'Cross That Bridge When You Come to It': Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on October 4, 2023

Have you ever heard the expression 'Cross that bridge when you come to it' and wondered what it means? If so, you're in the right place because, in this article, you'll learn the meaning behind this famous idiom and how to use it in a sentence.

If you're just here for the short version, though, here it is:

  • When someone tells you to 'cross that bridge when you come to it,' they mean you shouldn't worry about something that's in the future. Focus on the present and deal with issues as and when they arise. 

What Does 'Cross That Bridge When You Come to It' Mean?

As with all idioms, this saying can't be interpreted literally. We aren't talking about crossing actual bridges here. There's a symbolic meaning which must be decoded.

  • The idiom "cross that bridge when we come to it" suggests that it's best to deal with a problem or make a decision when it becomes necessary rather than worrying about it in advance.  

Because the thing is, that problem might not even arise, meaning you might have worried about it for nothing. In fact, there's a variant for this idiom which goes:

Cross that bridge if you come to it.

Imagine you have a friend who is worried about losing their job because their company is currently making people redundant. You might reassure them by saying:

Look, you don't even know if you're going to be one of the unlucky ones. Don't worry about it for now; you'll cross that bridge when you come to it.

Some might argue that this is not good advice. After all, anticipating a negative situation can allow you to prepare for it so you'll know what to do if it does happen. The thing is, it depends on the context. Some people tend to worry about everything and anything, even the little things. If you're one of those people, it can definitely be helpful for you to relax a little and live in the present moment. But if you're running a business, then sure, it might be a good idea to be prepared for any challenging situations that might arise.

This idiom is quite versatile because you can swap around the pronouns.

Here are the different variations you might see:

  • I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
  • He'll cross that bridge when he comes to it.
  • She'll cross that bridge when she comes to it.
  • They'll cross that bridge when they come to it.
  • We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

On top of that, you might see the verbs ('cross' and 'come') in different forms, although that's quite unusual.

Here are some examples:

Where Does 'Cross That Bridge When You Come to It' Come From?

While the exact origin of the phrase remains uncertain, idiomatic expressions like this often develop organically over time, reflecting the values and experiences of a particular culture.

Bridges have historically been significant structures in human civilization, allowing people to cross obstacles like rivers and valleys. It's possible that crossing a bridge used to be considered a potentially dangerous venture due to unreliable structures, hence the metaphor of a bridge being a challenge. It could also be that crossing a bridge simply symbolizes the idea of getting from one place to another.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is known to have used a version of this saying as follows:

Don't cross the bridge till you come to it, is a proverb old and of excellent wit.

It can be found in his collection of essays titled Hyperion, which was published in 1839. This suggests that it was already a known expression back then.

Examples in Sentences

Now we've covered the idiom's meaning and its possible origins, here are some examples of it being used in a sentence:

She's worried about what will happen next year, but I keep telling her to cross that bridge when she comes to it.

Don't stress about the project deadline just yet; let's cross that bridge when we come to it.

When the time comes, we'll decide whether to buy a new car or repair the old one. For now, let's cross that bridge when we come to it.

They were anxious about their upcoming exams, but their teacher advised them to focus on studying and cross that bridge when they came to it.

I know you're concerned about the interview, but remember to cross that bridge when you come to it and stay focused on preparing for it.

The organization is facing financial challenges, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it and discuss possible solutions then.

Instead of worrying about what could go wrong on our vacation, let's enjoy the planning process and cross that bridge when we come to it.

I haven't decided whether to accept the job offer yet. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it after considering all my options.

If you're unsure about your college major, it's okay to explore different fields. Cross that bridge when you come to it and follow your passion.

The mayor advised the citizens not to panic about the hurricane warnings but to be prepared and cross that bridge when they come to it if necessary.

Other Ways to Say 'Cross That Bridge When You Come to It'

With English being such a rich language, there's always more than one way to say something. 'Let sleeping dogs lie is no different.

Here are just some of the other ways you can say it:  

  • Don't borrow trouble.
  • Deal with it when it happens.
  • One step at a time.
  • Don't jump the gun.
  • Handle it as it arises.
  • Take it as it comes.
  • Don't worry prematurely.
  • Live in the moment.
  • Don't anticipate problems.
  • Face the music when it plays.
  • Don't count your chickens before they hatch.
  • Tackle issues when they materialize.
  • Address issues in due course.
  • Concentrate on the present.
  • Stay in the here and now.

Concluding Thoughts

Well, that pretty much covers it. So, if you ever want to reassure a friend and encourage them to stay in the present moment instead of worrying about potential future problems, you can tell them to cross that bridge when they come to it.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!     

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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