What Does Between a Rock and a Hard Place Mean?

In Between a Rock and a Hard Place Meaning

Definition: To be stuck between two equally bad decisions or situations.

This expression is often used when a person feels as if there are no good options available to him or her.

Origin of In Between A Rock and a Hard Place

The idea behind this idiom is that if a person were stuck between a rock and a hard place, there would be no easy way to get out.

between rock and hard placeThis idea exists in other cultures, and many sources point to Greek mythology and the story of Odysseus having to pass in his ship between Scylla (large rocks) and Charybdis (a whirlpool), both of which were very dangerous.

The American version of this phrase seems to have begun around the early 1900s.

Examples of In Between A Rock and a Hard Place

stuck between a rock and a hard placeThis idiom is always used in negative situations, as it is in this dialogue between two friends,

Kira: I’m not sure what I should do about this problem I’m having.

Dan: Tell me about it.

Kira: My sister is on the run from the police, and she asked to hide at my house.

Dan: You can’t let her do that! It’s illegal!

Kira: I know. But if I don’t let her do that, I’d be abandoning her in her time of need! And families are supposed to help each other. And I know she’s innocent!

Dan: But you could be arrested too if they find out.

Kira: I know. Neither solution is a good one. I’m really stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The following example demonstrates the idiom being used to describe a choice between two jobs.

Gertrude: How did the latest job interview go?

Ruby: Well, I have good news and bad news.

Gertrude: The good news is that I love the job, and they want to hire me.

Ruby: So, what’s the bad news? The bad news is that they can only offer it to me as an internship, so they can’t pay me.

Gertrude: Oh no! What are you going to do?

Ruby: Well, I can choose the job I love for no pay, or I can choose the other job I was offered. That job does pay, but that I think I would hate.

Gertrude: You’re really stuck between a rock and a hard place!

More Examples

This news excerpt uses the idiom to describe that retailers can’t ban returns because they will lose customers, but they also can’t allow too many returns because then they will lose money.

  • With all of this going on, retailers find themselves between a rock and a hard place because one way to a loyal customer’s heart and to incentivize people to shop with them is hassle-free returns. –New York Post

This example of the idiom shows it being used in the context of a woman dealing with anorexia.

  • “I was dying, and I didn’t know it,” Smith says. “I was caught between a rock and a hard place — but really, between a rock and death.” –Denver Post


The English idiom between a rock and a hard place is used to describe an impossible to solve situation with no good options.