All is Fair in Love and War - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did your friend just tell you that she started a relationship with your boyfriend? During the shock of hearing them tell you that, you're likely to ask them why they would do that. They reply with "all is fair in love and war," but what does that mean?

This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this idiomatic phrase.


The meaning of "all is fair in love and war" means that if you have strong feelings of love for another person, you will do whatever it takes to start a relationship with them. It can also mean that a couple is going through a heated divorce where they are fighting over the distribution of assets or children.

In war, countries will use military tactics that help them obtain their objective. They may use tactics, such as chemical weapons and nuclear arms, that severely damage other nations' soldiers and populations, but "all is fair in love and war."

So, when you're using "all is fair in love and war," you're describing that you'll go to any length to achieve the goal you have in mind for your relationship. You'll happily commit underhanded tactics to get what you want out of the relationship.

Example Usage

"My ex is taking the house and assets and leaving me we nothing because I didn't sign a prenup. Well, all is fair in love and war, I guess."

"I'm going out with Chloe tonight; I bet her boyfriend doesn't have any clue. All is fair in love and war."

"Mike also has a thing for Kim, and I'm going to make sure she goes out with me and not him. I've been talking bad about him all week to her. All is fair in love and war."

"She didn't tell him about her past because she didn't want to freak him out. All is fair in love and war, I guess."


The phrase "all is fair in love and war" traces back to the novel "Frank Fairlegh," authored by Frank E. Smedley in 1850. The term appeared in its original format and retained its meaning in modern language.

The word "love" associated trickery and lawlessness, extending back to 1578. We find similar phrases in Tom Sheldon's 1620 translation of Miguel de Cervantes' work, "Don Quixote II." The term also appears in the novel "Smuggler II," authored by G.P.R. James in 1845.

Phrases Similar to All is Fair in Love and War

  • Do what you gotta do.
  • The war of the roses.

Phrases Opposite to All is Fair in Love and War

  • Fair play.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • All is fair in love and war.
  • All's fair in love and war.

Ways People May Say All is Fair in Love and War Incorrectly

Some people may use the phrase to describe war. However, the term doesn't refer to military engagements or conflicts. It refers to people's underhanded actions when separating from their partners.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase All is Fair in Love and War

You can use the phrase, "all is fair in love and war," when you're trying to justify over-the-top actions that might offend another party or do them physical or emotional harm. If you're involved in divorce proceedings with your ex, you could use strategies that they find shocking to preserve your estate.

When they confront you about your transgressions, you can reply with, "all is fair in love and war." You can also use the phrase to describe situations and tactics where you are stealing another person's partner from them.

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