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See more synonyms for also-ran on Thesaurus.com
  1. Sports.
    1. (in a race) a contestant who fails to win or to place among the first three finishers.
    2. an athlete or team whose performance in competition is rarely, if ever, a winning or near-winning one.
  2. Informal. a person who loses a contest, election, or other competition.
  3. Informal. a person who attains little or no success: For every great artist there are a thousand also-rans.
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Origin of also-ran

First recorded in 1895–1900
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for also-ran


  1. a contestant, horse, etc, failing to finish among the first three in a race
  2. an unsuccessful person; loser or nonentity
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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

Word Origin and History for also-ran


1896, originally in reference to horse-races, from also + past tense of run (v.). Probably from the way non-placing horses were listed in race results.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with also-ran


Loser, failure, unsuccessful individual, as in Jane feared that her candidate, a terrible speaker, would end up as an also-ran, or As for getting promotions, Mark counted himself among the also-rans. This term comes from racing, where it describes a horse that finishes in fourth place or lower or does not finish a race at all. It first appeared in the 1890s in published racing results, and has since been transferred to losers in any kind of competition, and also more broadly to persons who simply don't do well.

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.