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What Does "Come What May" Mean?

E. Reeder
E. Reeder

When people say they are going to do something “come what may,” they are using an idiomatic expression. This particular idiom means they have a goal that may be challenging to reach and they are prepared for any difficulties or negative consequences that may arise as a result of their quest. Persistence and dedication can be inferred from this expression, because they are devoted to and believe in their goal, whatever the cost of obtaining it.

This idiom “come what may” can be illustrated through some challenging scenarios. For example, climbing a tall mountain can be a difficult venture. To do this, a climber must be prepared with supplies to provide food, direction and safety. He or she also must have the knowledge and skills to navigate the climb and should be familiar with the area being climbed. A mountain climber who is equipped with a “come what may” ideology will likely keep going — despite dangers from animals, falls and potential health problems — until they reach the top, no matter what.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

A more common example of this idiom in action involves people who are responsible for maintaining a household and providing for their children and spouse. They may have to work long hours at one or more jobs to pay the bills and provide food, shelter and clothing for their family. People in this situation often have to make sacrifices, giving up things they want so they can give their family what they need, especially when money is less than plentiful. Household providers like these — the ones who will do anything they need to do, even if they are exhausted, to care for their family — and who also work hard to maintain good relationships with family members by spending quality time with them, can be said to embody the “come what may” attitude.

The opposite of “come what may” might involve giving up or choosing not to do whatever is necessary to reach a goal or meet a challenge. Some students might decide the hard work it takes to earn good grades and succeed in school is not worth it, so they might instead choose not do their best. Other people may genuinely want to meet a personal goal, such as losing weight, getting a better job, or overcoming a personal flaw, but quit trying once they realize just how difficult it can be. Still others may dream of being an athlete but surrender their dream once they realize all the time and energy they would have to spend practicing and training. The people in the situations illustrated in these examples do not represent the “come what may” principle.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books