Is there an idiom that roughly means "we gotta do what we gotta do"? I can think of another one like "I gotta earn my keep", but it's a little too specific and wage related. Is there any general idiom that means roughly the same thing? I can't think of one.

I am looking for a general idiom that can be used in almost any context and not just some random phrase.

  • I tried to answer but I don't think I fully understand the question. Can you say more about the meaning you're trying to capture? There are numerous terms that have a literal meaning and that can be used to mean something more indirect or symbolic: - (I've got to) pay the rent (said when buying a coffee at Starbucks, because staying there without buying something would feel like freeloading) - (I've got) mouths to feed (i.e. I have obligations) – Thomas Cox Jul 23 '19 at 1:12
  • "You gotta do what you gotta do" is pretty standard. – keparoo Jul 25 '19 at 16:31
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    required, necessary, unavoidable, crucial, imperative, urgent, vital, binding, compulsory, obligatory – Sam Jul 28 '19 at 1:26
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    What is so wrong with "you gotta do what you gotta do" that you are looking for an alternative? – J.R. Jul 29 '19 at 11:01

Your original suggestion is fine:

Do what you gotta do

but the word "gotta" is only used in informal, spoken English.


Do what you have to do

Google N-grams shows that this formation has become incredibly popular since 1970. It is very well understood.

If you feel the original sentence is not clear, or too informal, you can try:

We will do what has to be done.

Or use a single word

User Sam suggests words that provide this meaning:

required, necessary, unavoidable, crucial, imperative, urgent, vital, binding, compulsory, obligatory

These have different levels of formality. In spoken English the word "urgent" is fine, while the words "compulsory" and "obligatory" suggest formal rules.


"I gotta do what I gotta do" is an idiom. It is widely known and understood to mean you are compelled to do something, either because you have to or because you want to. It can also suggest a means to an end that you don't particularly like, but need the outcome.

Variations of this include "I have to do what I have to do", and "I do what I must". These are not "formal" as such, but are more grammatically correct than the slang "gotta".

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