Hindsight is 20-20 – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone that it's easy to reflect on what you could have done in a situation, but it doesn't matter? If so, you could use "hindsight is 20-20." This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The phrase "hindsight is 20-20" means that we can look back on an event to see how we could have improved the outcome. It's a way of saying that you should have behaved differently during the event, but you choose the wrong path.

"Hindsight" refers to looking into the past, and "20-20" is the best grading you can receive in an eye test. So, the saying means that we always think about how we could have done things better at the moment. Still, the chaos or confusion of the moment forced us to act differently.

We always think of the best way to approach a problem, but only after we've already solved it. The expression suits use when you're trying to tell someone that they should stop overthinking a situation that's in the past.

Example Usage

"man, I wish I didn't take my car to that auto shop; they did such a horrible job. Oh well, hindsight is 20-20, and I won't be going back to them again."

"I know you feel like you could have done more with the situation. But hindsight is 20-20, and there was really nothing you could do to change things."

"Yeah, we all know that hindsight is 20-20; stop stressing about it and move on with your life."

"They always say hindsight is 20-20. The reality is there was no way I could have known that that guy was a scammer."

"I feel terrible about saying that to Sheila. I was angry and should have kept my mouth shut. Hindsight is 20-20, I guess."

"I wish I started stacking Bitcoin back in 2011. Back then, it was a new tech, and I had no idea it would blow up like this, so I didn't invest. Oh well, hindsight is 20-20, I suppose."


The expression "hindsight is 20-20" comes from the creation of the "Snellen Chart," published in 1862. The Snellen Chart is a tool for measuring a person's visual acuity.

A person with 20-20 vision has excellent acuity. If they stand 20-feet from a chart, they can read the rows of letters.

The first use of the expression in print comes from "The Van Nuys News," where it appeared in an article in February 1949.

"Most people's hindsight is 20-20."

Phrases Similar to Hindsight is 20-20

  • Monday morning quarterbacking.
  • Looking back I would have done things differently.
  • In hindsight things are obvious.

Phrases Opposite to Hindsight is 20-20

  • You never see it coming.
  • No one can see the future.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Hindsight is 20-20.
  • Hindsight is always 20-20.

Ways People May Say Hindsight is 20-20 Incorrectly

The expression uses “20-20 vision,” and it’s incorrect to use “20-40” or any other reading on the Snellen chart. 20-20 vision means that you have an unimpaired vision. Therefore, using other Snellen readings is incorrect.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Hindsight is 20-20

You can use the saying “hindsight is 20-20” when telling someone that they can never see things coming, and it’s pointless reflecting on how they could have changed the outcome. The phrase suits professional and social use.

You can use it when a colleague tells you a story about regretting their actions. Or, you could use it with your friends when they express their regret or disappointment at not assessing a situation properly before taking action or failing to take action.

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