Useful Phrases for Luck in English for Learners

Useful English Phrases about Luck for Learners

As luck would have it, you have just found a great article about lots of the phrases we use about LUCK! Lucky you!

Here are the sections we will have a look at:

General Ideas - Part 1

  • Describing Luck as an important factor
  • Asking for Luck
  • Sarcasm about Luck
  • Specific Luck References

Big List of Good and Bad Luck Phrases - Part 2

  • Luck that happened
  • Luck that might happen
  • Luck that was merited
  • Luck that was not merited or worked for
  • Wishing luck on others
  • Announcing luck
  • Referring to a change of luck
  • Describing a longer period of luck
  • Reacting to luck
  • The interfering gods
  • When you feel differently about another person’s luck
  • Predicting luck

Part 1: General Ideas about Luck

Describing Luck as an important factor

There are a few ways to describe situations where luck becomes the biggest factor, here are some of the most common!

The luck of the draw
“There is no way to know where we will be sitting, it’s complete luck of the draw.”

The draw refers to a situation of ‘drawing lots’. This is when something is organized by chance. For example, when there is a sports competition and they have to decide who plays who, well there is a ‘draw’. On TV they even show the “Champions League Draw” etc.

Murphy’s Law
“It’s Murphy’s Law that what can go wrong, will go wrong.”

This is not necessarily that life is about luck but that bad luck is part of life. On the one hand, the phrase could be used for foreseeable problems but many times it refers to possible but improbable events that really can be considered ‘bad luck’ to have happened right at that particular moment!

It (comes/boils) down to luck (in the end./at the end of the day.)
“You can work as hard as you like, but it basically just boils down to luck at the end of the day.”

To boil down is a cooking term, where you keep boiling a pan until the water completely evaporates. We use it to mean “What is the essential factor?”. We can use it in different ways like “It simply boils down to hard work” or “It comes down to who you know not what you know.” In particular with luck, these expressions are about the need to resign yourself to the fate or destiny that is yours! Ha ha. Very fatalistic!

It’s in the lap of the gods

This means that whatever the outcome is going to be it is no longer in our control, and destiny or luck will decide what finally happens.

“We have done everything we possibly can to organize this outdoor wedding – now it’s all in the lap of the gods.” (referring to the weather specifically here)

Note: The word ‘lap’ is quite interesting, it means the top front part of the legs when we are sitting. So the flat part in front of our stomachs. We use it in various words/phrases: a laptop computer (not a desktop computer), a lapdog, a lapdancer, to sit in someone’s lap, to fall into your lap, in the lap of the gods, etc

Asking for or Invoking Luck

Do it for luck

Lots of people have their own little superstitions. My mum would make me stir the Christmas cake mix. Other people kiss or touch little objects. Or some professional athletes prepare themselves before a sporting event in the same way. They are doing it for luck. “I am wearing my favourite tie for (good) luck.”

Lucky Charm, etc

An extension of this are expressions like – “it’s my lucky charm/t-shirt/number etc”. So here we are hoping to become lucky! Common, or famous, lucky symbols and objects include; a 4-leaf clover, a rabbit’s foot and a horseshoe.

It brings me luck.

“I wear these shoes because they bring me luck.” Which you could say is the same as a lucky charm. But we also use this expression for actions. For example, “I always put my shoes in the bathroom because it brings me good luck.” There are also many things which bring bad luck, for example walking under a ladder, or a black cat crosses your path – or seven years of bad luck if you break a mirror!

Knock on / Touch wood

This phrase is said to stop any bad luck ruining a positive outcome or good situation. For example, “I will arrive at 6pm, touch wood.” “Touch wood I'll get that job!” Interestingly in other languages people touch different things, like in Italian they ‘touch iron’ (toccare ferro)!

Try your luck

This expression is used to describe why you might try something that is very unlikely – but not impossible! For example, “I didn’t have all the right qualifications, but I tried my luck anyway!”. We also use this expression to convince someone to try something - “Go on try your luck! What is the worst that can happen?”

On the off chance

Normally used to say you did something because you thought there was a possibility of it being advantageous, that you would be lucky.

I passed by on the off chance you were there, but you had already left.

On the off chance do you… ?/ By any luck do you…? / By any chance do you…?

This expression is normally used to frame a request that you think is going to be denied because it is unlikely to be possible or available. For example:

  • On the off chance do you have a spare bike helmet?
  • By any chance do you still have Anna’s phone number?
  • Or to ask about a fact that is probably untrue – with an implied request! For example:
  • By any luck do you pass near my house when you go home?

Sarcasm and Luck

Many of the phrases listed below can be used with a sarcastic voice or insincere feelings:

  • Oh I am sorry I got the last one, what bad luck for you.
  • Tough luck matey, looks like I got the job.
  • Looks like you got lucky again, you got another parking ticket.
  • (here the tone is friendly not aggressive, “poor you, bad luck”)

A very common expression that is used light-heartedly and as sarcasm is “good luck with that.”

  • “I am going to invite Marina to the party.”
    “Good luck with that! She won’t come.” (light-heartedly)

  • “If you think you can ignore me today but then be my ‘best friend’ tomorrow, well good luck with that!” (sarcasm).

Specific Luck References

Beginner’s Luck

We use this expression when someone has just begun something new and they get an instant positive result. It can often be used with games.

  • “I taught him how to play poker, and then in the first game we played he won everything – unbelievable beginner’s luck!”

  • “I made the best apple pie the first time I tried it... and then never again – classic beginner’s luck!”

Pot luck

This expression is used to say that we have to accept what is available at a given time. Maybe seats in a cinema, or what is for dinner, etc.

  • “When you are late to a party, it is always pot luck what food will still be available.”

  • “You can’t reserve a seat, it’s first come first served – so where you sit will be pot luck.”

Hard-luck story

This is a story told by someone (could be untrue) in order to gain your sympathy and normally then guilt you (manipulate you) into doing something.

“Well I have always been a hard-working person, and then one day I had an accident at work, and my insurance had run out just a week before and you know when you are busy you forget these little things and so I lost my job and then with no insurance money I lost my home and because of the accident I couldn’t work for a year and that is why I became homeless. Would you buy me a hot soup kind sir?”

Big List of Good and Bad Luck Phrases

A couple of points about these phrases:

Many phrases here can ALSO be used for situations where there was no luck – especially when luck was not specified.

EG What goes around comes around – can also be used that people intentionally act nicely or horribly because of the past – but also that there is a karmic force that will give you back what you gave

Many expressions can be used in different categories or can be changed slightly, or even polarity.

Eg “Luck wasn’t on my side” (bad luck that happened to me) can be used as “luck is on your side!” (announcing good luck for you)

Many expressions can be given a change of meaning or focus of attention with intonation (creating sarcasm, or irony, etc)

  • “Oh what BAD luck!” (maybe it was good luck actually)
  • “Oh what good luck for YOU.” (implies maybe bad luck for me)

Luck that happened

Describing luck that has happened to someone

Good Luck that happened

  • What a stroke of luck!
    • “Just as I parked the car and was about to get out, it stopped raining, what a stroke of luck! ”

  • To have something drop/fall into one’s lap : there is the idea here that the person who got lucky was very passive, and possibly there is a little bit of envy for their luck too…
    • “He wasn’t trying particularly hard to find a job and then that manager’s job kind of fell into his lap. Lucky sod.”

  • To luck out – to get very lucky
    • “You completely lucked out choosing your course, your teacher is fantastic.”

  • Completely by chance – when something completely unexpected or improbable happened, normally positive
    • “And then completely by chance I looked over the road and there was a bank open!”

Bad Luck that happened
  • What bad luck! - this is the standard phrase used to sympathise with someone else's bad luck.
    • “Oh no! Seriously, what bad luck! I can’t believe it! Poor you!”

  • No such luck – this phrase is often to describe your own bad luck in the past, normally when you were hoping for something but things didn’t happen as you wanted.
    • “So I went back to the shop to see if my phone was there, but no such luck. It’s lost!”

  • Luck wasn’t on my side – or it can be for anyone, but the phrase is often self-referential.
    • “I tried to pass the exam again, but luck just wasn’t on my side, I got the same horrible examiner!”

Luck that might happen

Good Luck that might happen

  • With a bit of luck! : here we are hoping that something good will happen if everything goes to plan, or goes very well, or smoothly.
    • “With a bit of luck we should be able to finish by Friday.”

  • With the luck of the gods: here we are hoping that things will happen in our favour
    • “With the luck of the gods I’ll get a great job and everything will be fine again!”

Bad Luck that might happen

  • With my luck: here we are predicting that because of my past experience with luck (it was bad mostly), my future luck will be bad too.
    • “With my luck there won’t be any space left.”

Luck that was Merited

Good Luck that was merited

  • You deserved that bit of luck!: using a ‘bit’ emphasises how the luck played a small part compared to your efforts.
    • “Well done, you worked really hard and deserved that bit of luck at the end.”

  • You earned that break.: a break is like a piece of fortune.
    • “He got lucky – but he earned that break with his positive attitude.”

  • Fortune smiles on the brave/good etc: a bit like the phrases, “who dares wins” and “you have to be in it to win it”, here good fortune comes to those who try.
    • “I studied hard and fortune smiled on my efforts that day.”

Bad Luck that was merited

  • Tried his luck one too many times... : Here we are saying that his bad luck was ‘merited’ because he had so often been undeservedly lucky in the past, approaching the idea of karma perhaps, see box below.
    • “It was unlucky that there was ice on the road, but really he had tried his luck too many times driving so fast along there.”

Note: Karma : Sometimes we have phrases similar to the idea of bad luck, but perhaps they refer more to the idea of karma. The idea that what you receive from the world depends on what you gave the world first. That could be positive or negative. One expression we have is "What goes around, comes around." Other phrases include: “he got his dues”, “he got his just desserts”, “she got what was coming to her.”

Luck that was not merited or worked for

Undeserved Good Luck

  • Some people have all the luck : the implication here is that some people get more than their fair share of good luck.
    • “Seriously some people get all the luck – last week he got a promotion and this week he won a car!”

  • More by accident than (by) design.: Here we are saying that a fortunate outcome might appear to be because of hard work or planning but in reality it was pure luck!
    • “I fixed the computer, but to be honest it was more by accident than design!”

  • More by luck than judgment: again the idea here is that something that could appear to be by skill was really achieved through luck.
    • “He created a multi-million dollar business but it was more by luck than by judgment!”

Undeserved Bad Luck

  • To never get a break: So the poor person gets bad luck that really was undeserved and unfair – not just bad luck. For example, when you do everything by the book but still the gods are against you.
    • “Seriously I never get a break, my second new car just got stolen too.”

  • The gods are laughing you: when your luck is so bad it appears that someone must be doing it on purpose.
    • “The gods must be laughing at me because just as I arrived the bus broke down.”

Wishing it on others

Wishing Good Luck On Others

  • Good luck! The most common way to wish someone good luck – how surprising!
    • “Good luck with your exam! You will need it!”

  • Break a leg! This expression seems to have originated in the theatre in the late nineteenth century. Actors would wish each other to ‘break a leg’ because to actually wish someone ‘good luck’ was considered ‘bad luck’! It is now used outside of the theatre, but still usually whenever the person is about to ‘perform’ in some way (eg an exam).
    • “Break a leg giving that business presentation later!”

  • May the force be with you! A phrase that comes straight from Star Wars (1977) although it wasn’t Obi-Wan Kenobe but General Dodonna who first said it. It’s used as a general wish of good luck when something is about to be carried out.
    • “Good luck with your in-laws this evening, May the Force be with you!”

  • Best of luck! A very common salutation and wishing of good luck.
    • “Best of luck with your new job!”

  • Fingers crossed! Said as a superstitious way to ward off bad luck in the future. Seems to have originally been done to ward off evil by the early Chrisitans. In 16th-century England it was used to guard against catching diseases and ailments. Now it has a general all-round purpose.
    • “Fingers crossed I get this finished on time!”

  • Knock on wood! we say this after we say a statement that we would like to stay true, or maybe become true, and for it to not be ruined by bad luck.
    • “The weather is looking great, knock on wood it stays like this.”

Wishing Bad Luck On Others

  • I hope you get your comeuppance! We say this when we hope someone will get the ‘punishment’, ‘karma’ or ‘bad luck’ that we feel is what they deserve for past actions.
    • “She always comes up smelling like roses, but one day she will get her comeuppance.”

Announcing luck

Announcing Good Luck

  • You’re in luck! We use this phrase to announce news of good luck – possibly when both the recipient and the speaker are surprised by the good fortune.
    • “Let me see if I have some cloves at the back here… oh you’re in luck! Here you go!”

  • Well as luck would have it... Here the speaker is not surprised at the luck the recipient is receiving – but appreciates that it wouldn’t always be possible.
    • “Well as luck would have it I have to drive to your neck of the woods so I can give you a lift!”

Announcing Bad Luck

  • I’ve got some bad news. This phrase is often not used about luck but it can be said when there is some unexpected or random – or if you like ‘unlucky’ - news.
    • “I’ve got some bad news I am afraid, the wind completely destroyed the little hut.”

  • You are out of luck. Here we are often announcing that something is not possible because of a strange event, or sequence of events. The implication is that on a different day, or on a normal day, things would have been ok.
    • “I just sold the last one, you’re out of luck today I’m afraid.”

Referring to a change of luck

A Change to Good Luck

  • Better luck next time! Normally said after a person has suffered some bad luck or misfortune and you are hoping they stay positive so as to try again.
    • “You didn’t pass the test, sorry, better luck next time!”

  • Third time lucky! Often we say this about our own actions that have failed twice and we want to get lucky on our next try!
    • “Here goes… I feel it in my bones… it’s going to be third time lucky!”

A Change to Bad Luck

  • For luck to hold out Used when we doubt the good luck is going to continue (to hold out) and things are going to go badly.
    • “She is going to find out the truth...I don’t think your luck is going to hold out much longer!”

  • to push your luck Used when we feel a person, or yourself even, is tempting fate and your continued good luck will change to bad luck at any moment!
    • “I think I would be pushing my luck if I continue to arrive late at work, my boss will start getting very angry.”

  • to run out of luck Here we are describing the actual change from a series of good luck that actually ends – can be past, present or a future prediction.
    • “He kept robbing houses until one day he ran out of luck and got caught.”

Describing a longer period of luck

Good Luck For a While

  • On a lucky streak. We use this when someone has a period of fantastic good luck – especially in sports and betting!
    • “They are on a real lucky streak – every referee’s decision seems to go their way!”

  • Turns to gold / Golden touch Not only about luck but about being successful – which we often attribute to having good luck.
    • “Everything he touches turns to gold – lucky sod!”

Bad Luck For a While

  • Down on your luck. This expression is used when a person is living a difficult period – not necessarily lots of bad luck, more likely that they have had single serious bits of bad luck: bad health, losing a job etc. The phrase also implies the person is helpless to escape the negative cycle.
    • “He has been down on his luck for a long time – I think if he gets a lucky break, hell be able to sort himself out.”

  • A run of bad luck to be in the middle of a string of bad luck and unlucky events.
    • “I have had such a run of bad luck… I feel jinxed! Everything I try to do goes pear-shaped through no fault of my own!”

  • Cursed by bad luck. the feeling that some black magic is following you around and there is nothing you can do about it.
    • “Everything I tried failed, I felt cursed by bad luck for many years.”

  • A string of bad luck A sequence of bad luck one after the other, without any real break between them.
    • “My whole life fell apart when I had a string of bad luck and everything turned upside down.”

  • Dogged by bad luck Here the idea is that bad luck is following you around and cannot be shaken off.
    • “The whole project was dogged by bad luck from day one – it was a nightmare and we never finished it.”

Reacting to luck

Reacting to Good Luck

  • Get in there! This exclamation is used for successes that are considered lucky or via skill – the idea is that there was a ‘success’.
    • “There’s one ticket left! Get in there!”

  • I’m on fire! This is used often in sports or betting especially when there is a lucky streak or a string of successes. It can be used for either skill or luck – or when there is a bit of both!
    • “Here I go… roll the dice… Three sixes! I am on fire! No stopping me now!”

  • Lucky you! Normally used for another person who has received some good luck. (Noteworthy for occasionally being used sarcastically too!)
    • “Oh lucky you! You got an extra big slice of cake!”

  • Thank heavens! Thank goodness! (etc) These expressions are used when there is a relief that your luck didn’t change (more than you had some good luck).
    • “Oh thank goodness you hadn’t posted that letter! I’ve changed my mind.”

Reacting to Bad Luck

  • Just my luck! Used to express resignation at a piece of luck, and to say that for you such bad luck is just normal.
    • “Just my luck – I run to catch the bus, I get on but then it’s the wrong bus.”

  • What rotten luck! Used to share sympathy with another person after they have had some bad luck and to express that the bad luck was particularly unfortunate or impactful.
    • “What rotten luck! How could you have possibly seen that car haring round the corner!”

The interfering gods

Good Luck From The Gods

  • The gods are with me Referring to ‘the gods’ nowadays can be a little comical or (melo)dramatic, and is obviously not taken as a serious belief!
    • “Tonight the gods are with us – and we will win!”

Bad Luck From The Gods

  • The gods are against me: I mean it is interesting that after centuries of monotheism these phrases have still stuck around – even if they are not particularly common. Maybe in part because Latin and Greek were still widely taught at schools up until only a generation or two ago.
    • “Nothing seems to work – the gods are against us!”

When you feel differently about another person’s luck

Good Luck That You Don't Like!

  • You lucky so-and-so: This is a little bit tongue-in-cheek, the amount of ‘envy’ could be quite small, even near zero possibly, but still there is a little bit of jealousy even if joking.
    • “So YOU got the promotion in the end… you lucky so-and-so! I thought I stood a great chance!”

  • You’re SO lucky! + It’s not fair! Often in conversation we use the conjunction ‘so’ to mean ‘very’ - especially if stressed. (Without the stress the stress it could imply a different usage of ‘so’.) The phrase here implies the person has continual luck, more than just a singular piece of luck. The speaker is not really jealous of the other person, almost they simply want them to appreciate how lucky they have been. Adding the “It’s not fair!” part is when the jealousy is emphasized.
    • “I can’t believe you won that, you are SO lucky. It’s not fair!”

  • Jammy sod: (British English) Here, in this informal/slang phrase we are really stressing how lucky someone was. Unbelievably so in fact!
    • “How did you get into the concert for free? You jammy sod!”

Bad Luck That You Do like!

  • Tough luck (not always sarcastic). This phrase can be said genuinely but it is often used sarcastically to indicate that the bad luck received made you happy.
    • “Oh yeah, tough luck about me getting that and not you.”

  • Them’s the breaks. (North American English) The general idea here is to express resignation at what has happened but it can also be used sarcastically to mean “the world can be cruel” so “just accept it”.
    • “Looks like she chose me over you, them’s the breaks hey?”

Predicting luck

Predicting Good Luck

  • I am feeling lucky! This is the standard phrase we use before our ‘luck is about to be tested’!
    • “I think I’ll buy a lottery ticket today – I am feeling particularly lucky!”

Predicting Bad Luck

  • Fat chance! This is a phrase we use when we feel that the possibility of a future event is not very likely, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is luck related but it often is.
    • “Fat chance that there are going to be tickets left the day before the concert!”

Thanks, I hope you got lucky and found some new phrases here!


Here are some links that could be of interest!

Check out: 9 Ways and 42 Phrases and Words That Give You Time To Think

Check out: Useful English Phrases About The Sea for Learners