain.
Do X or abstain.

  • I believe both refrain and abstain always refer to some specific action - whether mentioned explicitly or implicitly. You cannot use it to describe total inaction. Sep 17, 2018 at 22:13
  • @michael.hor257k It depends on the specific context of the question. We know that it's a verb specific to the form Do X or . . . so to refrain or abstain would be (from doing X). Just as people who are asked what their vote is can say I abstain (from voting). Arguably, it could either apply to X or to anything at all—but I doubt somebody could refrain or abstain from breathing (for instance), so there has to be a limit to the semantics involved in this request . . . Sep 17, 2018 at 22:20
  • Knowing the context would be useful; still, OP is quite clear about wanting a single word alternative to "do nothing" - and neither refrain nor abstain mean the same thing. Whether "do nothing" extends to breathing is beside the point. Sep 17, 2018 at 22:29
  • @michael.hor257k Well, what if I said, "Do nothing or freeze"? In order to understand if freeze means the same thing as do nothing we need to know what do nothing encompasses. Like breathing, there are surely many things that it doesn't apply to. Is it only talking about motion? Does it include having no thoughts or feelings? If I "do nothing" what can I do? (Surely existence is allowed.) Nothing that I have any control over? The only thing that we know for certain is that nothing is being contrasted with doing X. Sep 17, 2018 at 23:26
  • My comment was aimed at what you did say. I do not intend to extend the discussion to what you might have said. I will suggest this, however: suppose OP is writing a first aid manual, and wants to say "either resuscitate or do nothing at all". Sep 17, 2018 at 23:34

Where the construct is a comparison between either doing something (specified) or doing nothing, you can simply use the word "not".

Do X or not.

means that you either do X, or you do not do X. If an alternative is not specified then nothing is assumed.

  • 1
    Not doing X is not nearly the same as not doing anything. Sep 17, 2018 at 22:14
  • 2
    +1 I like this answer too. (At first, I thought or nothing was the best fit, but it was already given in a comment—and it's not technically a verb on its own.) Sep 17, 2018 at 22:21

Do X or stop.

to cease from, leave off, or discontinue

Many synonyms of stop also work, notably halt, if the suspension of activity is temporary.

Note that in certain computer contexts, sleep may be appropriate.

In that context, your formulation is misleading, and could be rephrased as

Failing X, stop.

If the or is critical,

Pass X, or stop.

However, that would be more naturally stated

Pass X, else stop.


Do X the action, and if it fails, desist. The 'phrase stop and desist' often appears in movies when said by a law enforcer. The words stop or desist might be appropriate. Do X and if it fails, stop; or do X and if it fails, desist.


If an informal word is acceptable, chill fits the bill.

Do X or chill.





chill out


to relax and stop being angry or nervous, or to spend time relaxing

I’m just going to chill this weekend.

  • Just to add nuance, this is very informal and won't work in circumstances that are even slightly more formal.
    – Mitch
    Oct 21, 2018 at 15:25

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