'Success Story' or 'Successful Story'? What Is the Difference? | Mastering Grammar

(Last Updated: 7 March 2024)

Success Story vs Successful Story: Understanding the Difference

A success story typically refers to a real-life account of a person, company, or organisation that has achieved great success, often overcoming obstacles or adversity:

✅ J.K. Rowling's journey from living on state benefits to becoming a best-selling author is often cited as the quintessential rags-to-riches success story.

✅ The small start-up's transformation into a leading tech company is a true success story.

✅ His weight loss journey became a success story shared by many as inspiration.

✅ The success story of the local football team, going from last place to champions, is truly remarkable.

A successful story, on the other hand, generally refers to a narrative, such as a novel, movie, or play, that has achieved popularity, critical acclaim, or commercial success:

Hernan Diaz wrote a successful story that earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

✅ As a writer, he always dreamt of writing a successful story.

✅ Despite being her debut novel, the author's compelling narrative and relatable characters combined to form a successful story that landed on the bestseller lists.

✅ With its unique setting in a dystopian future, the novel presented a successful story that defied traditional literary conventions and attracted a diverse readership.

In summary, success story is used to describe real-life achievements, while successful story is typically used for narratives or creative works that have attained some form of success.

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Examples from the Media

Taylor Jenkins Reid writes her own Hollywood success story. Toronto Star (2023)

A young woman's success story made me realise the stress had been worth it. —The Guardian (2016)

"Souvenir," in which a young academic comes home to help her mother face death, is the most successful story in the book. The Washington Post (1979)

Later Dorland discovered the reason why Larson had written a short story about an entitled white woman who gives away a kidney and imposes herself on the donor, expecting to be bowed to as a saviour. It was a successful story that was picked up for publication and it included a thinly veiled copy of Dorland's letter to her donor recipient, which, of course, had been posted publicly by Dorland herself. —The Sydney Morning Herald (2021)


Choose the correct option to complete each sentence.

1. The city's revitalisation of the downtown area has been hailed as an urban planning success story/successful story.

2. The author wrote a success story/successful story that captivated millions of readers around the world.

3. Steve Jobs' success story/successful story is often cited as a source of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs around the world.

4. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is a success story/successful story that captures the essence of the American dream and the roaring twenties.

5. That non-profit organisation is a success story/successful story; it started with a small idea and now impacts thousands of people in the community.

6. The biotech firm's discovery of a new vaccine is a modern science success story/successful story.

Answer Key

1. success story    2. successful story    3. success story    4. successful story    5. success story    6. success story

Recommended Further Reading

'Succeed', 'Success', 'Successful', or 'Successfully'?

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