Understanding the Idiom: "in the running" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

When it comes to communication, idioms play a crucial role in conveying meaning. An idiom is a group of words whose meaning cannot be understood from the literal definition of each individual word. One such idiom is “in the running”.

The phrase “in the running” is often used to describe someone or something that has a chance of success or winning in a competition, election, job interview, or any other situation where there are multiple contenders.

Origins of the Idiom

The origin of this idiom can be traced back to horse racing. In horse racing competitions, horses run around a track and compete against each other to win. The horses that have a chance of winning are said to be “in the running”. Over time, this phrase has been adopted into everyday language and is now used in various contexts.

Usage Examples

Here are some examples of how this idiom can be used:

  • “John applied for several jobs last week and he’s still waiting to hear back from them. He’s hoping he’s still in the running.”
  • “The football team played really well yesterday and they’re definitely in the running for first place.”
  • “There are five candidates competing for the position but only three will make it through to round two. I think Jane is still in the running.”

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “in the running”

The phrase “in the running” is a commonly used idiom in English language that refers to someone or something being considered as a potential candidate for a particular position, opportunity or competition. This idiomatic expression has its roots in sports, where athletes who are competing in a race are said to be “in the running” for winning the race. However, over time this phrase has been adopted into everyday language and is now used in various contexts beyond sports.

The origins of this idiom can be traced back to ancient Greece where athletic competitions were an integral part of their culture. The Greeks held various events like foot races, wrestling matches and chariot races which attracted large crowds from all over the country. Athletes who were participating in these events were considered as contenders for winning and were thus said to be “in the running”. This concept was later adapted by other cultures and eventually found its way into modern-day English language.

In addition to its sporting origins, this idiom also has historical context related to politics. In early American elections, candidates would often run on foot from town to town giving speeches and trying to gain support from voters. Those who were seen as having a chance at winning were said to be “in the running”. This practice continued until transportation became more advanced and campaigns shifted towards advertising through newspapers, radio and television.

Today, “in the running” is widely used in various contexts such as job interviews, talent shows, political campaigns etc., indicating that someone or something is being seriously considered as a contender for success or victory. Its historical context adds depth and meaning to this common phrase making it an interesting piece of linguistic history that continues to evolve with time.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “in the running”

When it comes to idioms, there are often multiple variations and ways to use them. The same can be said for the idiom “in the running”. This phrase is commonly used in English language to describe someone or something that has a chance of winning or being successful in a competition or situation.


The idiom “in the running” can also be expressed as “in contention”, “a contender”, or simply “a candidate”. These variations all convey a similar meaning – that someone or something is actively participating and has a chance at success.


This idiom can be used in various contexts, such as sports, politics, job interviews, and even personal relationships. For example:

  • “After winning their last game, they’re now in the running for first place.”
  • “There are several candidates who are still in contention for the job.”
  • “He’s definitely a contender for best actor this year.”

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “in the running”


There are several synonyms that can be used in place of “in the running” depending on the context. Some examples include:

– In contention

– Vying for

– Competing for

– A candidate for

Each of these phrases conveys a similar idea to “in the running” but may be more appropriate in certain situations. For example, “vying for” might be better suited when discussing a competition between two individuals or groups.


On the other hand, there are also antonyms that convey the opposite meaning of “in the running.” These include:

– Out of contention

– Not in consideration

– Eliminated from competition

These phrases indicate that someone or something is no longer being considered as a viable option or contender.

Cultural Insights:

The use and interpretation of idioms can vary greatly across different cultures. In some cultures, sports analogies like “in the running” might be more commonly understood than others. Additionally, certain languages may have equivalent idiomatic expressions with slightly different nuances.

For example, in Japanese culture, there is an expression called “三番勝負 (sanban shobu)” which translates to “three-game match.” This phrase is often used when two competitors are evenly matched and need to compete multiple times before determining a winner. While not exactly synonymous with “in the running,” both expressions convey a sense of competition and uncertainty about who will come out on top.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “in the running”

Exercise 1: Fill in the Blank

In this exercise, you will be given a sentence with a blank space where “in the running” should go. Choose the correct answer from the options provided.

  1. The company has several candidates ________ for CEO.
  • A) in the running
  • B) out of luck
  • C) on thin ice

  • I’m not sure if I’m ________ for employee of the month.
    • A) barking up the wrong tree
    • B) in the running
    • C) pulling my weight

    Exercise 2: Create Your Own Sentence

    In this exercise, create your own sentence using “in the running”. Be creative and try to use it in a unique way!

    Your Turn:

    Remember to keep practicing these exercises until using “in the running” becomes second nature!

    Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “in the running”

    When it comes to using idioms in English, it’s important to understand their meanings and how they are used in context. One commonly used idiom is “in the running”, which means being considered as a candidate for something.

    Avoiding Misinterpretation

    One common mistake people make when using this idiom is misinterpreting its meaning. Some may think that it refers to actually running or participating in a race or competition, when in fact it has nothing to do with physical activity. It’s important to understand that “in the running” simply means being considered as a potential candidate for something.

    Avoiding Overuse

    Another mistake people make is overusing this idiom. While it can be useful in certain contexts, using it too frequently can make your language sound repetitive and dull. Instead of relying on this one phrase, try incorporating other similar expressions into your speech and writing.

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