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Three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and people understanding what this trope is about by the time they finish this sentence.

The Three Certainties in Life can either be a Stock Joke or a Stock Phrase that is mostly inspired by the quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, "Nothing is certain but death and taxes."

Because three is a magic number, appending a third item after "death" and "taxes" has the immediate effect of turning one person's observation of a perceived, frequently occurring event or incident into a punchline or poignant quip which shares similarity to The Triple.

Occasionally, someone may list three things without "death" or "taxes" being one of them. In this regard, "birth and death" is a commonly seen variant.

See Also: Rule of Three, The Triple, and The Last of These Is Not Like the Others. Compare with: Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking.

Death, Taxes, and Examples:


  • Cheaper By the Dozen has a variant. Hank notes, "All I'm saying is families are inevitable; they're like death or taxes."
  • From Meet Joe Black, "...the truth is, joining John Bontecou is every bit as certain as death and taxes." This is said to Death himself in the guise of the eponymous Joe Black, who expresses some surprise and amusement at the saying. Later on made into a borderline stealth pun when Joe Black impersonates an IRS agent.


  • Inverted: Al Franken writes in Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them about the Republican Party's attempts to abolish the Estate Tax:

  For America's heirs and heiresses, only one thing would be certain: death, OR taxes.


Live Action TV

  • On Grey's Anatomy, the title character once remarked, "In life only one thing is certain, besides death and taxes... No matter how hard we try, no matter how good our intentions, we are going to make mistakes."
  • From Prison Break:

  Agent Mahone: Three things in life are certain... death, taxes, and the fact that a man on the run will make a mistake sometime in the first 72 hours.

    • Earlier, in the first season:

  Sucre: There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes and count.

  • A character on the Soap Opera Guiding Light once remarked that love isn't "a sure thing," but her grandfather, on the other hand, "is right up there with death and taxes."
  • There's a Running Joke amongst fans of the Eurovision Song Contest that goes, "There are only three things certain in life: Death, Taxes, and Greece and Cyprus exchanging maximum votes." However, with new rules in place for future competitions, this may now be obsolete.
  • A gag on Keeping Up Appearances once compared being invited to one of Hyacinth Buck... err... Bouquet's candlelight suppers to the inevitability of death and taxes.
  • A TV special based on the Miss Peach comic strip had the line, "For adults there's death and taxes, and for us kids there's school."
  • Married... with Children: When Al's touchdown record was about to be broken, he was so sure of it he declared it one of the three things he was certain of happening. The other two were: he'd sell shoes until the day he dies; and Peggy will win the lottery the next day.

Newspaper Comics

  • A Garfield strip had a variant: "Death, taxes, and teddy bears. Three things you can always count on."
  • A vintage Sunday Peanuts comic strip where Lucy, holding a football, challenged Charlie Brown to name three things that are certain. Charlie Brown guessed Death and Taxes but drew a blank at the third...until Lucy pulled the football away. "It was so obvious, Charlie Brown."
  • One Zits strip had the father saying, "The only things certain in life are death and taxes." The teen continues, "And homework." The mom finishes it off by thinking, "And knowing I'll get stuck with the dinner dishes."


  • One proverb of anonymous origin observes, "Only three things in life are certain: birth, death, and change."
  • Another of unknown origin argues, "There are only three certainties in life; The laws of physics, the laws of Murphy, and death."
  • Seth Lloyd, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, once remarked,

  "Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes and the second law of thermodynamics. All three are processes in which useful or accessible forms of some quantity, such as energy or money, are transformed into useless, inaccessible forms of the same quantity. That is not to say that these three processes don't have fringe benefits: taxes pay for roads and schools; the second law of thermodynamics drives cars, computers and metabolism; and death, at the very least, opens up tenured faculty positions."

  • Charles II is alleged to have said, "There are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and that it is raining in Tavistock."

Professional Wrestling


  • The song "For Now" from Avenue Q has a lyric: Except for death and paying taxes everything in life is only for now.

Video Games

  • In EA Sports' FIFA 2010, matches involving Chelsea FC may feature small anecdotes, as told by the game's commentators, about the club's history and rise to form as one of England's powerhouse clubs during lull moments in the game. One such anecdote includes Martin Tyler remarking on how Chelsea once used to be the Butt Monkey of many jokes amongst comedians, including one such joke, "Three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and Chelsea keeps building up only to disappoint."
  • In the Might and Magic games, some NPCs state that there are only three certainties in life: Death, Taxes, and that you'll hear the comment about death and taxes sooner or later.

Western Animation


 You know, there are three things we're never going to get rid of here in Springfield: one, the bats in the public library -- scene switch to man opening card catalog and screaming as bats fly out -- two, Mrs. McFierly's compost heap -- scene switch to huge compost pile and Mrs. McFierly rocking nearby with a shotgun, cackling -- and three, our six-term mayor, scene switch to Quimby watering a marijuana plant the illiterate, tax-cheating, wife-swapping, pot-smoking, spendocrat Diamond Joe Quimby.

Quimby: Hey, I am no longer illiterate.


There are three certainties in life: Death, Taxes, and TV Tropes Ruining Your Life.