In "By her own quick-wittedness and adroitness she had turned the tables on her would-be destroyer", what does "on her would-be destroyer" mean? It is from And Then There Were None.


1 Answer 1


"a would-be X" is an idiom It refers to a person who has a goal in life to achieve something, e.g.

Miko is a would-be pop singer. (Miko has an ambition to be a pop singer)

John is a would-be Formula 1 driver. (John wants to become an F1 driver)

"Would-be" means that the person wants something but they have not yet achieved it. So, her would-be destroyer, refers to someone who wishes to destroy her but has not succeeded. If they had succeeded then they would be called, "her destroyer".

  • 2
    If what Miko wants to be is jsomething generic that's not explicitly specified (she just wants to be famous, successful in a general sense), we say she's a wannabe ("wants-to-be") rather than a would-be. Mar 14, 2021 at 14:43
  • 3
    In this context, I believe that would-be does not mean wanting to do/be something. It means someone would have done something, yet failed. In this context, it makes more sense to interpret that phrase as "he failed to destroy her" rather than "he wants to destroy her but has not yet succeeded." i.e. implying he might have another chance.
    – Harith
    Mar 14, 2021 at 21:19
  • 1
    @Harith - You can't possibly know that from the small amount of context we have been given. Anyone who has watched a movie knows that the baddy seems to be defeated but then comes back for a final try. Unless you have read the whole story, you can't be sure. Mar 14, 2021 at 22:13
  • @chasly, that last sentence was wrong, I admit. I meant he had been thwarted, and that he wasn't "aspiring" to destroy her one day - he'd already tried. If you understand what I'm trying to convey. As FumbleFingers touches on, it is less of a "wannabe" situation and more of a "the plan failed, the tables have turned" scenario. It would also work if the writer is telling us that that he will definitely be her destroyer in the future. That's what I was talking about
    – Harith
    Mar 14, 2021 at 22:32
  • 1
    'Would-be' is more dismissive than just 'has a goal to achieve something'. It generally conveys a sense of unrealistic expectations of achievement, or quite often, already self considered as having made the achievement, eg would-be philosopher, would-be casanova. In your examples, the reader would have expectations that Miko goes to karaoke regularly and auditions for "SomeCountry's Got Talent!" type shows (not necessarily successfully) while John has every F1 video game ever, a full steering wheel setup on his PC/console and somewhere in the vicinity of zero hours driving an actual F1 car
    – mcalex
    Mar 15, 2021 at 5:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .