‘This Too Shall Pass’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on December 29, 2022

When you’re upset about something, you might hear someone tell you that ‘this too shall pass.’ What does that mean, and where does the phrase come from?

In short, ‘this too shall pass’ is an adage that reminds us of the impermanence of all things. The idea is that nothing lasts forever, neither the good things nor the bad things.

What Does 'This Too Shall Pass' Mean?

‘This too shall pass’ is a proverb that means that nothing lasts forever, regardless of whether it is good or bad. Essentially, it means that all circumstances are temporary and impermanent.

You might hear this phrase used to help encourage someone that is going through a difficult situation to remember that their troubles won’t last forever and will eventually end.

For example, let’s say your sibling lost their job and is extremely distraught. They might be stuck in a mindset where they feel like they will never be able to find another source of income or that they are a failure. You might say, ‘this too shall pass’ to help them remember that the way they currently feel isn’t going to last forever and that every situation is only temporary.

Where Does 'This Too Shall Pass' Come From?

This adage is originally a Persian phrase that has been translated into several different languages and is used in different cultures around the world. It’s worth noting that the general sentiment that the human condition is ephemeral– meaning it has a temporary nature– and that neither good nor bad moments last forever has been expressed across cultures and throughout history in wisdom literature. However, the precise wording of ‘this too shall pass’ appears to stem from the writings of medieval Persian Sufi poets.

There is a citation of ‘this too shall pass’ in a writing from 1848. However, the reason that this Persian phrase is so widely known in the Western world has to do with the English poet Edward FitzGerald’s retelling of a Persian fable in the 19th century.  He retold the fable entitled “Solomon’s Seal” in 1852 and included the phrase ‘this too shall pass away.’

This fable is thought to originate in the works of Persian Sufi poets, such as Rumi, Attar of Nishapur, and Sanai. It told the story of a nameless “Eastern monarch.” The story goes that this king asked wise men to make him a ring that would make him happy when he was feeling sad. The sages, after much deliberation, gave him a ring with etched words reading, ‘this too shall pass.’ This did, in fact, make the king happy when he was feeling down.

Before Abraham Lincoln became the president of the United States, he also notably used this phrase in a speech. Here are the words he spoke:

"It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!"

The same story shows up in the folklore of the Jewish tradition. At the University of Haifa, The Israel Folklore Archive has recorded many versions of the fable. In the Jewish versions of the story, Solomon is sometimes the one who delivers the adage to another person and other times the king that is humbled by it.

Examples of 'This Too Shall Pass' In Sentences

How would you use ‘this too shall pass’ in a sentence? Let’s look at some examples:

  • “I know you are deeply upset that John broke up with you, but you have to remember that this, too, shall pass.”
  • “Shirley was bragging obnoxiously about the fact that she won the contest. Her display of pride was so egregious that Mrs. Lincoln took her aside and told her this too shall pass.
  • “She felt that she would forever be labeled a loser in her school after the embarrassing incident. It seemed only right to remind her that this too shall pass.”
  • “Sometimes I spend hours awake at night reliving the past and worrying that I’ve wasted my life. I find it helpful to look at the sign I have hanging on my wall that says, ‘this too shall pass.’
  • “I might sound like I’m exaggerating, but I feel like I’ll never get over this. My mom keeps telling me that this too shall pass, but it’s really hard for me to believe I’ll be able to get back to normal again.”

Other Ways to Say 'This Too Shall Pass'

There are a number of similar phrases from other traditions and languages that communicate a similar meaning. Here are some examples:

  • Sic transit gloria mundi Latin for ‘thus passes away the glory of the world’ that was used in Papal coronations for hundreds of years
  • Memento mori, Latin for ‘remember that you [have to] die’, is a symbolic trope that reminds us of impermanence and the inevitability of death
  • Mono no aware, Japanese for ‘the pathos of things’, is used as an idiom for the awareness of impermanence
  • Ubi sunt is Latin for ‘where are… [they]’ referencing a longer quote that is a meditation on life’s transience and mortality
  • Wabi-sabi Japanese worldview centered on the acceptance of imperfection and transience

Of course, these aren’t the most natural phrases to say if you want to communicate to a friend the sentiment that ‘this too shall pass.’ Here are some English phrases you can use that have a similar meaning:

  • Tomorrow is another day
  • It will blow over
  • Everything will be fine
  • Everything will be okay
  • Things will get better
  • It will fade with time
  • This isn’t forever

‘This too shall pass’ is a simple and powerful phrase that reminds us of the impermanence of every situation and our own lives. In this short adage, you can really see just how much meaning idioms, phrases, and proverbs can carry in just a few words.

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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.

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