|ace a test
||If you obtain a very high score or an excellent result, you ace a test or exam.
Maria’s parents said she could go to the party if she aced her English test.
|hold all the aces
||If you have an ace up your sleeve, you have something in reserve with which you can gain an advantage and obtain success.
I’m well prepared for the negotiations. I’ve got an ace up my sleeve.
||This term refers to an unsuccessful competitor whose performance is so much poorer than the winner’s that it appears insignificant.
He entered the contest hoping that he wouldn’t end up as an ‘also-ran’.
|back to square one
||To say that someone is back to square one means that they have not succeeded in what they were trying to do, so they have to start again.
When the plans were refused, it was ‘back to square one’ for the architect.
|in the bag
||People use this expression when it becomes obvious that success or victory is going to be achieved.
An hour before the polling stations closed, victory seemed in the bag for the Conservative candidate.
||If something bears fruit, it produces positive or successful results.
After years of hard work, his research finally began to bear fruit.
|(up a) blind alley
||If you go up a blind alley, you follow an ineffective course of action which leads nowhere or produces no results.
The suspect’s ‘revelations’ lead the police up a blind alley.
||Something that is outstanding, impressive or particularly successful, such as a film or a book ,is called a blockbuster.
The TV series was a blockbuster.
|blow up in face
||When working on a plan or project, if it suddenly goes wrong or fails, it blows up in your face.
The trip was difficult to organize, but it blew up in his face when the airline company went on strike.
|bottom fell out
||When something causes a plan, project or venture to collapse or fail, the bottom falls out of it.
When heavy rain was announced, the bottom fell out of their plans for a beach party.
|bring the house down
||If you bring the house down, you give a very successful performance.
If he sings like that on Saturday, he’ll bring the house down.
|cake not worth the candle
||To say that the cake is not worth the candle means that the advantages to be gained from doing something are not worth the effort involved.
He recorded an album but sold very few copies; the cake wasn’t worth the candle.
|chance one’s arm
||If you chance your arm, you decide to do something even though there is little hope of success.
Tony knew there was little hope of getting into Harvard but he decided to chance his arm anyway.
|had one’s chips
||To say that someone has had their chips means that they have completely failed in what they set out to achieve.
After the second round, it looked as though Watson had had his chips.
|close but no cigar
||This expression refers to an effort to do something which was a good attempt but not quite good enough to succeed.
The ball touched the goal post – close but no cigar!
|come to grief
||If someone or something comes to grief, they either have an accident, are destroyed or end in failure.
Their plans for a golf course came to grief when it was decided to build a motorway.
|come up in the world
||A person who has come up in the world is richer than before and has a higher social status.
My old school friend has bought an apartment overlooking Central Park. She has certainly come up in the world.
|come up roses
||If things come up roses, the end result is successful or positive, even if there were difficult times.
After several disappointments, everything seems to be coming up roses for the tennis player this year.
|come/turn up trumps
||To say that someone has come up trumps means that they have achieved unexpectedly good results.
Against all expectations, our team came up trumps in the cup final.
|cook someone’s goose
||To cook somebody’s goose means to spoil that person’s chances of success.
When the burglar saw the police car arriving, he realized his goose was cooked!
|on course for
||If you are on course for something, you are likely to achieve it.
Our team is on course for a victory in the national championship.
|crest of the wave
||If you are on the crest of a wave, you are very successful in what you are doing.
Our company is going from success to success. We’re on the crest of a wave right now.
|cut one’s losses
||If you end or withdraw from something that is already failing, in order to reduce the loss of money, time or effort invested in it,
you cut your losses.
The project is heading for failure. Let’s cut our losses before it’s too late.
|cut one’s own throat
||If you cut your own throat, you do something that will be the cause of your own failure or ruin your chances in the future.
Tony has already missed a lot of classes. He’s cutting his own throat.
||Something that is certain to happen or be achieved is a dead cert.
After such praise, his appointment as captain of the team is a dead cert.
||This expression refers to a project or scheme which has been abandoned or is certain to fail.
The new cinema is going to be a dead duck because it’s too far away from the town centre.
|dead in the water
||A plan or project that is dead in the water is at a standstill or has ceased to function and is unlikely to be reactivated in the future.
Because of the crisis, the planned housing development is now dead in the water.
|dice are loaded
||If everything seems to work to your disadvantage, and you are not likely to succeed, the dice are loaded against you.
I applied for the job, but being a woman, and over forty, the dice were loaded against me.
|disaster written all over
||If something, such as a plan or idea, has disaster written all over it, it is thought to be heading for complete failure, or will cause a lot of trouble.
Mary’s idea of a holiday with her in-laws has disaster written all over it!
downhill all the way
|If something is all downhill or downhill all the way, it is very easy to achieve considering the difficulties encountered beforehand.
The hardest part for the burglars was turning off the alarm system. After that it was all downhill.
|draw a blank
||If you look for or try to remember something, and draw a blank, you fail to find it.
I nearly won the quiz; unfortunately I drew a blank at the last question!
|every dog has its day
||This expression means that everyone can be successful at something at some time in their life.
I didn’t win this time, but I’ll be lucky one day. Every dog has its day.
|fall at first hurdle
||If you fall at the first hurdle, you fail to overcome the first difficulty encountered.
Scott fell at the first hurdle. He didn’t study enough and failed his first exam.
||If a joke, a story or a form of entertainment falls flat, it does not amuse people, or fails to have the effect that was intended.
He made a few attempts at humour during his speech but most of his jokes fell flat.
|fall from grace
||To say that someone has fallen from grace means that they have done something wrong, immoral or unacceptable, and as a result have lost their good reputation.
The Finance Minister fell from grace as a result of a sex scandal.
|fall on one’s sword
||If you fall on your sword, you accept the consequences of an unsuccessful or wrong action.
The organizer of the referendum resigned when the poor results were announced. It was said that he’ fell on his sword’.
|feather in one’s cap
||To describe someone’s achievement as a feather in their cap means that it is something they can be proud of.
The overwhelming victory of the team was a feather in the cap for the new manager.
|fight a losing battle
||If someone is fighting a losing battle, they are trying to do something even when there is little chance of succeeding.
The headmaster is fighting a losing battle trying to ban mobile phones at school.
|(reach) first base
||When you get to (or reach) first base, you make progress or begin to have success with someone or something.
If you go to the interview dressed like that, you won’t get to first base!
|flash in the pan
||If you refer to somebody’s success as a flash in the pan, you mean that it is not likely to be repeated.
The manager hoped that the team’s unexpected victory was not just
a flash in the pan.
|will never fly
||To say that something will never fly means that it will not be successul.
He’s got incredible ideas, but none that will ever fly!
|with flying colours
||To achieve something with flying colours means to do it very successfully.
My daughter passed the entrance exam with flying colours. I’m so proud of her.
||If something gets off to a flying start, it is immediately successful.
Sales of the book got off to a flying start and exceeded our expectations.
||If you go on a fool’s errand, you try to do something which is useless, unnecessary or has no chance of success.
I realized it was a fool’s errand to look for a bank in such an isolated region.
|foot in the door
||To say that someone has a foot in the door means that they have a small but successful start in something and will possibly do well in the future.
With today’s unemployment, it is difficult to get a foot in the door in any profession.
|get a foothold
||If you get a foothold somewhere, you secure a position for yourself in a business, profession or organisation.
The contract got the firm a foothold in the local administration.
||In a contest, race or election, the front runner is the person who is most likely to succeed or win.
Who are the front runners in the coming elections?
|get the better of you
||If someone or something gets the better of you, they defeat you.
She went on a diet but it didn’t last long – her love of chocolate got the better of her!
|go to the dogs
||To say that a company, organization or country is going to the dogsmeans that it is becoming less successful or efficient than before.
Some think the company will go to the dogs if it is nationalized.
|go great guns
||If someone or something is going great guns, they are successful or doing very well.
Fred’s night club is going great guns. It’s becoming hard to get in!
|go (off/over) with a bang
||If something such as an event or performance goes off with a bang, it is very successful.
The party went off with a bang – everyone enjoyed it.
|go up in smoke
||If a plan or project goes up in smoke, it fails or ends before producing a result.
When Amy and Tom separated, my mother’s dream of a romantic wedding went up in smoke.
|got it made
||Someone who has got it made is so happy and successful in life that they have no worries.
With a happy family life, a new house and a super job, Sam’s got it made.
|hit pay dirt
||If you hit pay dirt, you are lucky and suddenly find yourself in a successful money-making situation.
Charlie finally hit pay dirt with his latent invention.
|on its knees
||When something such as a country or organization is on its knees, or brought to its knees, it is in a very weak situation or on the verge of failure.
The civil war brought the country to its knees.
||The victory of a candidate or a political paarty by an overwhelming majority is called a landslide victory.
Major newspapers predict a landslide victory for the Democratic Party.
|lead to a dead end
||If a plan or project leads to a dead end, it develops no further because it has no future.
In spite of the scientists’ efforts, the research lead to a dead end.
|leaps and bounds
||If you do something in leaps and bounds, you make rapid or spectacular progress or growth.
The number of subscribers to the newsletter has grown in leaps and bounds.
|let slip through fingers
||If you let something slip through your fingers, such as a good opportunity, you fail to obtain it or keep it.
He should have accepted the job when it was offered. He let the opportunity slip through his fingers.
|live to fight another day
||This expression means that even though you have not been successful, you will have another chance in the future to try again.
He was defeated in the final match but he lived to fight another day.
|come a long way
||When someone has come a long way, they have made a lot of progress or have become successful.
Tony has come a long way since he opened his first little restaurant.
|at a low ebb
||A person or organization at a low ebb is not as strong or successful as usual.
The recent political crisis has left the country at a low ebb.
|make a comeback
||When someone makes a comeback, they succeed in returning to their former successful career.
After devoting several years to her children, she made a comeback on Broadway.
|make the cut
||If you make the cut, you reach a required standard or succeed in passing from one round of a competition to another.
After intensive training, Sarah made the cut and joined the team.
|make a go of
||When you make a go of something, you succeed in your enterprise or produce good results.
He opened a restaurant and worked hard to make a go of it.
||If you make headway, you make progress in what you are trying to achieve.
Investigators have made little headway in their search for the causes of the catastrophe.
||If someone or something makes inroads, for example in a new field or area, they advance successfully or make progress.
Foreign cars have made inroads into the European market.
|make a killing
||If you say that someone has made a killing you mean that they have had great financial success.
He made a killing on the stock market.
|make or break
||Circumstances or events that will make or break someone or something will cause either total success or total ruin.
The assignment will make or break his career.
|make a pig’s ear of
||If you make a pig’s ear of something, you do a task or a chore very badly or make a complete mess of it.
Gary offered to paint the kitchen but he made a pig’s ear of it.
|miss the boat
||If you miss the boat, you fail to take advantage of an opportunity because you don’t act quickly enough.
I managed to get my order through before the end of the special offer – but I nearly missed th boat!
|moment of truth
||A critical or decisive time when you face the reality of a situation, and find out if your efforts have succeeded, is called the moment of truth.
The moment of truth has arrived – I’m going to serve my first soufflé!
|move up in the world
||A person who moves up in the world becomes more important in society or successful in their careeer.
Rachel Jones has moved up in the world since we were kids.
||Referring to Murphy’s law expresses a sentiment of bad luck and the idea that if anything can go wrong, it will.
We’ve tried to prepare for every possible incident, but remember Murphy’s law …!
|not getting anywhere
||If you are not getting anywhere, you are making no progress at all.
I’ve spent the whole day looking for a solution but I’m not getting anywhere.
|nothing succeeds like success!
||This expression means that success often leads to further successes.
The success of my first book encouraged to continue writing. Nothing succeeds like success!
|nothing ventured, nothing gained
||You cannot expect to achieve anything is you risk nothing.
He’s going to ask his boss for a promotion even though he has little chance of obtaining satisfaction. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
|out of the picture
||To say that a person or group is out of the picture means that they have been eliminated in a contest or tournament.
We were beaten in the semi-finals, so that’s us out of the picture!
|ahead of the pack
||If a person or organization is ahead of the pack, they are better or more successful than their rivals.
Our products will have to be more innovative if we want to stay ahead of the pack.
|pack something in
||If you pack something in, you abandon it or give it up.
She found city life so stressful, she decided to pack it in and move to the country.
||If someone or something passes muster, they are considered to be satisfactory or acceptable.
The interview went well. I hope I’ll pass muster.
|on the pig’s back
||A person who is on the pig’s back is in a successful situation and everything is going well for them.
Before the recession, Ireland was on the pig’s back, but the situation has changed greatly.
|place in the sun
||If you find a place in the sun, you reach a position which provides you with success, wealth and/or happiness, or whatever you have been hoping to obtain in life.
She finally found a place in the sun with the triumph of her latest book.
|put the kibosh on
||If you do something to prevent a plan or activity from happening or being successful, you put the kibosh on it.
The bank’s refusal to grant him a loan put the kibosh on Jack’s project.
||A victory that is obtained at a tremendous cost, or causes such a great loss that it is not worth winning, is called a Pyrrhic victory.
It was a Pyrrhic victory. The shop owner won the lawsuit but went bankrupt because of the legal expenses involved.
|rags to riches
||If a person goes from rags to riches, they start off being very poor and become very rich and successful.
By renovating old houses in the right places, he went from rags to riches.
||Someone who is riding high is enjoying a period of success or popularity.
He’s been riding high since the success of his last film.
|rise to the occasion
||If you rise to the occasion, you manage to do something successfully in difficult circumstances.
When her boss broke his leg, Julie had to represent the company at the congress, and she rose to the occasion extremely well.
|run rings around
||If you show much more skill or ability than your opponent, you run rings (or circles) around them.
In a quiz show on TV yesterday, a teenage girl ran rings around the other contestants.
||If you sail through something, for example a test or an exam, you succeed in doing it without difficulty.
The English test was no problem for Pedro. He sailed through it.
|save the day
||If you find a solution to a serious problem, and ensure the success of something that was expected to fail, you save the day.
The dog ate the apple pie I had made for my guests, but my sister saved the day by making one of her speedy desserts!
|sink or swim
||If someone has to sink or swim, they have to do something alone, and their success or failure depends entirely on their own efforts.
The sink-or-swim attitude in the company can be very difficult for young recruits.
|sky’s the limit
||To say the sky’s the limit means that there is no limit to the possibility of success or progress for someone or something.
“How successful do you think the project will be?”
“Who knows … the sky’s the limit!”
||A very successful performance in music, films, theatre, etc. is called a smash hit.
The film ‘Titanic’ was a smash hit all over the world.
|snatch victory from the jaws of defeat
||If you manage to win something such as a match or a contest, when you are on the verge of losing, you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
With a last-minute goal, the team snatched victory form the jaws of defeat.
|spread onself too thin
||If you spread yourself too thin, you do too many things at the same time and can’t do any of them well.
Don’t spread yourself too thin or you’ll get nowhere.
|throw a spanner in the works
||If someone or something throws a spanner (or a wrench) in the works,they do something that causes problems and prevents the success of a plan or event.
The two companies were keen to sign the agreement before anything happened to throw a spanner in the works.
|throw in the towel
||If you throw in the towel, you admit that you cannot succeed.
After unsuccessfully competing in several championships, she decided to throw in the towel and go back to college.
||To say that a person, group or country is top dog means that they are more successful or more powerful than others.
She’s top dog in cosmetics today.
|on the up and up
||If you are on the up and up, you are becoming increasingly successful.
The architect has been on the up and up since he designed a building in Dubai.
|weather the storm
||If you weather the storm, you succeed in surviving a difficult period or situation.
Given the current recession, the company is weathering the storm better than most.
||The term win-win refers to a situation or proposition where both or all parties benefit from the outcome.
There were smiles all round when the contract was signed – it was a win-win situation.
|wither on the vine
||If something withers on the vine, it fails or ceases to exist because people do not support or encourage it.
Let’s hope the recent efforts towards peace will not wither on the vine.
||The person who finishes last in a race or competition receives an imaginary prize called the wooden spoon.
Our team got the wooden spoon in this year’s tournament.
|have the world at your feet
||If you have the world at your feet, you are extremely successful and greatly admired.
The talented young actress has the world at her feet.
|have the world
by its tail
|Someone who has the world by its tail is very successful and has many opportunities to choose from.
Due to her intelligence and hard work, she now has the world by its tail.