We all have used it several times...

When everything else fails try/do [something]

While going through the definitions, I came across this -

else - In addition; besides

But then, if we go by books, everything else sounds ambiguous. If everything includes every single thing, what is ultimately left for being else?

Else=In addition/besides but in addition/besides what; as by putting the word everything, we have covered everything! How come something comes up when everything has already failed (in that example)?

Why not...

When everything fails, try/do [something]

After Damkerng's useful comment, this also sounds a bit illogical! If everything fails, how can we come up with something? Everything has literally taken all the options!

How do we come up with such sentence?

  • 1
    I wonder, wouldn't you say the same thing or something very similar (with else) in your native language? (I know I do. Btw, I'm more used to When all else fails, ... Thanks to G.I. Joe.) Apr 15, 2014 at 6:28
  • Yeah, included! This was surprise even in my mother-tongue ;) +1!
    – Maulik V
    Apr 15, 2014 at 6:37
  • @DamkerngT. all else fails makes the question even deeper that other versions are also like this!
    – Maulik V
    Apr 15, 2014 at 6:38
  • Small point about the title: when everything else has failed, not is failed :)
    – oerkelens
    Apr 15, 2014 at 6:47
  • @oerkelens Oh yeah...thanks and corrected...but out of curiosity, is is there wrong?
    – Maulik V
    Apr 15, 2014 at 7:01

2 Answers 2


It still makes sense if we parse this:

When everything else fails, do X.


When everything [besides X] fails, do X.

For example:

I ordered the salad, since everything else on the menu had meat.


I ordered the salad, since everything on the menu [besides the salad] had meat.

  • That's cool. I also translated literally in my mother-tongue and it makes sense. +1 :) Thank you.
    – Maulik V
    Apr 15, 2014 at 6:39
  • Can we explain "all else" this way? Apr 18, 2014 at 15:41
  • @Man_From_India Yes; since "when all else fails" and "when everything else fails" basically mean the same.
    – Helix Quar
    Apr 21, 2014 at 10:51

It seems that the word else is the problem. English else is related with Latin alius/alia/aliud, an adjective meaning other. The combination everything else means all other things (that are possible).

  • exactly, that's the culprit ;)
    – Maulik V
    Apr 18, 2014 at 11:03
  • But else is relative to the thing now in focus. You're ignoring the simple sense of "other" which requires, at a minimum, two things to be under scrutiny, thing A and something that is not thing A.
    – TimR
    Oct 4, 2014 at 12:37

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