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[free-fer-awl] /ˈfri fərˌɔl/
a fight, argument, contest, etc., open to everyone and usually without rules.
any competition or contested situation that is disordered, impulsive, or out of control:
a free-for-all at the buffet table.
Informal. any enterprise or field of endeavor in which various companies, countries, participants, etc., compete without restriction:
a price-cutting free-for-all among local stores.
open to everyone.
Origin of free-for-all
An Americanism dating back to 1880-85
1. brawl, fracas, scrap, melee, donnybrook. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for free-for-all
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • All we could do was to get into the free-for-all with the others.

    Shorty McCabe Sewell Ford
  • Then the pair of them were at it in a free-for-all that made the woods ring.

    Highways in Hiding George Oliver Smith
  • I must go as soon as the free-for-all is over, if not before.

  • It is a regatta, a free-for-all, devil-take-the-hindmost affair.

    East of Suez Frederic Courtland Penfield
  • One never knows what may happen in a free-for-all like this.

  • There will be no order or formality, but a jolly, free-for-all.

  • Teddy was never any good in a free-for-all; he always took Marys side.

    Beginners Luck Emily Hahn
  • In a second there would be a free-for-all fight, and he would be robbed of his vengeance.

    Martin Eden Jack London
  • The method pursued was to read a chapter, and follow with a free-for-all exposition of it.

    Around Old Bethany

    Robert Lee Berry
British Dictionary definitions for free-for-all


(informal) a disorganized brawl or argument, usually involving all those present
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for free-for-all

"mass brawl" (one in which all may participate), 1881.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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