Common English Phrases: It Is What It Is.

Student: “I wish I could get rid of my accent. I sound so different.”

Teacher: “It is what it is. Your accent is part of who you are. Embrace it! Focus on clear communication, and your accent won’t be a barrier.”

In this article we explore the meaning and usage of the common English phrase It is what it is. The phrase is used to describe situations that cannot be changed or controlled, and often conveys acceptance or resignation about a particular circumstance. It is typically used in response to bad news, disappointment, or frustrating situations, and can also be used to express a sense of understanding or agreement with a particular situation.

This expression has been in use for many years, but the earliest known written use of the phrase dates back to a 1949 article in the Nebraska State Journal. In the article, writer J. E. Lawrence used the phrase to describe the character of the American West, writing that “New land is harsh, and vigorous, and sturdy. It scorns evidence of weakness. There is nothing of sham or hypocrisy in it. It is what it is, without an apology.” In recent years, the phrase has seen a rise in popularity, becoming a common expression used to convey acceptance of a situation that cannot be changed.

In this article we share examples of how the phrase is used, references to its use in popular culture, and similar expressions in English. Additionally, we provides versions of the phrase in different languages, including Chinese, Spanish, and Swahili.

Meaning and Usage:

It is what it is is a common phrase used to describe a situation that cannot be changed or controlled. This phrase is often used to convey a sense of acceptance or resignation about a particular circumstance, indicating that there is no point in trying to change it.

The phrase is typically used in response to bad news, disappointment, or a frustrating situation. For example, if someone receives a poor grade on an exam, they might say “It is what it is” to acknowledge that the grade cannot be changed.

The phrase can also be used to express a sense of understanding or agreement with a particular situation. For instance, if a company is experiencing financial difficulties and must lay off employees, a manager might use, “It is what it is” to acknowledge the harsh reality of the situation.

This is a versatile phrase that can be used in a variety of contexts to express acceptance, resignation, understanding, or agreement with a particular situation.


To better understand how to use this phrase, let’s take a look at some examples:

  • Mary: “I’m so disappointed that we didn’t win the game.”
  • John: “It is what it is. We did our best.”

In this example, John is using the phrase “It is what it is” to acknowledge the situation that they didn’t win the game. He’s also expressing a sense of acceptance that their best effort was not enough to secure a victory.

it is what it is
  • Abdul: “I wish the weather was better for our picnic.”
  • Jahnvi: “It is what it is. We can still have fun indoors.”

In this conversation, Jahnvi is using the phrase to acknowledge that the weather is beyond their control, but they can still make the best of the situation by having a picnic indoors.

  • Obi: “I can’t believe I didn’t get the job.”
  • Dola: “It is what it is. You’ll find something better.”

Here, Dola is using the expression to acknowledge the situation that Obi did not get the job. She’s also expressing optimism that something better will come along in the future.

Popular Culture References:

It’s not just in everyday conversation where “it is what it is” has become a familiar phrase. In fact, it has also made its way into popular culture in various forms of media. From movies to TV shows, and even in music, this phrase has been used to convey different meanings and emotions.

In the 2019 film “The Irishman“, Jimmy Hoffa (played by Al Pacino) uses the phrase “It’s what it is” when acknowledging the reality of a situation that he can’t change. The line perfectly encapsulates the character’s acceptance of the consequences of his actions.

In the popular TV show “Breaking Bad“, the character Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) uses the phrase to describe the reality of their dangerous situation to his partner, Walter White (Bryan Cranston). This highlights the inevitability of their circumstances, and the futility of trying to change them.

In “The Sopranos“, the phrase “It is what it is, until it isn’t” is uttered by Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). The line reflects the show’s theme of uncertainty and the ever-changing nature of life.

Even in the popular TV sitcom “Modern Family“, Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) uses the phrase in a comedic context, saying “It is what it is, and what it is sucks.” The line adds humour to the phrase while also acknowledging the frustration of being in a difficult situation.

Similar Expressions in English:

go with the flow
  • Go with the flow – suggests being flexible and adapting to changes as they come
  • It’s not the end of the world – suggests that the situation is not as bad as it may seem
  • No use crying over spilt milk – means there’s no point in regretting something that has already happened
  • Roll with the punches – suggests adapting to difficulties or setbacks
  • Shit happens – means that unfortunate or unpleasant events sometimes happen and it’s just a fact of life
  • Such is life – suggests accepting the situation as it is, even if it’s not ideal
  • That’s life – means that things happen that are beyond our control and we must accept them
  • That’s the way the cookie crumbles – means that sometimes things don’t work out as planned and we must accept it.
that's the way the cookie crumbles

Versions in Different Languages:

  • French: “C’est la vie” (That’s life) – expresses acceptance of a situation that cannot be changed. Commonly used by English speakers.
  • Spanish: “Que sera, sera” (Whatever will be, will be) – expresses a similar sentiment of acceptance and resignation in the face of uncertain or uncontrollable circumstances. Commonly used by English speakers – and chanted at football games by football fans to express unwavering support for their team.
  • Arabic: “ما كان مكتوب” (ma kan maktoub) (It wasn’t meant to be) – suggests accepting fate and what cannot be changed.
  • Chinese: “顺其自然” (shùn qí zìrán) (Go with the flow) – suggests being flexible and adapting to changes as they come.
  • Thai: “ไม่เป็นไร” (mai pen rai) (No worries) – used to acknowledge you are accepting a situation and not letting it cause stress or worry.
  • Hindi: कुछ नहीं होता (kuchh nahi hota) (Nothing happens) – accepting a situation as it is and not letting it affect one’s emotions.
  • Swahili: “Hakuna matata” (No worries) – accepting a situation and not letting it cause stress or worry. Made famous by the movie “The Lion King”.

Is there a similar version in your language? Share it with us on Twitter (@EnglishStudy).

Using Idiomatic Expressions Appropriately:

Idiomatic expressions can be powerful tools for communication. However, it’s important to use them appropriately to avoid any confusion or misunderstandings. Here are some tips for using idiomatic expressions like “it is what it is” effectively:

  1. Use them in the right context: Idioms are phrases that have a specific meaning within a particular language or culture. Using them in the wrong context can be confusing or even offensive. For example, using “it is what it is” to downplay a serious issue can come across as insensitive.
  2. Understand the nuances: Some idiomatic expressions have subtle nuances that can change the meaning of the phrase. Take the time to understand the nuances of the expression you’re using to make sure you’re conveying the message you intend.
  3. Don’t overuse them: While idioms can be effective, using them too often can make you sound insincere or like you’re not taking the conversation seriously. Use them sparingly and only when appropriate.

By using idiomatic expressions appropriately, you can effectively convey your message and avoid any misunderstandings or confusion.

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