Top 20 Success Idioms List


Many phrases about success can be specific to a situation or type of event. In our list below we will try to explain not only what these particular success idioms mean but also where and how to use them.

1. Dress for success

No hidden meanings here, this idiom means you need to dress in clothes or such a fashion that others believe you to be a success in life. We can use it when going for a job interview or a new work proposal.

  • I am going to dress for success and put on my best suit for the interview.
English uk flagDress for success
Spanishspain flagVístete de éxito
Frenchfrance flagS’habiller pour réussir
Italianitaly flagVestirsi per il successo
Germangermany flagVerkleiden Sie sich für Erfolg
Portugueseportugal flagVestir-se para o sucesso
Russianrussian flagОдевайся для успеха
Chinesechina flag扮靓成功
Japanesejapan flag成功のためにドレスアップ
Polishpoland flagUbierz się na sukces

2. You have got to be in it to win it!

Often used for competitions this phrase is what’s called a call to action too. It encourages the listener to join in a competition, or another exclusive event, to have a chance of winning or being successful.

  • Sign up now; you’ve got to be in it to win it!
English uk flagYou have got to be in the game to win it!
Spanishspain flag¡Hay que estar en el juego para ganarlo!
Frenchfrance flagIl faut être dans le jeu pour gagner !
Italianitaly flagBisogna essere in gioco per vincere!
Germangermany flagMan muss im Spiel sein, um es zu gewinnen!
Portugueseportugal flagÉ preciso estar no jogo para o ganhar!
Russianrussian flagТы должен быть в игре, чтобы выиграть!
Chinesechina flag你必须参与到游戏中去,才能赢得它!
Japanesejapan flagゲームに参加しないと勝てない!
Polishpoland flagMusisz być w grze, aby ją wygrać!

3. Key to success

Just like an actual key opens a door, we can apply this idiom to the thing that is most important to being successful. It has many different uses in both a working environment or in general speech.

The key to success as a salesman is communication.

  • Practice is the key to success.
English uk flagKey to success
Spanishspain flagLa clave del éxito
Frenchfrance flagLa clé du succès
Italianitaly flagLa chiave del successo
Germangermany flagSchlüssel zum Erfolg
Portugueseportugal flagA chave do sucesso
Russianrussian flagКлюч к успеху
Chinesechina flag成功的关键
Japanesejapan flag成功への鍵
Polishpoland flagKlucz do sukcesu

4. Howling success

While the word howl is typically used to describe a loud continuous noise, a howling success is a colloquial expression. It is most frequently used to describe something in the present or past that was very successful.

  • Because the first iPhone was a revolutionary product, it became a howling success.
  • Everyone hopes the new iPhone 14 will be a howling success too.
English uk flagBe a howling success
Spanishspain flagSer un éxito rotundo
Frenchfrance flagSoyez un succès éclatant
Italianitaly flagEssere un successo ululante
Germangermany flagSeien Sie ein heulender Erfolg
Portugueseportugal flagSeja um sucesso uivante
Russianrussian flagБудьте завывающим успехом
Chinesechina flag成为一个巨大的成功
Japanesejapan flag吠えることに成功する
Polishpoland flagBądź wyjącym sukcesem

5. Hit a home run

Hit a home run is an expression that comes from the sport of Baseball. When a player hits a ball out of the reach of the other team, it was considered a home run and one point was awarded. This phrase, therefore, has become a standard reference about being successful.

  • You hit a home run with that last sale!
English uk flagHit a home run
Spanishspain flagGolpear un home run
Frenchfrance flagFaire un home run
Italianitaly flagColpire un home run
Germangermany flagEinen Homerun schlagen
Portugueseportugal flagFazer um home run
Russianrussian flagСделать хоум-ран
Chinesechina flag打出全垒打
Japanesejapan flagホームランを打つ
Polishpoland flagUderz w dom

6. It’s in the bag

When someone is very confident that they will be successful, a person could use this idiom to show how sure they are of success.

  • Don’t worry; I will finish the report in time. It’s in the bag!
English uk flagSuccess is in the bag
Spanishspain flagEl éxito está en la bolsa
Frenchfrance flagLe succès est dans le sac
Italianitaly flagIl successo è nella borsa
Germangermany flagDer Erfolg ist in der Tasche
Portugueseportugal flagO sucesso está no saco
Russianrussian flagУспех в кармане
Chinesechina flag成功已是囊中之物
Japanesejapan flag成功は袋の中
Polishpoland flagSukces jest w torbie

7. Rags to riches

Rags is a reference to the lousy state of clothing a person who is poor and living in the street may wear. However, rags to riches is used to describe the success of a person who was once very poor and has now become rich or wealthy.

  • The new movie they are making is about rags to riches story and how the main character overcame all of the problems he faced.
English uk flagRags to riches
Spanishspain flagDe la pobreza a la riqueza
Frenchfrance flagDes chiffons à la richesse
Italianitaly flagDagli stracci alle ricchezze
Germangermany flagVom Tellerwäscher zum Millionär
Portugueseportugal flagTrajectórias para a riqueza
Russianrussian flagОт тряпок до богатства
Chinesechina flag从贫民窟到富民窟
Japanesejapan flag乞食から金持ちになる
Polishpoland flagOd szmat do bogactwa

8. Bear / born fruit

A tree that grows and produces fruit is considered to be successful, therefore when something works well, correctly or successfully we can say it has born fruit.

  • Once we start advertising the new restaurant, we will see it bear fruit.
  • The new business has finally born fruit.
English uk flagBorn Fruit
Spanishspain flagfruta nacida
Frenchfrance flagfruits nés
Italianitaly flagfrutto nato
Germangermany flaggeborene Frucht
Portugueseportugal flagfruta nascida
Russianrussian flagурожайный фрукт
Chinesechina flag生果
Japanesejapan flag生果
Polishpoland flagowoce narodzone

9. See the light at the end of the tunnel

Just like a real, long tunnel, when you go inside you cannot see the end. However, as you get closer to the end, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s like saying that success is not that far away.

  • It took a while for us to get new clients but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.
English uk flagThe light at the end of the tunnel
Spanishspain flagLa luz al final del túnel
Frenchfrance flagLa lumière au bout du tunnel
Italianitaly flagLa luce alla fine del tunnel
Germangermany flagDas Licht am Ende des Tunnels
Portugueseportugal flagA luz ao fundo do túnel
Russianrussian flagСвет в конце туннеля
Chinesechina flag隧道尽头的光明
Japanesejapan flagトンネルの先にある光
Polishpoland flagŚwiatełko na końcu tunelu

10. The sky’s the limit

When we do well at something, others around us may comment, the sky’s the limit. It means we are so successful that there are almost no limitations to accomplishing whatever we want to do.

  • You paint so well, keep going, the sky’s the limit.
English uk flagThe sky’s the limit
Spanishspain flagEl cielo es el límite
Frenchfrance flagLe ciel est la limite
Italianitaly flagIl cielo è il limite
Germangermany flagDer Himmel ist die Grenze
Portugueseportugal flagO céu é o limite
Russianrussian flagНебо – это предел
Chinesechina flag天涯何处无芳草
Japanesejapan flag限界が来たら
Polishpoland flagNiebo jest granicą

11. To have overnight success

When somethings happens overnight it happens very fast. In the same manner, you can also have overnight success. It means that you have achieved that success in the quickest amount of time possible. It does not have to be one night, but it is very fast compared to others. 

  • With her smash hit song, she achieved overnight success and became a star instantly. 
English uk flagOvernight success
Spanishspain flagÉxito de la noche a la mañana
Frenchfrance flagSuccès du jour au lendemain
Italianitaly flagSuccesso notturno
Germangermany flagÜberraschender Erfolg
Portugueseportugal flagSucesso durante a noite
Russianrussian flagСкорость успеха
Chinesechina flag一夜成功
Japanesejapan flag一夜の成功
Polishpoland flagSukces z dnia na dzień

12. Failure teaches success

This is a very important idiom because it teaches us that sometimes you have to fail to succeed. When we say that failure teaches success it means that we learn from our mistakes. In many cases, you don’t succeed by immediately being right. When you fail you learn more, you come back stronger, and then you become successful. 

  • This project was not a complete failure. We need to pick ourselves back up and try again. We all know that failure teaches success. 
English uk flagFailure teaches success
Spanishspain flagEl fracaso enseña el éxito
Frenchfrance flagL’échec enseigne le succès
Italianitaly flagIl fallimento insegna il successo
Germangermany flagScheitern lehrt Erfolg
Portugueseportugal flagO fracasso ensina o sucesso
Russianrussian flagПровал учит успеху
Chinesechina flag失败教给成功
Japanesejapan flag失敗は成功を教える
Polishpoland flagPorażka uczy sukcesu

13. Every dog has its day

This is a commonly used idiom that reminds how every person can achieve success. Dogs don’t always have the best lives, but they get lucky and have a good day every once in a while. The same goes for people. Some people have streaks of bad luck, or just can’t seem to get ahead in life. At some point they will, and when we say that every dog has his day we mean that even people with bad luck will one day succeed.

  • I’ve seen Josh struggle for years to get ahead in the company. He’s been on a losing streak for almost a year. Now he got a huge client and is finally making progress. I guess every dog has it’s day.
English uk flagEvery dog has its day
Spanishspain flagCada perro tiene su día
Frenchfrance flagChaque chien a son jour
Italianitaly flagOgni cane ha il suo giorno
Germangermany flagJeder Hund hat seinen Tag
Portugueseportugal flagCada cão tem o seu dia
Russianrussian flagУ каждой собаки есть свой день
Chinesechina flag每个狗都有自己的日子
Japanesejapan flagすべての犬はその日を持っています
Polishpoland flagKażdy pies ma swój dzień

14. To make a killing

This is an idiom commonly used in finance and banking. It’s directly linked to money. To make a killing means to earn a lot of money very quickly. Usually with one job or a big investment. It means that you have achieved monetary success as quickly as possible. 

  • This is one of the best investments we’ve ever made. We were in and out the door in a day, and we made a killing.
English uk flagMake a killing
Spanishspain flagHacer una matanza
Frenchfrance flagFaire une mise à mort
Italianitaly flagFare una strage
Germangermany flagEinen Treffer landen
Portugueseportugal flagFazer uma matança
Russianrussian flagУбить
Chinesechina flag赚大钱
Japanesejapan flag殺意を燃やす
Polishpoland flagZarabiać na zabijaniu

15. To catch the wave

The sea is either calm or wavy, and a lot of people like to surf on waves. This is an idiom that comes from sports, specifically surfing. When surfers catch a wave they use it for a very long ride. This can also translate to success. When you catch a wave it means that you are riding on success, and that it keeps going and going. 

  • We’ve recorded our first album and a couple of record label executives came to our show. Some of them even gave us offers. We’ve caught that wave now! 
English uk flagCatch the wave
Spanishspain flagAtrapa la ola
Frenchfrance flagCapter la vague
Italianitaly flagCattura l’onda
Germangermany flagFangen Sie die Welle
Portugueseportugal flagApanhar a onda
Russianrussian flagПоймать волну
Chinesechina flag追赶浪潮
Japanesejapan flag波に乗る
Polishpoland flagZłapać falę

16. Count your chickens before they hatch

We all know that chickens hatch from eggs. However, sometimes chickens don’t end up hatching from an egg because it’s sadly dead. When you count your chickens before they’re hatched it means that you are expecting a level of success that you might not get. This is an idiom that tells us to be careful when betting on success.

  • I told him time and time again. But no, he’s just counting his chickens before they’re hatched. Now we’re losing clients because his investment failed.
English uk flagCount your chickens before they hatch
Spanishspain flagCuente sus pollos antes de que nazcan
Frenchfrance flagComptez vos poulets avant qu’ils n’éclosent
Italianitaly flagConta i tuoi polli prima che si schiudano
Germangermany flagZählen Sie Ihre Hühner, bevor sie schlüpfen
Portugueseportugal flagConte as suas galinhas antes de eclodirem
Russianrussian flagПосчитайте ваших цыплят, пока они не вылупились
Chinesechina flag孵化前数数你的鸡
Japanesejapan flag孵化する前に鶏を数える
Polishpoland flagPolicz swoje kurczaki zanim się wyklują

17. To kill two birds with one stone

This is one of the most famous idioms about success. It’s not literal, but the image is important. If you ever had to throw a stone at some birds, and that stone hits two instead of just one, that means it’s an even more successful throw than you expected. As an idiom it means to deal with two problems successfully, even though you only used one method to achieve it. 

  • If we put Harrison in with James we can kill two birds with one stone. Both of them want to work with Alice, and their cases are similar. We save time and money, and both of them end up happy.
English uk flagKill two birds with one stone
Spanishspain flagMatar dos pájaros de un tiro
Frenchfrance flagFaire d’une pierre deux coups
Italianitaly flagPrendere due piccioni con una fava
Germangermany flagZwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen
Portugueseportugal flagMatar dois pássaros com uma cajadada só
Russianrussian flagУбить двух зайцев одним выстрелом
Chinesechina flag一石二鸟
Japanesejapan flag一石二鳥
Polishpoland flagUpiec dwie pieczenie na jednym ogniu

18. A win-win situation

This is a common idiom we use when two parties can both achieve success in a situation. It describes a scenario where no party loses. It’s one of the absolute ways to achieve success. 

  • You guys take care of renovating the docks. The construction company handling the parking lot can take over the new office building, and we can finish the parking lot to transfer for the final workload back to the docks. It sounds complicated, but trust me it’s a win-win situation for all of us. 
English uk flagA win-win situation
Spanishspain flagUna situación en la que todos salen ganando
Frenchfrance flagUne situation gagnant-gagnant
Italianitaly flagUna situazione vantaggiosa per tutti
Germangermany flagEine Win-Win-Situation
Portugueseportugal flagUma situação vantajosa para ambas as partes
Russianrussian flagБеспроигрышная ситуация
Chinesechina flag双赢的局面
Japanesejapan flagウィンウィンの状況
Polishpoland flagSytuacja, w której wygrywają obie strony

19. Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Success doesn’t always come easy. It more often than not takes hard work and dedication. You need to find a way to succeed. When we say where there’s a will, there’s a way we mean that if you continue to try hard enough you will find that way. Even if success isn’t easy, just keep trying and you will make it. 

  • We can’t stop now. We might be losing but where there’s a will, there’s a way. We can still make it.
English uk flagWhere there’s a will, there’s a way
Spanishspain flagDonde hay voluntad, hay un camino
Frenchfrance flagLà où il y a une volonté, il y a un moyen
Italianitaly flagDove c’è una volontà, c’è un modo
Germangermany flagWo ein Wille ist, ist auch ein Weg
Portugueseportugal flagOnde há vontade, há uma maneira
Russianrussian flagТам, где есть желание, есть способ…
Chinesechina flag有志者事竟成
Japanesejapan flag意志があれば道は開ける
Polishpoland flagGdzie jest wola, tam jest i sposób

20. To strike gold

Sometimes success doesn’t come just from hard work and dedication. It can also happen by chance. In many cases luck is just as important as hard work. When we say that someone struck gold we mean that they have achieved a great amount of success thanks to luck.

  • This was a dead-end client who had no prospects. Melissa took him in and then she struck gold. They patented their product and now the stock is soaring. 
English uk flagStrike gold
Spanishspain flagGolpea el oro
Frenchfrance flagTrouver de l’or
Italianitaly flagColpire l’oro
Germangermany flagGold streuen
Portugueseportugal flagGolpe de ouro
Russianrussian flagУдарное золото
Chinesechina flag淘金
Japanesejapan flagストライクゴールド
Polishpoland flagUderzenie w złoto

Check your Grammar ››

While there are other idioms related to success, we have tried to select the most commonly heard and most frequently used. Do you know any different phrases about success? Let us know with a comment!

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What is the secret of success?

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6 years ago

Hi Katherine
I really enjoyed the lesson(s). It was written in such a plain language that I couldn’t stop reading. Really engrossed me.
Anyway, keep going, the sky’s the limit. 🙂
Best wishes from iran

Reply to  Mehdi
6 years ago

Thank you so much! Sky is the limit! – like this expression!