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

Definition of rivalry 

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Sequoia, which has a growing rivalry with SoftBank, has no backing from PIF in its new late-stage funds, according to a person familiar with the arrangement, despite its KAUST ties. Theodore Schleifer, Recode, "Why Silicon Valley investors just can’t quit Saudi money," 25 Oct. 2018 The ever-charming Tom Selleck, some friendly sibling rivalry, and the weekly family dinners that bring all the Reagans together. Megan Stein, Country Living, "‘Blue Bloods’ Star Bridget Moynahan Says Those Family Dinner Scenes Have a Hidden Meaning," 20 Oct. 2018 Trade tensions have recently been joined by disputes over territorial claims in the South China Sea, military cooperation and espionage, threatening to turn what had been a rivalry into open confrontation between Washington and Beijing. Vivian Salama, WSJ, "Trump Accuses China of Trying to Interfere in U.S. Elections," 26 Sep. 2018 The atmosphere and stage provided by the NFL venue on Saturday were appropriate for the first match of what should be a compelling regional rivalry for when the teams meet again this season, and down the road at the Major League Soccer level. Patrick Brennan, Cincinnati.com, "FC Cincinnati, Nashville SC play to scoreless tie in first-ever meeting," 7 July 2018 Napoli finished second behind Juventus in Serie A last season, so there could be a big rivalry between former player and manager, if Ronaldo does make the move to Italy. SI.com, "Cristiano Ronaldo Consults Former Manager Carlo Ancelotti Ahead of Rumoured Juventus Move," 7 July 2018 Perhaps there is still a fascinating rivalry in the offing. Jim Ayello, Indianapolis Star, "IndyCar midseason review, part II: What's gone wrong," 15 June 2018 Kreis said when asked if Orlando City versus Atlanta United is a true rivalry. Jordan Culver, Pro Soccer USA, "Orlando City coach Jason Kreis: Outside perception of Lions doesn’t matter," 9 May 2018 But this hasn’t been a competitive rivalry in a long time. cleveland.com, "Cleveland Browns 101: What 2018 rookies should know about the team," 1 May 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.

See More

First Known Use of rivalry

1598, in the meaning defined above

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about rivalry

Dictionary Entries near rivalry








Statistics for rivalry

Last Updated

13 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for rivalry

The first known use of rivalry was in 1598

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

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).


full of whispering sounds

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Vocab Quiz

  • the-education-of-achilles-eugne-delacroix
  • Which is a synonym of discomfit?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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