Is there an idiom for a "lose-lose" situation, in which both sides receive a negative effect? In particular, if there is a 成语 that would be great!

EDIT: What about describing two decisions for a single person? Similar to the English:

You're damned if you do. And you're damned if you don't"


4 Answers 4


Let's summarize all the suggestions

  • 两败俱伤 = "both lose, both get hurt". It is the most fitting idiom for "lose-lose situation"

  • 玉石俱焚(burn together with the enemy) , 同归于尽 (die together with the enemy) are more fitting for describing "mutual destruction"

  • 鱼死网破 (the fisherman loses his net and the fish loses it's life), is a lose- lose situation but the main point of this idiom is "make it an empty victory (victory without benefit)"

  • 鹬蚌相争 (snipe and oyster fight, and they both get picked up by the fisherman) describe a "lose-lose situation" but the focus is on "a third party get the benefit of the fight

  • 螳螂捕蝉 (the mantis catches the cicadas and the yellow bird catches the Mantis) The moral of this idiom is "you can never be sure that your victory is the final victory"

  • 一拍兩散 describes a "lose-lose situation" when both parties rather destroy the object they fight for than let the other win

  • 1
    I'm not sure 一拍兩散 has that meaning. I have always understood it to mean a couple breaking up in a clear cut way (果斷爽快地結束關係), instead of destroying some object they're fighting for. A quick Google search will confirm this.
    – YiFan
    May 21, 2020 at 11:34
  • "烏蠅遛馬尾, 一拍兩散" is a Cantonese 歇後語. We always use it this way. May be Mandarin speakers have a different understanding of this phrase
    – Tang Ho
    May 21, 2020 at 13:04
  • 例如甲乙爭做主席,互不相讓,最後各自推丙出任,也不讓對方如願,這就叫 一拍兩散
    – Tang Ho
    May 21, 2020 at 13:13
  • I see, I was not aware of that usage. Looks like Mandarin and Cantonese differ in the interpretation of the phrase here.
    – YiFan
    May 21, 2020 at 13:20

For example,






And I believe there are more.

  • 2
    两败俱伤 (both lose, both injured) is the most fitting one for "lose-lose situation" The other fours are more fitting for "mutual destruction"
    – Tang Ho
    May 20, 2020 at 6:29
  • But the meaning of these idiom is same, right? They all destruction or it should be peace like "鷸蚌相爭" they didn't hurt, lol?
    – 高鵬翔
    May 20, 2020 at 6:40
  • 1
    @高鵬翔 indeed somehow 1.鹬蚌相争 2.螳螂捕蝉 is also a lose-lose
    – Ethan
    May 20, 2020 at 6:47
  • Others are more like two of different classes, but low-classes one may cause lose-lose situation.
    – 高鵬翔
    May 20, 2020 at 6:48
  • 1
    @Manx yeah, but their meaning are more focus on the third part will get the benefit. 鹬蚌相争->漁翁得利,螳螂捕蝉->黃雀在後
    – 高鵬翔
    May 20, 2020 at 6:50

If you want something that's a bit cruder, 死都要找個墊底的!(if I'm going down, you're coming with me!) Though that's usually uttered by the bad guy as he was about to be defeated. :D


损人不利己 - a lame translation: "(this action) is no benefit to yourself but only harming the others"

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