ri·val·ry | \ ˈrī-vəl-rē \
plural rivalries

Definition of rivalry 

: the act of rivaling : the state of being a rival : competition

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On rivals, rivaling, and rivalry

The word rival most commonly refers to a person or group that tries to defeat or be more successful than another person or group, which means that rivals tend to come in pairs. Candidates running for the same political office are political rivals, and two people trying to earn the exclusive affection of a third are romantic rivals. Teams, schools, or companies might be longtime rivals if they try over many years to outdo each other.

Rival can also mean “equal” or “peer.” When the word is used in this way it's usually conveying how good or impressive something or someone is. For example, "a country musician the rival of any in the world" is as good as the best country musicians in the world. Often a negating word is added to assert superiority, as in "a country musician without rival."

As a verb, rival typically has a meaning that relates to this latter sense of the noun. The verb is most often used to say that someone or something possesses qualities or aptitudes that approach or equal those of another. For example, for one country musician to be rivaling another, the first country musician must be as good as or nearly as good as the other musician. (Note that in U.S. English, the verb's forms are usually spelled rivaled and rivaling; in British English rivalled and rivalling are preferred.)

The noun rivalry has to do with the state or situation in which rivals (usually in the “competitor” sense) exist, or in which rivaling happens. In politics we have political rivalries, and in matters of the heart there are romantic rivalries. Sibling rivalry exists when there is competition or jealousy between sisters or brothers.

Examples of rivalry in a Sentence

There is a bitter rivalry between the two groups. a strong sense of rivalry

Recent Examples on the Web

Maybe, but recent history has not supported the idea composure will be an asset in the rivalry game. Jon Hale, The Courier-Journal, "How Kentucky football can win (or lose) against Louisville in 2018," 13 July 2018 In 2007, Ole Miss administrators planned to extend Ed Orgeron’s head coaching stint at the school to a fourth year before his team blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in a rivalry game against Mississippi State. Ross Dellenger, SI.com, "The Never-Before-Told Story of Kelly Orgeron, Colorful Wife of LSU's Colorful Head Coach," 2 July 2018 The schedule features few challenges outside of a road contest at Oklahoma and rivalry games against Air Force and Navy. Matt Murschel, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Army on verge of third straight winning season, Black Knights No. 55 in 2018 preseason college football rankings," 2 July 2018 But there is also a sibling rivalry that is unmistakable and that the audience eats up. Andrew Craft, Fox News, "Donny and Marie Osmond on Vegas legacy: Our job is to entertain, not preach," 19 June 2018 Hopkins and Maryland hosted their 180th rivalry game. Recode Staff, Recode, "Full transcript: Investor and lacrosse player Paul Rabil on Too Embarrassed to Ask," 18 June 2018 Another chapter in the giant book that is the rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox has been written. Charles Curtis, For The Win, "11 photos and videos from the Yankees and Red Sox brawl," 12 Apr. 2018 But, off the field, a different type of rivalry has reigned for more than a century: what to call the world’s most popular sport. Billy Perrigo, Time, "Why Do Americans Call It Soccer Instead of Football? Blame England," 11 July 2018 With O'Connor now out of the picture in the midst of Louisville City's USL Cup defense and his now-former team in the middle of a deep run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, one of the best aspects of Louisville's rivalry with FC Cincinnati is gone. Patrick Brennan, Cincinnati.com, "See you in MLS: Louisville City FC coach James O'Connor bound for Orlando City SC," 29 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'rivalry.' 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 rivalry

1598, in the meaning defined above

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Phrases Related to rivalry

sibling rivalry

Statistics for rivalry

Last Updated

18 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for rivalry

The first known use of rivalry was in 1598

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More Definitions for rivalry



English Language Learners Definition of rivalry

: a state or situation in which people or groups are competing with each other


ri·val·ry | \ ˈrī-vəl-rē \
plural rivalries

Kids Definition of rivalry

: the state of trying to defeat or be more successful than another : competition


ri·val·ry | \ ˈrī-vəl-rē \
plural -ries

Medical Definition of rivalry 

1 : a competitive or antagonistic state or condition

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More from Merriam-Webster on rivalry

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for rivalry

Spanish Central: Translation of rivalry

Nglish: Translation of rivalry for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of rivalry for Arabic Speakers

Comments on rivalry

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alleviating pain or harshness

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