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

For those invested in one particular baseball rivalry, there’s some intrigue in determining which of the Yankees and Red Sox will win the AL East and which will need to win the Wild Card game to get to the proper playoffs. Ted Berg, For The Win, "The American League postseason races could be historically boring," 5 July 2018 Wisconsin has owned Minnesota in the longstanding rivalry, winning 14 straight meetings to keep Paul Bunyan's Axe in near-permanent residency in Madison (and 21 of 23 meetings overall). Jr Radcliffe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "NFL linebacker and Waukesha West alumnus Joe Schobert has some fun at Minnesota's expense," 22 Apr. 2018 The Cowboys lead the all-time series between the teams 16-12 but the Saints have won four of the past five contests in the rivalry. Jeff Duncan, NOLA.com, "New Orleans Saints to visit Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night, Nov. 29," 19 Apr. 2018 The best subplot to the change is rooted in Washington's rivalry with Oregon, a Nike program. azcentral, "Washington Huskies leaving Nike for adidas, sign 7th-largest college apparel deal," 10 Apr. 2018 Macedonia has been wracked by political crisis for more than three years, marked by a bitter rivalry between Gruevski and current Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Konstantin Testorides, The Seattle Times, "Macedonia’s fugitive ex-PM says granted asylum in Hungary," 20 Nov. 2018 Geopolitics also factored into their political rivalry. Jen Kirby, Vox, "Dueling prime ministers and assassination plots: an escalating crisis in Sri Lanka," 1 Nov. 2018 Rouhani's speech was dominated by Iran's bitter rivalry with the U.S. which under Trump has withdrawn from a 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers that provided sanctions relief to Tehran. Matthew Pennington, Fox News, "At UN this year, it's Trump versus the world," 25 Sep. 2018 While 17-time major winner Rafael Nadal and 12-time major winner Novak Djokovic renew their rivalry for the 52nd time in one semifinal Friday, Kevin Anderson and John Isner meet in the other. Editors, USA TODAY, "Trump visits Queen Elizabeth II, Wimbledon semifinals, Supermoon Solar Eclipse: 5 things to know Friday," 13 July 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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Statistics for rivalry

Last Updated

23 Jan 2019

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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

What made you want to look up rivalry? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a complex dispute or argument

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