What Does It Takes Two To Tango Mean?

It Takes Two to Tango Meaning

Definition: Some activities require two participating parties and cannot be done alone.

Origin of It Takes Two to Tango

People most often apply this expression to either fighting or romance. They use it to emphasize that love is a partnership and that both parties are at fault in a conflict.

This expression was likely popularized by the 1952 song of the same name, written by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning, and sung by Pearl Bailey. The phrase was in use in the United States a few decades earlier, however, sometime in the 1920s, shortly after the Latin American tango became a popular dance.

President Ronald Reagan further popularized the idiom when he used it to talk about the relationship between Russia and America in the year 1982.

Some sources show that the ultimate origin of the phrase might be quite old. A much earlier proverb appears in John Lyly’s Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit from the year 1579:

  • It always takes two to make a bargain.

Examples of It Takes Two to Tango

it takes two to tango idiomThe dialogue below shows two university students who are arguing about the role each one is taking in a group project.

Nisha: What have you done for this project so far? Because it seems to me like you haven’t done anything at all.

Alan: That’s so rude! I do lots of work. It’s you who is slacking off.

Nisha: I don’t see why you always have to fight with me.

Alan: It takes two to tango. We wouldn’t fight if you didn’t initiate it!

it needs two to tangoThe second dialogue shows a father and son discussing the son’s relationship with his girlfriend.

Son: I’m going to head over to my girlfriend’s house to cook dinner for her.

Dad: That’s nice. So are things improving with you two?

Son: Not really. I keep trying to do more and more nice things for her, but she seems more and more distant. When I ask her if she wants to talk about it she always says no.

Dad: Well, I hate to say this, but maybe it’s time for you to stop trying to make this relationship work. It takes two to tango, and it seems like you’re the only one making an effort. If your girlfriend isn’t trying to make it work, then you should find someone willing to do that.

More Examples

The excerpt is from an article about the managers of a professional sports team.

  • “No,” Morey said, chuckling. “When people look back on deals and say some of these deals are great or not great for one side, it’s usually with the hindsight of time that they can say that. Generally, at the time these deals are made, it takes two to tango and the deals are fair for both sides. At the time the deal happens, it’s rare that deals are lopsided.” –OC Register

This excerpt is from an article about a man who bribed the police.

  • Finkel also claimed his client wasn’t entirely to blame for the graft, remarking at several points “It takes two to tango.” –New York Daily News


The idiom it takes two to tango means that two parties are required to take part in an activity, especially fighting or having a relationship.