Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Today you’ll learn some impressive English vocabulary.

Has anyone ever helped you get a leg up in life?

In today’s episode, a listener asks what ‘ride someone’s coattails’ means.

Listen in and learn what this means.

We also touch on culture and society when it comes to becoming successful in your life and career.

Famous parents and children

Michelle asks Lindsay if she likes it when a well-known celebrity’s child becomes famous.

She’s also curious if Lindsay feels they deserve it.

Lindsay responds and says that she thinks the child of the celebrity should be famous for something they’ve done themselves and not just because of their parent.

Michelle adds that she agrees but it is very common for children of famous people to be at an advantage because of the legacy of their parents.

This has been widely talked about not only in the showbiz industry but also in academic institutions.

This topic leads to a great listener question.

Today’s question

Dears, I have a quick question: what does ‘ride on someone’s coattails’ mean? I grasped that it’s having success due to someone else associated with you. But does it exclude one’s efforts? And can it mean to follow in their footsteps?
Best regards,


Benefits from someone else’s success

To ‘ride on someone’s coattails’ does mean you gained success due to being related or associated with someone famous or successful.

Lindsay and Michelle will dive deeper into what this means and how to use it properly.

In relation to today’s topic, you may listen to a previous episode: AEE 2058: Five Years Down the Road – Future Plans in English.

Ride someone’s coattails

To ‘ride someone’s coattails’ means to benefit from another’s success.

Lindsay asks Michelle if she thinks this expression has a positive or negative connotation.

Michelle explains that the imagery of the expression sounds like a person is riding on the back of something and being dragged.

Coattails are the long back of a tuxedo.

It’s good to try and use imagery to learn what an expression means.

It will help you understand it better.

Lindsay shares that ‘ride someone’s coattails’ can have a negative connotation but it really depends.

American culture is always adamant about making your own path and achieving things yourself.

Everyone needs help

But, in reality, you don’t do things all by yourself.

Somewhere along the way, there will be people who help you or an association with someone else can contribute to your success somehow.

There is nothing wrong with helping each other.

This is mostly a systemic issue and it really depends on how you look at things.

Someone can be respected if they ride someone’s coattails if they prove their value.

Here are some examples:

  • She rode her sister’s coattails to get the job, but once she showed she wasn’t a hard worker, they let her go.
  • The team rode on their predecessors’ coattails to get sponsorships, but they didn’t actually win any games.

Following someone’s footsteps

Molly also asked if ‘riding someone’s coattails’ is the same as ‘following in someone’s footsteps.’

Michelle says this is generally different and does not have a negative connotation.

Lindsay agrees with this.

Today we share other expressions that are associated with the phrases brought up by Molly with a sample sentence.

#1: To prove oneself

This means you might have to do whatever it takes to be successful even if you rode on the coattails.


Her father got her the job, but she still needs to prove herself.

#2: Nepotism

This is often heard in the political realm.

It means that you get into a high position because you are from a famous bloodline or you’re related to a powerful family.


Nepotism is frowned upon in the company.

#3: To have friends in high places

This means that you know someone who can give you an advantage in life or business.


She has friends in high places, so it’s easy for her to get job offers.


A roleplay shared by Lindsay and Michelle will help you see how to use today’s topic in a conversation.

In this scenario, Lindsay and Michelle are coworkers gossiping about their other teammates.

Lindsay: So did you know her dad is the Dean?
Michelle: Wait, really? I wish I could get a job using nepotism.
Lindsay: Haha. Yeah but she will still have to prove herself. This isn’t an easy job.
Michelle: True. Maybe she’s talented and not just riding on her dad’s coattails.
Lindsay: Yeah. It helps to have friends in high places.
Michelle: For sure.


We all need a little help sometimes but sometimes nepotism goes overboard.

Achieving success can be difficult and it can happen in many different ways.

You shouldn’t be afraid of getting help but you still have to put in the effort so you don’t rely entirely upon the help of others.

Making connections and fostering relationships are indeed valuable.

Use it properly and make sure you also extend help to others if you’re needed.

Is nepotism common in your culture?

Share what you think about today’s topic in the comments below.

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