rank and file


the members of a group or organization apart from its leaders or officers.

Origin of rank and file

First recorded in 1590–1600
Related formsrank-and-file, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for rank and file

majority, proletariat, forces

Examples from the Web for rank and file

Contemporary Examples of rank and file

Historical Examples of rank and file

  • The leaders were armed with rifles, but the rank-and-file carried only bowie-knives.

  • For the leaders, it may last a little longer than for the rank-and-file.

    The New Society

    Walther Rathenau

  • Below this group were the rank-and-file Party members, whose leadership role was constitutionally guaranteed.

  • They were followed by the great bulk of the rank-and-file of so-called Jewish Socialists.

  • Peel among his magnificent qualities had not the art of conciliating the rank-and-file of his supporters.

    The Earl of Beaconsfield

    James Anthony Froude

British Dictionary definitions for rank and file

rank and file


the ordinary soldiers of an army, excluding the officers
the great mass or majority of any group or organization, as opposed to the leadership
(modifier) of, relating to, or characteristic of the rank and filerank-and-file opinion; rank-and-file support
Derived Formsrank and filer, noun
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 rank and file

1590s, in reference to the horizontal and vertical lines of soldiers marching in formation; thence generalized to "common soldiers" (1796) and "common people" (1860).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

rank and file in Culture

rank and file

The people who form the major portion of any group or organization, excluding the leaders: “The rumors of corruption at the top disturbed the party's rank and file.” This phrase comes from military usage, where enlisted men march in ranks (close abreast) and files (one behind another), whereas officers march outside these formations.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with rank and file

rank and file

Followers, the general membership, as in This new senator really appeals to the rank and file in the labor unions. This expression comes from the military, where a rank denotes soldiers standing side by side in a row, and file refers to soldiers standing behind one another. The first recorded figurative use of this term was in 1860.

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