The Many Faces of “Run”

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader has asked about “the correct use of the words run vs. ran.”

Run is one of those words that can be either a noun or a verb.

As a verb, the principal parts of run are:

run, ran, (have) run.

Today I run.
Yesterday I ran.
I have run for twenty minutes.

NOTE: In some dialects “run” is used instead of “ran” as simple past form: He run out of the café in a hurry. In my part of the country I often hear “ran” used instead of “run” for the past participle: I have ran three miles.

Merriam-Webster offers an interesting historical observation: “The past tense run still survives in speech in southern England and in the speech especially of older people in some parts of the United States. It was formerly used in literature, and was a standard variant in our dictionaries from 1828 until 1934.”

In 2009, the standard forms are run/ran/(have)run.

The verb run has numerous meanings. Here are only a few:

move faster than walking – The children ran all the way home.
operate – My father has run the family business for fifty years.
be in charge of – Miss Jones runs the secretarial pool.
seek office – Ralph Nader has run for President several times.
flee – The indicted murderer skipped bail and ran.
go back and forth – This bus runs from here to the airport every two hours.
to thread or penetrate – The electrician ran a wire from the kitchen to the basement. His helper ran a splinter into his thumb.
to publish – The Gazette ran my son’s story in the early edition.

As a noun run has plenty of meanings as well. Here are a few:

the act of running – He went for a three mile run.
a score in baseball – How many runs does our team have so far?
a term in football – Tommy scored a 10-yard run.
a sustained effort – He’s making another run for the White House.
a unit of production – This is the book’s first run.
a series of something – He’s had a run of unfortunate relationships.
The Mousetrap had a very long run in London.
We’ve had a run of bad weather.
excessive withdrawals – Economic turmoil led to a run on banks.
normal kind – These are not the usual run of first graders.
freedom of movement – We give our cats the run of the house.
an enclosure for animals – The dogs stay in the run.
a flaw in knitted fabric – These stockings have too many runs in them.

Idioms with “run”
to have the runs – experience diarrhea
to run around – be sexually promiscuous
to run around with – associate with
to run across – discover by chance
to run after – seek someone’s company
to run a tight ship – manage strictly
to run circles around – demonstrate superiority
to run interference for – smooth the way for another person
run-off – 1. rain water (and other precipitation) drained by creeks and rivers 2. an election subsequent to a principal election in which no winner could be determined
run of the mill – ordinary
runaround – deceptive, evasive treatment of one person by another (When I asked about layoffs, the boss gave me the runaround (i.e., he did not provide a direct answer).
on the run – evading and hiding from pursuers

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4 Responses to “The Many Faces of “Run””

  • PreciseEdit

    Interesting information. Thanks.

    As I read the list of meanings and examples, I was reminded of the many meanings of “walk,” as a verb and a noun, and as the basis for many idioms.

    Then I thought about other words that indicate, at their root, some means of forward movement, such as “fly,” “drive,” and “ride,” and how they have similar characteristics to “run” and “walk.”

    Ain’t words great?

  • mand

    Of course a nose can also run.

    @ PreciseEdit – many of the ‘standard’ meanings of run and the other verbs you mention (and many more) are fossilised metaphors.

    Just says something about the human mind, of course.

  • Darin Miller

    When I say” the dog needs to be run.” Am I correct? Wife says it is correct to say” the dog needs to be ran.”
    Thanks in advance

  • Maeve

    Darin Miller,
    The dog should be run.

    I’ve been hearing the incorrect past from the lips of professional announcers.

    The forms are run, ran, have run.

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