first down


plural first downs
: the first of a series of usually four downs (see down entry 5 sense 3a) in which a football team must net a 10-yard gain to retain possession of the ball
: a gain of a total of 10 or more yards within usually four downs giving the team the right to start a new series of downs

Examples of first down in a Sentence

They have first down on the 20-yard line. The pass was completed for a first down.
Recent Examples on the Web Two snaps later, Herbert scrambled up the middle and refused to slide, instead plowing forward for a first down. Jeff Miller, Los Angeles Times, 23 Nov. 2023 The sweet moment came midway through the game’s second quarter, when Kelce caught a perfect pass thrown by Mahomes that set Kansas City up for a first down just a few yards away from the end zone. Hannah Dailey, Billboard, 13 Oct. 2023 But the Bruins got the ball back after the Sun Devils couldn’t get a first down and intentionally took penalties on four consecutive plays to burn time off the clock. Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times, 12 Nov. 2023 But after picking up two first downs, the Patriots sputtered. Ben Volin,, 18 Sep. 2023 Hurts lined up for a sneak and was shoved forward just far enough for a first down. Louisa Thomas, The New Yorker, 28 Oct. 2023 But when the bodies were peeled off the pile, the ball was generously and inexplicably placed several inches forward, giving the Steelers a first down — and the victory. Houston Mitchell, Los Angeles Times, 24 Oct. 2023 The Razorbacks made one first down, on KJ Jefferson's 6-yard draw and his 8-yard completion to running back Rashod Dubinion, before having a negative play. Tom Murphy, Arkansas Online, 23 Oct. 2023 Senior running back Christopher Guzman provided three first-down runs on the drive, and following a Broncos punt, Guzman broke loose again for a 41-yard dash to the right side on first down before Anthony Mattar gave Del Norte its first lead with a 12-yard scoring run. Rick Hoff, San Diego Union-Tribune, 30 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'first down.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1885, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of first down was in 1885

Dictionary Entries Near first down

Cite this Entry

“First down.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!