Achilles' Heel – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to describe the mortal weakness of someone who is all-powerful or perfect in all other ways? The phrase you're looking for is "Achilles' heel". Read on to discover where the phrase came from and how to use it in a sentence.


The phrase Achilles' heel is also sometimes spelled Achilles heel, without the apostrophe.

It originates from Greek mythology. The hero Achilles was fated to die at a young age. His mother immersed him in the river Styx to render him immortal. She held him by the foot, however, and missed his heel. That became his vulnerable spot.

An Achilles' heel means, as such, a mortal or hidden weakness.

​​​Example Usage

Are you wondering how you could incorporate the phrase "Achilles' heel" into your everyday language? These examples will demonstrate:

  • "John is a millionaire, a philanthropist, and an upstanding member of society. He does have one weakness. Gambling isn't just his vice, but his Achilles' heel."
  • "That unlocked window turned out to be her Achilles' heel. Everything else was locked down, but the burglar still made his way in."
  • "You can win the match! Watch your opposing team's previous games and try to find out what their Achilles' heel"


The tale of Achilles is an important part of Greek mythology, which arose and continued to evolve during the period of the Ancient Greeks. The Ancient Greek civilization can be said to have lasted from the twelfth century before the common era to around 600 CE.

The story is usually told like this. The Greek hero Achilles was fated to die prematurely. His mother dipped him into the magical river Styx as an infant, hoping that this would grant him immortality. She held the infant by his heel.

Because of that, that part of Achilles' body remained untouched. It was his weak spot; the only place one could use to kill him.

Achilles' grew up to be a strong man who was victorious in many battles. He eventually died to an arrow to the heel.

The story of Achilles was known for centuries, and many different variations exist. The phrase Achilles' heel didn't emerge until 1840, when it was first used to describe Ireland as England's Achilles' heel.

The phrase remains well-known today, and can be used to describe a unique vulnerability in an otherwise strong or capable person.

Interestingly, the part of the heel by which Achilles was held up as he was dipped into the river Styx is now medically known as the Achilles tendon.

​Phrases Similar to Achilles' Heel

If you're looking for other phrases that convey the same meaning, you don't have many alternatives.

Instead of Achilles' heel, you could just say "biggest weakness" or "hidden vulnerability".

​Phrases Opposite to Achilles' Heel

The phrase Achilles' heel doesn't have any antonyms.

You may, however, say that someone who otherwise seems ordinary or even weak has "hidden talents". This is the closest you'll get to an antonym.

​​What Is the Correct Saying?

The correct saying is "Achilles' heel". The variation "Achilles heel" is also in use. An Achilles' heel is someone's mortal or hidden weakness.

​​​Ways People May Say Achilles' Heel Incorrectly

The phrase "Achilles' heel" is overused. If someone has an inconsequential weakness, don't refer to it as an Achilles' heel. Save that for truly serious weaknesses or vulnerabilities, especially if they are also largely hidden.

​​​Acceptable Ways to Phrase Achilles' Heel

You can use the phrase Achilles' heel to talk about someone's hidden weak spot — the one thing that can defeat that person or bring them down. If you are brave enough to admit to a mortal weakness, you can also talk about your own Achilles' heel.

You don't have to stick to individuals; teams, companies, organizations, and governments can also have an Achilles' heel.

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