What Does When All Else Fails Mean?

When All Else Fails Meaning

Definition: If everything else doesn’t succeed.

Another way to say this phrase is if all else fails.

Origin of When All Else Fails

People use this clause to introduce a last resort. A last resort is something people do only when it is their last option.

In other words, people will use this phrase when they have exhausted all other possibilities and there is only one remaining way to accomplish something, even though this way may not be the best way.

Another way to say this is if all else fails and if nothing else works.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of this expression, but digital records show it first  appeared around the first half of the 1800s.

This expression is appropriate for use conversationally and in business contexts. However, it does not often appear in academic writing.

Examples of When All Else Fails

when all else fails quotesThis example shows two college students who are discussing different strategies to make small talk flow more easily.

Frank: I’m going to a party this weekend. Would you like to join?

Karl: No, thanks. If I don’t already know the people at the party, it’s too difficult for me to make small talk.

Frank: Really? Making small talk is easy. You could comment on the weather, ask where the person is from, or talk about the news.

Karl: I try all that, but the conversation always dies really quickly, or it becomes controversial because of differing opinions on the news.

Frank: Well, if all else fails, you could always just give the person a compliment. That always works for me!

Karl: That’s a good idea. I’ll try it.

when all else fails pray quotesIn this example, two friends are picking out music for a party they are throwing over the weekend.

Lily: It’s so hard to make a music playlist. I don’t know what taste the guests will have in music.

Grace: Just try your best to pick out songs to fit the mood of the party.

Lily: What if all the guests hate my songs?

Grace: When all else fails, just play a mix of the current top 25 most popular songs.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about the best way to get ketchup out of its bottle.

  • If all else fails, Stickland tells the New York Times that “sticking a knife in will stir it locally,” and usually allow the ketchup near the opening to flow, “which may be enough.” –New York Post

This excerpt is from an article about workplace bullying.

  • Surprisingly, 72% of workers who fall victim to bullying don’t report it to HR, and that’s a huge mistake. Finally, if all else fails, you may want to get an outside attorney involved. –USA Today


When all else fails is another way to say If all other options have been exhausted.