Is there an English equivalent of the Portuguese saying “Seven dogs to a single bone”?

Sorry for not including the detailed meaning of the expression.

“Seven dogs to a single bone” is the literal translation of the saying in Portuguese (Sete cães a um osso), usually used when noticing a situation of multiple people being after the same objective, as in:

  • group of single and lonely males after the same seemingly accessible female who just enjoys the extra attention;
  • several unemployed people after the same mediocre vacant job spot;

In general, it is the irony of the need for competition in obtaining certain things, that everyone needs or wants.

  • 3
    What does it mean?
    – NVZ
    May 29, 2016 at 4:49
  • when poverty strikes, it's dog v dog
    – JMP
    May 29, 2016 at 4:52
  • There's a short video youtube.com/watch?v=Ns4KR5c67O0 that seems to suggest an awareness of the expression and at the same time mocks it... May 29, 2016 at 4:57
  • 6
    I don't think to ("seven dogs to a bone") is the right preposition. Seven dogs after a bone is better. The Portuguese preposition a (cães a um osso) suggests the verb atirar-se (you'd need a verb there if it weren't an idiom), literally hurl oneself, jump, so seven dogs jumping at the bone or seven dogs attacking the bone (as you might "attack" your dinner), and by implication, fighting for the bone.
    – Jacinto
    May 29, 2016 at 9:30
  • 1
    @Lambie Atirar-se a is both European and Brazilian Portuguese. See this Brazilian dictionary: 1 atirou-se às ondas 'hurled oneself into the waves' (dived); 5 atirar-se aos inimigos 'hurl oneself at the enemies' (attack). And you don't use a for proportions, as in 102 boys born for evey 100 girls (you'd use por) or one nurse for evey 50 patients (you'd use por or para); seven dogs for every bone translates as sete cães por/para cada osso.
    – Jacinto
    May 30, 2016 at 7:17

4 Answers 4


There are a lot of phrases that denote competition for limited resources, but much fewer that specify a single one.

"Winner take all." is the best I can think of that means a singular victor and prize. (There are others but they are not appearing to mind...)

"Cut-throat competition" refers to competitors being extremely serious about beating each other. (literally, it means they'd kill to win) This doesn't mean anything about the number that can win.

"Pigs at a trough" is a related phrase to this, but increased distance from rural life makes it less common anymore. It references the shouldering competition at feeding. That being the image, though, it implies multiple potential 'winners'.

Many terms indicate that there is no arbiter of fairness for the competitors,

"Catch as catch can." means those involved have to struggle to get anything. Can imply that multiple opportunities to progress are available but certainly not guaranteed.

"Every man for himself." means the competitors aren't interested in helping the others. You're on your own.

"First come first served." means whoever claims the stuff first gets theirs. Generally implies no arbitration to keep things fair.

These are often combined: "It's winner-take-all and every man for himself out there." would essentially say the same thing.

You could also just use the phase "Dogs fighting over a bone" and you'd generally be understood.

Just be aware that "A dog on a bone" is a phrase for working on something. It's singular, though, which makes the differences fairly obvious.

  • I highly recommend using bold to highlight the actual suggestions so that it's better fit for speedreading. :)
    – NVZ
    May 29, 2016 at 18:07
  • @NVZ there are too many suggestions for my liking, and no external links/sources. EDIT I'm referring to your suggestion, I think that the OP should whittle down the number of suggestions. Some are better than others.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 29, 2016 at 18:16
  • @Mari-LouA Ah, yes. Btw, I used to edit others' answers to suit my style of reading, but after a meta questioning my edits, I realized my mistake and decided to comment instead of edit.
    – NVZ
    May 29, 2016 at 18:27
  • 1
    Feel free on any of mine.
    – The Nate
    May 29, 2016 at 18:27
  • This has nothing to do with winner take all.
    – Lambie
    May 29, 2016 at 19:44


  1. marked by destructive or ruthless competition; without self-restraint, ethics, etc.: It's a dog-eat-dog industry.


  • used to describe a situation in which people will do anything to be successful, even if what they do harms other people:

Seven dogs after the same bone would probably result first in a short “feeding frenzy” followed by a “free-for-all”, full of sound and flying fur.

feeding frenzy noun (competition)
a fierce competition between people who all want the same thing
(from Cambridge Dictionary Online)

free-for-all n.
1. A disorderly fight, argument, or competition in which everyone present participates
(from American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language via The Free Dictionary by Farlex [with emphasis added])

  • It doesn't mean a free for all. It means for every bone, there are seven dogs vying for it.
    – Lambie
    May 29, 2016 at 19:52

Thank you for all the suggestions, guys. As you probably noticed I'm a newbie in this site and a bit ignorant on how this works, so, I'm sorry for any mistake.

I wrote on the OP "Seven dogs to a bone" because it seemed the most adequate term for the translation. "Seven dogs after a bone" I think would come from the Portuguese "Sete cães atrás de um osso", the adverb meaning to go after.

"Seven dogs to a bone", translating directly to Portuguese, I'd say it would be "Sete cães para um osso", which I consider to be the same as "a um osso". I understand the association between the proposition "a" and the verb "atirar", though. Also, there might be minor differences between Portuguese from Brazil and Portuguese from Portugal. Internationally, it is always considered the Brazilian as the official language.

Pigs at a trough.

Dogs fighting over a bone.

These are, for me at least, the phrases that better illustrate the situation I described.

Thanks again.


  • So it’s more about expressing the intensity of the competition? If that’s the case, maybe “The competition is [as] stiff as a bone” would work, and in the example of the group of lonely love-starved guys hovering around the attention-starved gal there’d possibly be some double entendre in play to boot! CC: @Lambie
    – Papa Poule
    May 30, 2016 at 20:45
  • "Internationally, it is always considered the Brazilian as the official language." I don't believe this statement is clear. Do you mean to say that internationally, Brazilian Portuguese is the official variety of Portuguese? If that's your meaning, then I believe you should find references to prove it because I have never heard of such a thing... Oct 7, 2016 at 13:14
  • ... In fact, I believe the European Portuguese is favoured in Europe while Brazilian Portuguese is favoured elsewhere (from my contact with the language abroad), and this is mostly because of the number of people speaking each variety of the language. Much like American English is favoured over British English, while neither having 'official' status when it comes to international use. Oct 7, 2016 at 13:15

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