I have almost exclusively heard this phrase with a definite article, such as;

The key to success (in TARGET) is to do ACTION.

Is it valid to use it with a indefinite article, to emphasize that ACTION is not the only way to succeed (in TARGET), but just one of the ways that guarantees the success. In particular, I wonder if the following sentence sounds alright to a native, and conveying the meaning in the previous sentence:

I believe that timely breaks with friends are a key to success.

  • 3
    Do you think there is more than one key to success? Considering that key is a completely abstract metaphor, and success is a personal opinion, it seems silly to insist that there is only one such. The concept is wispy enough to support any variety of nonsense. Jul 16, 2020 at 17:50
  • "a key to success" is "some key, one of, maybe, many other keys, not particular one" "the key to success" is "that very key to success that you need" Jul 16, 2020 at 20:29

1 Answer 1


It is absolutely valid, yes, for exactly the reasons you say. "The key" refers to a specific thing, "a key" means one of many such things.

Although we often read "the key to success is (whatever)", obviously there are many important things that lead to success, so I look on such statements as dubious.

That said, in your example sentence, I feel like it would be stronger without the "a", and simply "Timely breaks with friends are key to success."

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