What Does Circumstances Alter Cases Mean?

Circumstances Alter Cases Meaning

Definition: Certain circumstances can influence or change the general or standard approach to something.

The proverb circumstances alter cases means that the standard approach to something may be changed or altered depending on the circumstances. This particularly applies to extenuating circumstances.

For example, if someone is unable to buy food at full price because one does not have the money to pay for it, a shop clerk may sell him or her the food at a reduced price so that person does not have to go hungry.

When the clerk’s manager confronts him about it, he may defend his decision by saying, “Circumstances alter cases.”

Origin of and Ways to Use Circumstances Alter Cases

Define circumstances alter casesThere is little information on the etymology of this phrase, apart from the fact that it was first recorded sometime in the 17th century.

Other phrases in English, including drastic times call for drastic measures and desperate times call for desperate measures, have similar meanings.

This phrase should not be confused with the phrase under no circumstances. This phrase means that something is not allowed no matter what the circumstances are. The meaning of circumstances alter cases is in direct opposition to the meaning of under no circumstances.

Examples of Circumstances Alter Cases

Meaning of circumstances change casesThis proverb is often applied to situations in which one’s circumstances are extenuating. The sample conversation below, which takes place between a university student and her financial advisor, illustrates the correct use of this proverb.

Matilda: I can’t award you this scholarship because you don’t meet the qualifications.

Brianna: If I don’t get this scholarship, I’ll have to drop out of college.

Matilda: I suppose I can try to persuade the scholarship committee to consider you. After all, circumstances alter cases.

More Examples

  • But — and when it comes to seats, there’s always a but — circumstances alter cases. – LA Times
  • Yes, Cat loved Rex Ryan’s boys last week, but as Bill Veeck once said, circumstances alter cases. – NY Post


The English proverb circumstances alter cases means that the general approach to something can change based on specific circumstances.