1. a person who ranks.
  2. British. a soldier in the ranks or a commissioned officer promoted from the ranks.

adjective, rank·er, rank·est.

  1. growing with excessive luxuriance; vigorous and tall of growth: tall rank weeds.
  2. producing an excessive and coarse growth, as land.
  3. having an offensively strong smell or taste: a rank cigar.
  4. offensively strong, as a smell or taste.
  5. utter; absolute: a rank amateur; rank treachery.
  6. highly offensive; disgusting: a rank sight of carnage.
  7. grossly coarse, vulgar, or indecent: rank language.
  8. Slang. inferior; contemptible.


  1. a soldier in the ranks
  2. a commissioned officer who entered service as a recruit, esp in the army


  1. (ræŋk) J (oseph) Arthur, 1st Baron. 1888–1972, British industrialist and film executive, whose companies dominated the British film industry in the 1940s and 1950s
  2. (German raŋk) Otto (ˈɔto). 1884–1939, Austrian psychoanalyst, noted for his theory that the trauma of birth may be reflected in certain forms of mental illness


  1. a position, esp an official one, within a social organization, esp the armed forcesthe rank of captain
  2. high social or other standing; status
  3. a line or row of people or things
  4. the position of an item in any ordering or sequence
  5. British a place where taxis wait to be hired
  6. a line of soldiers drawn up abreast of each otherCompare file 1 (def. 5)
  7. any of the eight horizontal rows of squares on a chessboard
  8. (in systemic grammar) one of the units of description of which a grammar is composed. Ranks of English grammar are sentence, clause, group, word, and morpheme
  9. music a set of organ pipes controlled by the same stop
  10. maths (of a matrix) the largest number of linearly independent rows or columns; the number of rows (or columns) of the nonzero determinant of greatest order that can be extracted from the matrix
  11. break ranks military to fall out of line, esp when under attack
  12. close ranks to maintain discipline or solidarity, esp in anticipation of attack
  13. pull rank to get one’s own way by virtue of one’s superior position or rank


  1. (tr) to arrange (people or things) in rows or lines; range
  2. to accord or be accorded a specific position in an organization, society, or group
  3. (tr) to array (a set of objects) as a sequence, esp in terms of the natural arithmetic ordering of some measure of the elementsto rank students by their test scores
  4. (intr) to be important; ratemoney ranks low in her order of priorities
  5. mainly US to take precedence or surpass in rankthe colonel ranks at this camp


  1. showing vigorous and profuse growthrank weeds
  2. highly offensive or disagreeable, esp in smell or taste
  3. (prenominal) complete or absolute; uttera rank outsider
  4. coarse or vulgar; grosshis language was rank

early 14c., “row, line series;” c.1400, a row of an army, from Old French renc, ranc “row, line” (Modern French rang), from Frankish *hring or some other Germanic source (cf. Old High German hring “circle, ring”), from Proto-Germanic *khrengaz “circle, ring” (see ring (n.1)).

Meaning “a social division, class of persons” is from early 15c. Meaning “high station in society” is from early 15c. Meaning “a relative position” is from c.1600.


Old English ranc “proud, overbearing, showy,” from Proto-Germanic *rankaz (cf. Danish rank “right, upright,” German rank “slender,” Old Norse rakkr “straight, erect”), perhaps from PIE *reg- “to stretch, straighten” (see right (adj.)). In reference to plant growth, “vigorous, luxuriant, abundant, copious” it is recorded from c.1300. Related: Rankly; rankness.

Sense evolved in Middle English to “large and coarse” (c.1300), then, via notion of “excessive and unpleasant,” to “corrupt, loathsome, foul” (mid-14c.), perhaps from influence of Middle French rance “rancid.” In 17c. also “lewd, lustful.”

Much used 16c. as a pejorative intensive (cf. rank folly). This is possibly the source of the verb meaning “to reveal another’s guilt” (1929, underworld slang), and that of “to harass, abuse,” 1934, U.S. black dialect, though this also may be from the role of the activity in establishing social hierarchy (from rank (n.)).


1570s, “arrange in lines;” 1590s, “put in order, classify; assign a rank to,” from rank (n.). Related: Ranked; ranking.

In addition to the idiom beginning with rank

  • rank and file

also see:

  • break ranks
  • close ranks
  • pull rank
  • rise through the ranks
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