‘Takes Two to Tango’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on May 5, 2023

Did someone say to you 'takes two to tango' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

In short, 'takes two to tango' means that certain things require the active cooperation of two parties. It could be used in relation to a quarrel, an agreement, a business relationship, or a personal relationship, to name a few.

What Does 'Takes Two to Tango' Mean?

The idiom 'it takes two to tango' indicates that certain activities or actions can't be performed by one person alone, meaning that both individuals share responsibility for it.

This phrase is commonly used when a person wants to emphasize that both of the people that are involved in a specific (and often difficult) situation need to accept some blame for what occurred.

It can also mean that two people need to be willing to participate in a certain activity for that activity to be possible.

Here are the three most common applications of 'takes two to tango':

  • It takes two people to cooperate in a specific enterprise
  • It takes two people to make a bargain or an agreement
  • It takes two people to get into a quarrel

For example, let's say that someone you know is getting divorced. A mutual friend is placing all of the blame on one individual in the couple, and you respond by saying "Well, it 'takes two to tango.'" This would indicate your belief that there is likely enough blame to go around in the dissolution of the marriage.

Where Does 'Takes Two to Tango' Come From?

The tango is a partner dance that originated along the Rio de la Plata in the 1880s. To dance the tango, two partners must be moving in relation to one another-- sometimes in opposition and other times in tandem.

The idea behind the idiom 'takes two to tango' uses the two-person nature of tango to illustrate circumstances where two people are paired actively and inextricably. The idea is that in any circumstance where two people are, by definition, essential, both parties share responsibility (and perhaps blame) for the relationship, agreement, enterprise, or occurrence.

Initial Use of 'Takes Two to Tango'

For many idioms, it can be hard to pinpoint precisely when they came into common usage. For 'takes two to tango,' though, we know precisely where the phrase originated.

The song Takes Two to Tango was written and composed by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning in 1952, and Pearl Bailey popularized the song.

The idiom got additional media attention across the world when Ronald Reagan used the phrase during a presidential news conference in 1982:

"For ten years détente was based on words by them [the Russians] and not any words to back them up. And we need some action that they — it takes two to tango — that they want to tango also."

This catapulted the metaphor into common usage and it has been a popular phrase ever since.

'Takes Two to Tango' in Publications

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'takes two to tango' starts showing up in print in relation to the Pearl Baily song Takes Two to Tango. It shows up repeatedly in issues of Billboard Magazine.

The phrase also appears in government documents from the second half of the 20th century.

In a 1971 transcript of the "Hearing Before the General Subcommittee on Labor of the Committee on Education and Labor" before the House of Representatives, the idiom is used in a testimony:

"As Mr. Burton says, it takes two to tango: I would think, under the law they were equally guilty. He said, "They have to have a witness; so the man is the witness." I said, "Why don't they occasionally have the woman as the witness?" I would like to have that researched."

We also find the idiom in a 1964 aerospace magazine entitled Aerospace Safety:

"A taxi accident is unforgivable, yet take a close look at the pictures on this page. There are several ways of looking at these accidents. We MIGHT blame the guy who put the teleophone pole near the taxiway and, of course, the fellow who planted, watered, and nursed that tree for 25 years surely goofed. So did the airman who thoughtlessly left the fire extinguisher parked on the side of the taxiway, and the driver of the bulldozer. But, as they say, it takes two to tango!"-

Examples of 'Takes Two to Tango' In Sentences

How would 'takes two to tango' be used in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • "I cannot believe that he is placing all of the blame on me. He acts like he is a completely non-participant part of this marriage. Doesn't he know that it takes two to tango?"
  • "He and I have worked together for a long time. We used to always argue about who was responsible for what, but by now we both understand that it always takes two to tango."
  • "She has grown tired of traveling with me and went home. Whenever we miss a flight or run into a problem, she starts screaming at me that it's all my fault. I know it takes two to tango, but I'm not sure she does."
  • "I can tell that John's heart isn't in this business. I'm supposed to run the business side of things while he takes care of the technical details, but I've been taking on more and more of his responsibilities as time has gone on. Regarding this industry, it simply takes two to tango."
  • "For the longest time, I blamed her for everything that happened. Now that I've spent so much time alone I realize it always takes two to tango."

Final Thoughts About 'Takes Two to Tango'

The idiom 'takes two to tango' originated in the middle of the 20th century and is still commonly used today. There is a fairly broad range of potential applications of this phrase, as it can be used to refer to any enterprise in which two people are essential. Some of the most common ways the phrase is used are to refer to the fact that it takes two to:

  • Cooperate
  • Make a bargain
  • Get into a fight

This is a great phrase to point out that some things need the active cooperation of two parties.

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

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.