noun (1)
\ ˈrās How to pronounce race (audio) \
plural races

Definition of race

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1a see usage paragraph below : any one of the groups that humans are often divided into based on physical traits regarded as common among people of shared ancestry It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual … because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin …Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, United States Code … family trees made more complicated by the intersection of different races— Michael A. Chaney First, the [2020 US Census] question [about race] is based on how you identify. Second, the race categories generally reflect social definitions in the U.S. and are not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically. We recognize that the race categories include racial and national origins and sociocultural groups. — United States Census Bureau To the extent that economic opportunity is expanded, race relations are improved.— Tom McClintock also : the fact of dividing people, or of people being divided, into such groups : categorization by race The Army will remove photographs of candidates in promotion board hearings … as part of an effort to address why so many black officers are being passed over in favor of their white counterparts … . The removal of photos by the military's largest service is a tacit acknowledgment of how much race still plays a part in decisions about who should advance. — Helene Cooper The U.S. is going through a social and political upheaval, offering an opportunity to undertake a necessary, hard look at the role of race in defining what kind of a nation the U.S. is now and has been historically. — William C. Danvers Even when a new show promises to break new ground … we are forced to swallow more of the same—a general erasure or ignorance of race. — Roxane Gay
b dated : a group of people sharing a common cultural, geographical, linguistic, or religious origin or background The Yorkshire type had always been the strongest of the British strains; the Norwegian and the Dane were a different race from the Saxon.— Henry Adams … this girl, Dolores by name, and a Catalonian by race— Charlotte Brontë
c archaic : the descendants of a common ancestor : a group sharing a common lineage … by descent I am the head not only of my own race, which ends with me, but of the Haughton family, of which, though your line assumed the name, it was but a younger branch.— Edward Bulwer-Lytton This forest was adjacent to the chief haunts of the MacGregors, or a particular race of them, known by the title of MacEagh …— Sir Walter Scott
2a : a group of living things considered as a category … the whole race of mankind … stumbling and blundering along the path of life …— Anne Brontë … Nan denounced the entire race of boys as "plaguey things."— Louisa May Alcott … countless asters, … tansies, golden-rods, and the whole race of yellow flowers …— Henry David Thoreau … full many a man loves his dog better than the rest of mankind, and so the devotion of the race of dogs finds return and recompense.— Wardon Allan Curtis Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt star in a sci-fi thriller set in the near future, when an alien race has attacked Earth.— Barbara Vancheri When the last century ended, humans could not even fly. In the 20th century, the human race went to the moon and began to explore the stars.sfgate.com
b archaic : breed Under these conditions, a race of highly … delicate, and gentle cattle had been developed.— Henry E. Alvord
c obsolete : the act of breeding or producing offspring Male he created thee, but thy consort female for race— John Milton It behooveth therefore that the Mares appointed for race, be well compacted, of a decent quality, … in age not under three nor above ten years old.— Edward Topsell
3 biology : a group within a species that is distinguishable (as morphologically, genetically, or behaviorally) from others of the same species This quail species is diverse and can be classified into 21 recognized geographic races in North America …— Eric T. Thacker and Tim L. Springer also : a usually informal taxonomic category representing such a group that is often considered equivalent to a subspecies
4 archaic : a group of people sharing some habit or characteristic (such as profession or belief) … the whole race of politicians put together.— Jonathan Swift The Apostles, though they were fishers too, were of the solemn race of sea-fishers …— Henry David Thoreau … the race of domestic clowns or jesters, maintained in the houses of the wealthy …— Sir Walter Scott … to become a Dissenter seemed to him identical with choosing God instead of mammon. That race of Dissenters is extinct in these days, when opinion has got far ahead of feeling …— George Eliot … our daughters haunt the town as if searching for something they missed, walking up beside the rocks with books in their arms like a race of little nuns.— John Updike
5 obsolete : temperament, disposition And now I give my sensual race the rein …— William Shakespeare


noun (2)
plural races

Definition of race (Entry 2 of 3)

1a : a competition between people, animals, vehicles, etc., to determine which one is the fastest : a contest of speed runners in a race a bicycle race … only eight of the 26 cars that began the race were running at the end, through streets that were better suited to conveying rattletrap taxicabs than million-dollar race cars.— Sam Moses
b : a contest or competition in which different people, groups, or teams try to win something or to do something first a tight race for governor the race to create a vaccine a baseball pennant race often used figuratively to suggest that something (such as life itself) is like a contest or competition He discussed terms for publishing his book. But over his face was that gossamery look of having dropped out of the race of progress, which made the vulgar city people feel they had won it over him …— D. H. Lawrence… men in the race of life, sink from the high and generous ideals of youth to the gambler's code of the Bourse; and in all our Nation's striving is not the Gospel of Work befouled by the Gospel of Pay?— W. E. B. Du BoisIn contemporary middle-class American culture, parenting is seen as an awesome responsibility, an unforgiving vigil to keep the helpless infant from falling behind in the great race of life.— Steven Pinker
c races plural : an event at which there is a series of horse races a trip to the races
2a literary : a set course (such as the apparent movement of the sun along a path over the period of a day) or a duration of time Till a sun whose race is ending / Sees the rival stars contending— Edward Bulwer-Lytton If the midnight bell / Did with his iron tongue and brazen mouth / Sound on into the drowsy race of night— William Shakespeare
b archaic : a person's progression through life or through a period in life … voices from the great cloud of witnesses who ever surround us in the race of life.— Harriet Beecher Stowe
3 : a track or channel in which something rolls or slides specifically : a groove for the balls in a ball bearing or rollers in a roller bearing The bearing has already spalled which is why it's making noise. No … additive can fix that, nor can it remove the particles of bearing race and roller from the lube in your differential housing. — B. Howing — see roller bearing illustration
4a : a strong or rapid current of water that flows through a narrow channel
b : a watercourse used or made for an industrial purpose (such as mining or for turning the waterwheel of a mill) Close to the furnace site today, on public park property, are the remains of the old facility's dam and water race.Maryland Magazine

— see also a race against time


raced; racing

Definition of race (Entry 3 of 3)

intransitive verb

1 : to compete in a race
2 : to go, move, or function at top speed or out of control people racing for safety struggled to sleep as his mind raced
3 : to revolve too fast under a diminished load

transitive verb

1 : to engage in a race with
2a : to enter in a race
b : to drive or ride at high speed
c : to transport or propel at maximum speed
3 : to speed (an engine) without a working load or with the transmission disengaged

Synonyms for race

Synonyms: Verb

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Usage of Race

Noun (1)

Sense 1a of this entry describes the word race as it is most frequently used: to refer to the various groups that humans are often divided into based on physical traits, these traits being regarded as common among people of a shared ancestry. This use of race dates to the late 18th century, and was for many years applied in scientific fields such as physical anthropology, with race differentiation being based on such qualities as skin color, hair form, head shape, and particular sets of cranial dimensions. Advances in the field of genetics in the late 20th century determined no biological basis for races in this sense of the word, as all humans alive today share 99.99% of their genetic material. For this reason, the concept of distinct human races today has little scientific standing, and is instead understood as primarily a sociological designation, identifying a group sharing some outward physical characteristics and some commonalities of culture and history.

Examples of race in a Sentence

Verb Eight horses will race for the cup. That horse will never race again. She's going to race the champion. They raced each other home. I'll race you to see who gets there first. She races cars for a living. The flood raced through the valley. The truck's engine was racing. The dog raced ahead of me. See More

First Known Use of race

Noun (1)

1547, in the meaning defined at sense 1c

Noun (2)

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2b


15th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

History and Etymology for race

Noun (1)

Middle French, generation, from Old Italian razza

Noun (2)

Middle English ras, from Old Norse rās; akin to Old English rǣs rush

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Time Traveler for race

Time Traveler

The first known use of race was in the 15th century

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Dictionary Entries Near race

raccroc stitch



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Statistics for race

Cite this Entry

“Race.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/race. Accessed 29 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for race


\ ˈrās How to pronounce race (audio) \
raced; racing

Kids Definition of race

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : to go, move, function, or drive at top speed I looked up and saw black clouds racing off …— Jon Scieszka, The Good, the Bad, and the Goofy
2 : to take part in a contest of speed
3 : to cause an engine of a motor vehicle in neutral to run fast



Kids Definition of race (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : a contest of speed
2 : a contest involving progress toward a goal the race for mayor
3 : a strong or rapid current of water



Kids Definition of race (Entry 3 of 3)

1 : any one of the groups that human beings are often divided into based on physical traits or ancestry
2 : a major group of living things the human race


\ ˈrās How to pronounce race (audio) \

Medical Definition of race

1 : a group within a species that is distinguishable (as morphologically, genetically, or behaviorally) from others of the same species This quail species is diverse and can be classified into 21 recognized geographic races in North America …— Eric T. Thacker and Tim L. Springer also : a usually informal taxonomic category representing such a group that is often considered equivalent to a subspecies
2 : any one of the groups that humans are often divided into based on physical traits regarded as common among people of shared ancestry

More from Merriam-Webster on race

Nglish: Translation of race for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of race for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about race


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