What does the idiom "not have it both ways" mean?

Are you using the idiom not have it both ways but not sure about its meaning? Using idioms, which are important elements of spoken and written language, in the right place strengthens your language skills. Examine the meaning of the not have it both ways idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "not have it both ways"


The idiom 'not have it both ways' is used to express that someone cannot have two contradictory demands fulfilled simultaneously. This idiom conveys the idea that one can have either one or the other, but not both. It is a criticism of someone who is behaving in a way that is inconsistent and hypocritical.


The phrase 'not have it both ways' is derived from the Latin phrase 'non habes utrumque', which translates literally to 'you do not have both'. This phrase has been present in English writing since at least 1650, when it first appeared in the work 'The Christian's Pattern, or a Treatise of the Imitation of Christ' by Thomas a Kempis.


The idiom 'not have it both ways' is used to criticize someone who is attempting to achieve and demand two conflicting outcomes or demands. It is often used by someone who is frustrated or disbelieving at another's inconsistency, or who feels that their demands are unreasonable or hypocritical. The idiom is also used when someone insists on having their demands met even though the demands are mutually exclusive.

Example Sentences

  • You can't have it both ways - you can't expect the company to lower costs while also increasing wages.
  • He wants to be taken seriously but acts immaturely - he can't have it both ways.
  • I don't understand why you're trying to have it both ways - you can either go to the party or stay home, but not both.

The meanings of the words in the "not have it both ways" idiom

The Surprising Origins of Everyday English Idioms

Many English idioms have surprisingly dark origins, often rooted in violence, death, and superstition. For instance, the phrase "raining cats and dogs" is said to have originated in the 17th century, when heavy rain would often cause dead animals to wash up on the streets. Meanwhile, the idiom "rule of thumb" is believed to have originated from a law that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb.


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