In the first of our ‘success’ posts, we looked mainly at nouns in this area (Triumphs and success stories). Today, we’re focusing on verbs and phrasal verbs that mean ‘succeed’ and, as ever, looking at the important differences in meaning between them.
We’ll start with single verbs. There are a few informal synonyms for ‘succeed’ and they’re used a lot in current, spoken English, especially about successful performances (sporting, theatrical or otherwise). For example, people often say that someone nailed something (or nailed it), meaning they did something very successfully. The verb smash is used nowadays in the same way:
He nailed the penalty and put France in the lead. / That was a great talk. You totally nailed it!
What a performance! You smashed it!
Meanwhile, the informal verb ace is used to say that someone was very successful in an exam:
He didn’t do so well in German, but he aced his French test.
The verb arrive is sometimes used informally with the meaning ‘to finally achieve career success’. We also use the slightly informal phrase make it to mean ‘succeed in a particular profession’, especially acting, singing, dancing, etc:
Now, with my own chauffeur to take me wherever I pleased, I knew I had arrived.
He was told he would never make it as an actor.
It’s a challenging role for such a young actor, but he pulls it off. / This huge hall is a difficult space, but the Danish singer brought it off splendidly.
If you sail through something, especially a test, you succeed very easily:
He seemed the ideal candidate and sailed through the interview. / My older brother had sailed through his exams.
A business, product or career that takes off, becomes successful:
Their jeans sold well but their sportswear never took off. / Her acting career had just started to take off.
The phrasal verb come off also means ‘succeed’ and is usually used in the negative:
They were chasing a contract but, sadly, it didn’t come off.
A project that comes together is successful after all the many things that need to happen do so in time:
It was a huge event to organize, but I’m pleased to say it came together on the day.
Two useful phrasal verbs convey the sense of only just succeeding in doing something. If you scrape through an exam or competition, you succeed but only by a few points. Meanwhile, someone who muddles through, manages a situation successfully but rather chaotically, having little knowledge and no strategy:
She scraped through her final exams. / They scraped through in third place.
Like most parents of young children, we had no idea what we were doing – we just muddled through.
Our next (and final) post on this theme will look at idioms that mean ‘succeed’.