‘You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By
Shanea Patterson,
updated on
April 12, 2023

Has someone told you that ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’? Are you unsure of what they meant by that? We’ll provide the meaning and origin of the phrase, plus provide examples of how to use the phrase in a sentence correctly.

In short:

  • ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it too’ means to have or enjoy the good parts of something without having or dealing with the bad parts.

Essentially, the phrase means that you have to take the good with the bad.

What Does ‘You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too’ Mean?

‘You can’t have your cake and eat it too’ is a common American phrase that means you can’t have or do two things that are both desirable but contradictory. It could also mean that you have to take the good with the bad.

  • You might hear someone say this when someone is trying to do too much at once instead of doing one thing at a time.
  • Or when someone is being selfish and trying to get what they want at the expense of other people.

For example:

  • If a man decides to date a woman, knowing he has a wife (and will not end things with the wife), he’s basically trying to have his cake and eat it too. He’s not thinking about how this will affect his wife (or the new woman he’s seeing if she doesn’t already know).

In the show Drop Dead Diva, when Jane has feelings for Grayson and kisses him the day she’s supposed to marry Owen, some might say that she tried to:

Have her cake and eat it too.’

It might sound silly that if you have cake, you wouldn’t be able to eat it. Because what would be the point of having it, right?

But it actually means that you can’t hold onto the cake and still eat it because once you eat it, it’s gone.

  • Therefore, you can either have the cake or eat it. But not both.

Where Does ‘You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too’ Come From? 

The phrase ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’ is an American proverb that comes from a letter written on March 14, 1538, from the Duke of Norfolk to Thomas Cromwell.

The line read:

'A man cannot have his cake and eat his cake.'

In British English, the phrase is shortened to:

‘You can’t have your cake and eat it.’

Examples of ‘You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too’ in Sentences

How would you use ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’ in a sentence?

Let’s see some examples:

  • I made a decision to become a work-from-home parent because I thought I could have the best of both worlds. I thought I could have my cake and eat it too, but it was not what I expected.
  • I want to live away from my parents, but I don’t want to live on campus. But I can’t afford an apartment, so I guess I can’t have my cake and eat it too. I have to make a choice.
  • My husband thought he could have his cake and eat it, too, when he started seeing another woman. What he doesn’t know is that I found out months ago, and I’ve been draining his long-term savings account little by little each day.
  • I didn’t think I could have my cake and eat it too by coming here for the summer, but it’s working out well. I just hope this doesn’t blow up in my face.
  • My mom keeps telling me that I can’t have my cake and eat it too, but she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I can definitely have two boyfriends at one time. I know what I’m doing.
  • You’re really considering taking both jobs even though you don’t have the time? You do know that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, right?
  • I know you don’t think I can have my cake and eat it too, but you’re wrong. I’ve got it all planned out, so just let me do what I wanna do, okay?
  • Last summer, when I wanted to babysit but still go to the beach every day, my dad told me I needed to make a decision because I was being too flaky as a sitter, and people would soon stop trusting me. He told me I couldn’t have my cake and eat it too.

Other Ways to Say ‘You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too’

What other ways could you say, ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it too’?

Let’s see some examples:

  • You can’t have the best of both worlds
  • You have to take the good with the bad
  • You can’t expect things to be easy
  • You can’t have it both ways
  • You can’t just do whatever you want
  • You must choose one thing over another
  • You can’t have both – you have to choose
  • You can’t sit on two chairs
  • You can’t have joy without pain
  • You can have one or the other – not both
  • You’re taking advantage
  • You can't just do whatever you want with no consequences

Concluding Thoughts on ‘You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too’

To recap, we learned the following:

  • ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it too’ means to have or enjoy the good parts of something without having or dealing with the bad parts.

Remember, the phrase means that you have to take the good with the bad.

If you have any trouble remembering any of this, you can always come back to review what you learned. We’ve got a ton of other content on idioms that you might find useful as you’re learning the language. Feel free to check it out whenever you need to.

Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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