What is an idiom/phrase for achieving just the tip of the iceberg?
For example:

Winning the battle but that is just the beginning of the long war. The achiever is aware that this is just the end of the beginning, nothing more.

  • 2
    Is the achiever aware that it is just the end of the beginning, or do they believe they have accomplished more?
    – Theodore
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 18:45
  • 1
    @Theodore yes, achiever is aware.
    – Shad
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 18:51
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    Have you seen this site? idioms.thefreedictionary.com/scratch+the+surface ?
    – user379412
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 4:36
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    Your own phrase “tip of the iceberg” works.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 7:12
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    @Lawrence are we allowed to answer with suggestions the OP included? I'd say go for it with a quick explanation why it fits. It also implies something much bigger (and foreboding perhaps) than the currently selected answer of "a journey of a thousand miles..."
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 17:00

8 Answers 8


You could use make a dent in (something)

(figurative) to make a small amount of progress with something.

I have been slaving all day, and I have hardly made a dent in my work.

[The Free Dictionary]


This project is very big and complicated, and so far I have only scratched the surface.

to scratch the surface:

to deal with only a very small part of a subject or a problem.

(Cambridge Dictionary)


Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps,
the end of the beginning.

Winston Churchill

Wikipedia says the address came after the Battle of el Alamein, but for some reason I keep thinking it was referring to another battle...

As you may recall, the 1942-3 Battle for the Libyan desert went back and forth a couple or few times...the final battle ended Rommel's domination in Northern Africa; he was subsequently recalled.

This was widely cheered by British people (and indeed by much of the free world), and the quote from Churchill's speech comes down to us through history to become the well-known phrase.

Compare that with Gen. Westmoreland's

light at the end of the tunnel

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    The link to Gen. Westmoreland is extremely topical, and worth a click. Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 20:00

There are a few idioms that come to mind:

  • This was a mere taste of what is to come
  • We barely scratched the surface
  • This was only the opening [chapter] (of our story, of our campaign, of this war)

Having your work cut out for you could work here. The phrase was originally meant to evoke a tailor having fabric cut out in preparation for the harder task of making a garment, so it carries a connotation of the easy part being finished and the hard part being about to begin.



"We achieved the smallest possible success."


If you are speaking with a technical crowd you might say that you've completed the "alpha", "beta" or "mvp" i.e. the minimum viable product.


A common poetic phrase for this is "The journey has just begun." The journey might be real or metaphorical, but it does imply a final destination or goal to be achieved.

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