I've heard this phrase several times but was given several contradictory interpretations. Please provide an exact meaning of the phase.

5 Answers 5


In the literal sense, this refers to something becoming untied, unwrapped, unfastened, etc. For example:

Be careful with that gift. If it comes undone, they'll be able to see what is inside.

In the figurative sense, it means that something has either not gone as planned, or has failed in some way. E.g. a plan can come undone meaning it hasn't worked as expected. A person can come undone meaning that they have lost their composure or self-control.

Andy came undone when Ann left him for Steve.

  • 1
    I assume the OP was referring to the second sense there, which is derived out of the first. To mean the plans have fallen apart.
    – Orbling
    Dec 7, 2010 at 20:53
  • 6
    @orbling - I agree the second sense is more likely the problem, but since he'd heard several conflicting definitions, I wanted to be a bit more explicit.
    – Dusty
    Dec 7, 2010 at 21:48
  • Quite right.
    – Orbling
    Dec 7, 2010 at 22:07

In modern English, it is the counterpart of "do up", meaning to fasten (by whatever method - tie, glue, knot, zip, velcro). It is nearly always used literally, but when it is used of a person, it normally means that their clothing has become unfastened.

In older English, it could be used in a more abstract sense, so "I am undone" could mean something like "my life (or my wealth, or my reputation) is ruined". Modern readers often find the phrase amusing, because its modern meaning is so closely related to clothing.

  • 1
    Good explanation, thanx.
    – Denys S.
    Jan 19, 2011 at 15:55

If a strap or a knot or some other kind of binding comes undone, it opens by accident and no longer binds anything.

If a plan or a scheme or a plot comes undone, it does the same thing. This is a figurative sense that parallels the literal sense.


Reinforcing what Colin said, "undone" means ruined. Two cites:

And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

-- Isaiah (KJV) 6:4-5


She's come undone

She didn't know what she was headed for

And when I found what she was headed for

It was too late

-- The Guess Who, "Undun", 1969


It's hard to explain in clear words, but the concept is clear, undo someone/thing, fall apart someone/thing.

To come undone is like saying something is finally fading away. I think the concept would be something like "to unbecome", but fall apart is very clear.

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