tug of war

See synonyms for tug of war on Thesaurus.com
  1. an athletic contest between two teams at opposite ends of a rope, each team trying to drag the other over a line.

  2. a hard-fought, critical struggle for supremacy.

Origin of tug of war

1670–80 for def. 2; 1875–80 for def. 1

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use tug of war in a sentence

  • For a couple of seconds there was a tug-of-war—pull boy, pull pig, and then the hat tore apart.

  • It was the tug-of-war being played with a life as the stakes.

    Auld Licht Idylls | J. M. Barrie
  • It is a tug-of-war, your skill and strength against the muscles of the animal inside the tight shells.

    On the Seashore | R. Cadwallader Smith
  • A nervous tug-of-war was taking place between her right and left hand, with a twisted-up pair of ecru gloves for the cable.

    The Shadow | Arthur Stringer
  • He remembered his watch, his money, and clothes, never recovered after that memorable tug-of-war.

    The Young Pitcher | Zane Grey

British Dictionary definitions for tug-of-war


  1. a contest in which two people or teams pull opposite ends of a rope in an attempt to drag the opposition over a central line

  2. any hard struggle, esp between two equally matched factions

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

Other Idioms and Phrases with tug of war

tug of war

A struggle for supremacy, as in There's a constant political tug of war between those who favor giving more power to the states and those who want a strong federal government. Although there is an athletic contest also so named, in which participants holding either end of a rope try to pull each other across a dividing line, the present usage, first recorded in 1677, predates it by about two centuries. The noun tug itself means “a strenuous contest between two sides,” and war refers to fighting, either physical or figurative.

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