rear·​guard | \ ˈrir-ˌgärd How to pronounce rearguard (audio) \

Definition of rearguard

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: of or relating to resistance especially to sweeping social forces fought a rearguard action against automation

rear guard

\ ˈrir-ˈgärd How to pronounce rear guard (audio) , -ˌgärd \

Definition of rear guard (Entry 2 of 2)

: a military detachment detailed to bring up and protect the rear of a main body or force

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As a noun, rearguard refers to the soldiers that are stationed at the rear of a body to protect it from attack especially during retreat. (The troops at the front are called the vanguard.) A rearguard action, then, is the defensive or delaying fight waged as resistance against the encroaching enemy. It is through figurative extension that the phrase rearguard action, and consequently rearguard as an adjective, has become applied to other means of indirect resistance, often by a small force against a more powerful one.

Examples of rearguard in a Sentence

Adjective The army fought a courageous rearguard action.
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Mr Johnson’s Brexit plans have been sidelined in order to fight a rearguard action against a disease that is locking down the country and tanking the economy. The Economist, 8 Apr. 2020 The company has been fighting something of a rearguard action against the outcry over its polices, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg appearing in front of Congress earlier this month., 25 Apr. 2018 Indeed, Justice Clarence Thomas continues to fight a rearguard action against the clause as applied to the states. Garrett Epps, The Atlantic, 9 July 2017 The rearguard action was led by the 31-year-old Miller, who has exercised outside influence over the summit's response to the worst refugee crisis since World War II., 26 May 2017 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The stalwarts of yore are dismissed as old media, a feeble rear guard that leads from behind. Paul Blanchard, Rolling Stone, 18 Mar. 2021 But some rear guard enemy elements still were believed inside Seoul. Merrie Monteagudo, San Diego Union-Tribune, 14 Mar. 2021 According to historical accounts, the battle broke out when Saladin’s forces attacked the enemy’s rear guard. Alex Fox, Smithsonian Magazine, 10 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'rearguard.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of rearguard


1898, in the meaning defined above


1659, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for rearguard


Middle French reregarde, from Old French, from rere + garde guard

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The first known use of rearguard was in 1659

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Cite this Entry

“Rearguard.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Jul. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of rearguard

: fought or conducted by a group of soldiers at the rear of an army especially during a retreat


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