Understanding the Spanish Idiom: "dormirse en los laureles" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: Spanish

Like many idioms, dormirse en los laureles has an interesting backstory. The phrase dates back to ancient Greece when victorious athletes were crowned with wreaths made from laurel leaves. Over time, this tradition spread throughout Europe and became associated with military victories as well. In Spain, generals who won battles were often awarded laurel crowns as a symbol of their triumphs.

The Meaning and Usage of “Dormirse en los Laureles”

So what does dormirse en los laureles mean? Literally translated, it means “to fall asleep on your laurels”. Figuratively speaking, it refers to someone who becomes complacent or lazy after achieving success or recognition. This idiom is often used to caution against resting on one’s past accomplishments instead of continuing to strive for excellence.

To better understand how to use this idiom in context, let’s look at an example sentence: Juan acaba de recibir un ascenso y ahora no trabaja tan duro como antes – se está durmiendo en sus laureles. (Juan just got promoted and now he doesn’t work as hard as before – he’s resting on his laurels.) In this case, “dormirse en los laureles” is used to describe Juan’s lack of motivation after achieving a career milestone.

Key Takeaways:
– Idioms are phrases that have a figurative meaning that differs from their literal interpretation.
– “Dormirse en los laureles” means “to fall asleep on your laurels”.
– The idiom cautions against becoming complacent or lazy after achieving success or recognition.

Origins and Historical Context of the Spanish Idiom

The phrase dormirse en los laureles is a common idiom in the Spanish language that refers to someone who becomes complacent or rests on their laurels after achieving success. This idiom has its roots in ancient Greek mythology, where victors in athletic competitions were awarded wreaths made from bay leaves, also known as laurel leaves.

Ancient Greek Mythology

In ancient Greece, winning an athletic competition was considered a great honor and athletes were rewarded with wreaths made from bay leaves. These wreaths symbolized victory and were worn by the winners as a sign of their achievement. The tradition of using laurel leaves as a symbol of victory continued throughout history and was adopted by other cultures.

Adoption into Spanish Language

The phrase dormirse en los laureles first appeared in the Spanish language during the 16th century. It was used to describe soldiers who became complacent after winning battles and stopped training for future conflicts. Over time, this phrase evolved to refer to anyone who became lazy or complacent after achieving success.

  • The idiom can be used in various contexts such as sports, business or personal life.
  • It is often used as a cautionary tale against becoming too comfortable or resting on one’s achievements.
  • The use of this idiom emphasizes the importance of continuing hard work even after achieving success.

Usage and Variations of the Spanish Idiom “dormirse en los laureles”

The Spanish idiom dormirse en los laureles is a commonly used expression that refers to someone who becomes complacent or lazy after achieving success. The phrase literally translates to “to fall asleep on one’s laurels,” with “laurels” referring to the wreaths of leaves awarded in ancient Greece as a symbol of victory.


While the core meaning remains consistent, there are variations of this idiom used in different regions of Spain and Latin America. In some places, it may be shortened to simply quedarse en los laureles or “descansar en los laureles.”


This idiom can be applied in various contexts, from personal achievements to business success. It warns against becoming too comfortable with past accomplishments and failing to continue striving for improvement. For example, a sports team that wins a championship but then fails to train hard for the next season could be accused of having dormido en los laureles.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Spanish Idiom “dormirse en los laureles”


Some possible synonyms for dormirse en los laureles include:

  • Descansar sobre los laureles (resting on one’s laurels)
  • Darse por satisfecho (being satisfied with what one has achieved)
  • Dejar de esforzarse (ceasing to make an effort)

These phrases all convey a similar idea of becoming complacent or stagnant after achieving success.


On the other hand, some antonyms for dormirse en los laureles might include:

  • Mantenerse activo (staying active)
  • Seguir adelante (moving forward)
  • No conformarse con lo logrado (not settling for what has been achieved)

These phrases emphasize the importance of continuing to work hard and strive for improvement even after achieving success.

Cultural Insights

The phrase dormirse en los laureles is often used in Spanish-speaking cultures as a cautionary tale against becoming complacent or resting on one’s past achievements. It is important to continue working hard and striving for improvement rather than becoming content with past successes. This mindset reflects values such as perseverance, ambition, and continuous self-improvement that are highly valued in many Hispanic cultures.

Practical Exercises for the Spanish Idiom “dormirse en los laureles”

1. Role-play scenarios

One effective way to practice using the idiom is by role-playing different scenarios with a partner or group. For example, you could act out a situation where someone has become complacent at work and is no longer putting in effort towards achieving their goals. Use the idiom dormirse en los laureles to describe their behavior and discuss possible consequences.

2. Writing prompts

Another useful exercise is writing prompts that incorporate the idiom into a story or essay. This will help you develop your understanding of its meaning and usage while also improving your writing skills in Spanish.

3. Vocabulary building

To fully grasp the meaning of dormirse en los laureles, it’s important to have a strong vocabulary related to success, achievement, and motivation. Make flashcards or use online resources to learn new words that are commonly associated with these topics.

4. Real-world examples

Finally, pay attention to how native speakers use the idiom in real-life situations such as news articles or TV shows. Take note of context clues and try to identify why they chose this particular phrase over others.

By incorporating these practical exercises into your language learning routine, you’ll be well on your way towards mastering the Spanish idiom dormirse en los laureles.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Spanish Idiom “dormirse en los laureles”

When using the Spanish idiom dormirse en los laureles, it is important to avoid common mistakes that can lead to misunderstandings or confusion. This idiom, which translates to “resting on one’s laurels” in English, refers to becoming complacent and failing to continue working hard after achieving a certain level of success.

Mistake #1: Taking the Idiom Literally

The first mistake to avoid when using this idiom is taking it too literally. While the phrase mentions laurels, it does not actually refer to physical plants or trees. Instead, it is a metaphor for past achievements that should not be relied upon as an excuse for laziness or lack of effort.

Mistake #2: Using It Inappropriately

Another common mistake is using this idiom in inappropriate contexts. For example, if someone has just achieved a major accomplishment and you tell them not to dormirse en los laureles, it may come across as insulting or dismissive of their achievement. This idiom is best used when warning someone against becoming complacent after they have already achieved some level of success.

Mistakes To Avoid: Correct Usage:
Taking the phrase literally Understanding the metaphorical meaning behind the phrase
Using it in inappropriate contexts Using it as a warning against complacency after achieving success

By avoiding these common mistakes and using the idiom dormirse en los laureles appropriately, you can effectively communicate a warning against complacency and encourage continued hard work and effort.

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