English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Looking for a very niche definition for a friend, she wants to find a single word that encapsulates the general meaning, "success, but not without hard work" for an article she is writing.

share|improve this question

Why not simply achievement

a thing done successfully, typically by effort, courage, or skill

Or perhaps accomplishment

something difficult that you succeed in doing, especially after working hard over a period of time

share|improve this answer
That's exactly what I was thinking when I saw the question. – Pitarou Feb 20 '14 at 4:31

A 'triumph' implies that the success required effort. Similarly a 'conquest' or 'to conquer [a challenge]' may carry this meaning in a nice package. Likewise the idiom "to make headway" isn't one word but carries a meaning akin to succeeding in spit of significant barriers. To 'overcome [something]' may be what you are looking for if there is a specific barrier.

share|improve this answer

As a verb, you could say surmount or overcome. Both imply achieving victory despite difficulties. But I can't think of noun forms of those words.

share|improve this answer
You couldn't use surmount or overcome when dealing about something challenging but good, like education: "I overcame my studies" or "We surmounted our college education" makes it sound like college is a bad, depressing thing, nobody would want to be reminded of – Elias Van Ootegem Feb 20 '14 at 15:11

You may also use the verb "prevail" in some contexts:

: to gain victory by virtue of strength or superiority : win mastery : triumph — used with over or against (gates of hell shall not prevail against it — Matthew 16:18 (Authorized Version) (the ungodly o'er the just prevailed — Robert Burns)

: to be or become effective or effectual : be successful (the temptation to exploit consumers … usually prevails unless it is curbed — T. W. Arnold)

share|improve this answer

What about "consummation"?

Although, it's not necessarily as positive "success", it does include hard work and presumably if you were working hard it would be towards a goal you really intended.

share|improve this answer

Given your friend is writing an article, it could be useful to get some context. However, to me, the verb to master would be a likely candidate:

tr.v. mas·tered, mas·ter·ing, mas·ters
     \/ General, but careful of lord vs servant connotation \/
  1. To act as or be the master of.
     \/ if it's a scientific article \/
  2. To make oneself a master of: mastered the language in a year's study.
     \/ when writing about a personal battle of sorts \/
  3. To overcome or defeat: He finally mastered his addiction to drugs.
     \/ a rather practical topic, but a tad dated \/
  4. To reduce to subjugation; break or tame (an animal, for example).

He/She [finally] mastered the task/skill...

To achieve mastery in anything implies hard work, time, devotion and so on.
If used in a different context, the results can be silly or oddly laughable, for example:

After I mastered opening a can of beans, I could finally get to cooking.

Now either I'm joking, or I found my nemesis, and it was a can of beans. This sentence, then, really is a bit silly. It's a bit like saying "I showed that can of beans who's boss" or "I totally owned that can". May sound nice in a rap song, not so good in an article...

I think I finally mastered Bach's first of six Cello suites.

Implies that I've achieved my goal (being able to play a piece of Bach). And this also needs no further explanation as to how big a challenge my learning to play this music proved to be. If I were to quantify this, it would make my sentence look (overly?) dramatic, or it would appear that I'm emphasizing how much effort went into this:

I've been playing the cello for the best part of 10 years now, but I think I finally mastered Bach's first of six Cello suites.

Explicitly stating the time just makes me look like a drama-queen, or an insane perfectionist.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.