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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

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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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    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, 2012 at 16:40
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    To me, "worse comes to worst," makes sense. Since, if I had (at least) 3 possible outcomes: 1) 'best,' 2) 'worse,' and 3) 'worst,' and we can't hope for the best, then we try for the 'worse' outcome. However, if the, 'worse' outcome were to become ('come to) the worst outcome, we still want to have a way of dealing with it (which is what the phrase, "If worse comes to worst," means to me). Why wouldn't we just say, "if the 'worst' happens," right off the bat, if we were expecting it? I think we can all agree, though, that "worse comes to worse," makes no implicit sense. Jan 30, 2017 at 16:36
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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, 2011 at 0:21
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    @Orbling: yeah, and with the definite article, worse would certainly not work!
    – Jimi Oke
    Jan 18, 2011 at 0:23
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    I really like that you went back to the definition of idiom. It doesn't have to make sense, we just all have to use (some version of the words) and understand the interpretation. Check out Google's n-gram viewer of all English usage, British English usage, and American English usage, and you get mostly, "Worse comes to Worst" in American, "Worst comes to Worst" in British: goo.gl/N5cfEK You'd have to use different tenses (...were to come to worst), constructions (with/without article) to really nail it down, but those two still win. Jan 30, 2017 at 16:28
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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, 2011 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, 2012 at 16:39
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It should be

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

Which means that, if a possible worst-case scenario actually occurs

or

if an already bad situation progresses into a catastrophic situation.