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How Many Meanings of 'Run' Do You Know?


How Many Meanings of 'Run' Do You Know?
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Here is the truth about the English language: Some words take up so much space in the dictionary that they could be their own book.

And the word “run” would be the biggest book of all.

When you think of “run,” the first thing that might come to mind is a person moving very quickly with their legs. But “run” can act as both a verb and a noun, with meanings too numerous to count -- unless you like counting to 645. That is the number of definitions that Oxford English Dictionary has found for “run” for its upcoming 2037 edition.

The massive number of uses for this three-letter word hit a growth spurt during the Industrial Revolution. It has not slowed down since.

The good news is you can often guess the meaning by how the speaker or writer uses it. So, instead of thinking of “run” as an impossible list of definitions, think of it as a power tool of language. It can help you communicate a lot of ideas.

In fact, I bet you already know more than you realize. So on today’s Everyday Grammar program, I am going help you test your knowledge on “run” as a verb. I will say a sentence and ask a question. You will have a short time to choose your answers.

Ready? Here is the first one:

  1. The crosstown bus runs every 20 minutes on weekdays.

Which meaning of “run” did the speaker use?

  1. to move quickly using your legs
  2. to travel along a usual route
  3. to make a short, quick visit
FILE - Passengers wearing face masks are seen on a bus in Bilbao, northern Spain, June 12, 2020.
FILE - Passengers wearing face masks are seen on a bus in Bilbao, northern Spain, June 12, 2020.

The answer is b. to travel along a usual route. It can also mean to travel at usual times on the route. We use “run” in this way when talking about public transportation, such as buses and trains. A bus can run every 20 minutes, for example. It can also run from First Street to Tenth Street.

  1. Careful! Don’t put the grass cutter down while it's running.

Which meaning of “run” did the speaker use?

  1. to function or operate
  2. to test or check something or someone
  3. to produce a flow of liquid
A grass cutter sits on a lawn.
A grass cutter sits on a lawn.

The answer is a. to function or operate. This meaning is generally connected to mechanical or electrical objects and equipment. When the power for a piece of equipment is on, it is running. That also includes car engines and computers. A closely related meaning deals with starting or using a computer program.

  1. Muriel Bowser ran for mayor of Washington, D.C. in 2018 and won.

Which meaning of “run” did the speaker use?

  1. to test or check someone or something
  2. to direct the business or activities of
  3. to be a candidate for an official position
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

The answer is c. to be a candidate for an official position. We use this meaning for any person who can be chosen through an election, including for president, governor or mayor, or unrelated positions.

  1. Moira has run a program for young athletes for three years.

Which meaning of “run” did the speaker use?

  1. to direct the business or activities of
  2. to move quickly using your legs
  3. to make a short, quick visit
A young athlete jumps during a competition.
A young athlete jumps during a competition.

The answer is a. to direct the business or activities of. A person (or people) can run an organization, a company, a program or even an event. An official can also run an agency or a city, state or country. For instance, Muriel Bowser now runs the city of Washington, D.C.

  1. I need to run a few errands to buy supplies. Then, I’m stopping at mom’s house for lunch.

Which meaning of “run” did the speaker use?

  1. to cost an amount
  2. to leave or go quickly
  3. to do a task that involves a quick trip
An art supply shop in Venice, Italy
An art supply shop in Venice, Italy

The answer is c. to do a task that involves a quick trip. We almost always use the verb “run” in relation to errands. We can say, for example, “I have (a few) errands to run” or “I need to run (a few) errands.”

And here is the last one:

  1. Sorry, I can’t talk now. I have to run. I’m leading a meeting at 2 o'clock.

Which meaning of “run” did the speaker use?

  1. to move quickly using your legs
  2. to leave or go quickly
  3. to direct the business or activities of
A member of the Mexican NAFTA negotiation team checks her phone during a lunch break in Mexico City, Mexico, Feb. 28, 2018.
A member of the Mexican NAFTA negotiation team checks her phone during a lunch break in Mexico City, Mexico, Feb. 28, 2018.


The answer is b. to leave or go quickly. This is a meaning we use informally with friends, close coworkers or family. For example, if you were on a phone call with a friend but you had to quickly end the call, you could tell the person you have to run.

Actually, I have to run now, too! Thanks for taking the quick test. Look and listen for the word “run” wherever English is being used. Then, ask yourself if you can guess the meaning by how the speaker or writer uses it.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

dictionary - n. a reference book that contains words listed in alphabetical order and gives the words' meanings, forms and pronunciations

edition - n. a particular version of a book

growth spurt - n. an occurrence of growing quickly and suddenly in a short period of time

guess - v. to form an opinion or give an answer about something when you do not know much about it

function - v. to work or operate

errand - n. a short journey that you take to do or get something

task - n. a piece of work to be done or undertaken

informally - adv. in a way that is not suited for serious or official speech and writing

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