Glossary Home Idioms

It takes two to tango

“It takes two to tango” is a popular English idiom that’s used to describe a task one person can’t do alone.

The idiom can be applied in many situations, some of which are more literal and others more emotional or metaphorical. It’s easy to use this phrase when you’re considering things like marriage and relationships as well as business partnerships and job ownership. It dates back to the mid-1900s and is a song of the same name. Today, it’s commonly used in a variety of circumstances but is most appropriate in casual conversations.

It takes two to tango meaning and origin

Meaning of “It takes two to tango”

“It takes two to tango” is an English idiom that’s used when someone is describing the necessity of two people to complete a task.

Without one of those people, the task is impossible to complete. Marriage is one of the most common examples; with only one person, marriage is impossible. The phrase is used literally in this way but is also used metaphorically. For example, if one person isn’t participating in a marriage or isn’t fulfilling their vows, the marriage isn’t going to work. They don’t necessarily need to be absent. The “tango” is a metaphor used to describe the thing that needs to be done together, while the word “two” is used to represent the two people, things, ideas, etc., that are needed to make the tango work. 

Origins of “It takes two to tango”

It’s thought that “it takes two to tango” originated in 1952 in the song, Takes Two to Tango, by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning. The lyrics were popularized after the song came out, resulting in a new idiomatic expression. They read:

You can sail in a ship by yourself,

Take a nap or a nip by yourself.

You can get into debt on your own.

There are lots of things that you can do alone.

(But it)

Takes two to tango

Here, the songwriter is suggesting that there are a lot of hard and easy things one can do by themselves but tangoing is not one of them. The idiom is incredibly open-ended meaning, as noted above, it can be used in many ways. 

When to Use the Idiom

It’s possible to use “it takes two to tango” in a wide variety of situations. The phrase can be used among friends, family members, and close colleagues. It’s a colloquialism, meaning that it’s used in everyday, casual conversations and is far less commonly hear in professional conversations. Colloquial diction implies familiarity. Therefore, before using the phrase, one should consider their context and whether or not it’s going to fit with what others around you expect. 

For example, one might choose not to use this idiom, or nay other idioms, when you’re at a business meeting or in some kind of academic setting. Also, it should be noted that if the phrase is used in the wrong way, it could come across as patronizing. For example, talking down to a co-worker and using the phrase in a way that suggests they don’t know how to do their job. This could also occur among friends. Any idiom may be received in the wrong way if it’s delivered with a certain tone. For instance, reminding a friend that it takes two to tango when they aren’t seeking out a partner with the best possible qualities. You might have good intentions at heart, but it’s easy to deliver a line like this harshly. 

Example Sentence

  • You’re never going to be able to do that by yourself, it takes two to tango
  • It takes two to tango and you’re just one person. 
  • He seems to have forgotten, to make a relationship work it takes two to tango
  • Like the tango, it takes two to make this job work. 
  • My mother always told me that it is going to take two to tango if I ever want to have a good partnership. 

Why Do Writers Use “It takes two to tango?” 

Writers use “it takes two to tango” in the same way and for the same reasons that it’s used in everyday conversations. This phrase is easy to fit into a dialogue between two characters who are discussing the related subject matter. For example, consider a story that is based around one character’s marriage to another. The former, who is willing to put in all the time and effort required, and the latter, who is drifting from their commitments and is unsure whether or not they want the relationship to work. The committed partner might use “it takes two to tango” when discussing the nature of marriage. 

Writers might choose to deliver the idiom in a light-hearted manner or in a more serious way. That’s the beauty of idioms, as well as proverbs. They can be used in many ways and change with a simple alternation of a character’s tone. 


Why do people use “it takes two to tango?” 

People use the idiom “it takes two to tango” when they want to emphasize how hard it is to do something by yourself. This idiom suggests that some things are completely impossible to do on one’s own. 

Where did “it takes two to tango” come from?

The idiom “it takes two to tango” came from a 1952 song title Takes Two to Tango. The lyrics were popularized in a later cover and came into common use. This is fairly recent for an idiom to originate and become popular. Most date back several centuries. 

Is “it takes two to tango” an idiom

Yes, “it takes two to tango” is an idiom. Like most idioms, it’s easiest to understand when it’s used in a specific context. When applied to a situation, most if not all English speakers should understand what it says and means. 

Related Idioms 

Share to...