Merriam-Webster has this definition of checkmate:

checkmate transitive verb

1: to arrest, thwart, or counter completely

2: to check (a chess opponent's king) so that escape is impossible

How exactly can the word be used as a verb in the context of the chess game?

My colleague who is British said he would not used it as a verb, only as a noun.

Can I use the following sentences?

About people:

Yesterday we played chess and I checkmated George twice.

About colors:

The white checkmated the black.

About the chess figures:

The king was checkmated by the bishop.

A combination (people and figures):

Can you checkmate the king now?

It may be also interesting to know if there is a difference between the usage within the (native) chess players community and among the muggles.


From your comments and answers it seems like there are discrepancies. Some stay that the verb cannot use as its object a person, but some give quotations where a person is in the position of the object.

Could it be that in the world of the chess players the verb has a different usage than when used figuratively, as in the WS2's example

1868 E. Edwards Life Sir W. Ralegh I. xxvi. 665 Some..had their own reasons for checkmating the Spaniards in relation to Ralegh...

  • Here are a few examples: sentence.yourdictionary.com/checkmate
    – user66974
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 10:54
  • @josh61, could you elaborate your post into an aswer, so it is more useful for the readers, please? Does your link mean a "yes" to all my example sentences? Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 10:59
  • I would say that all of your examples are valid. Unlike one of the answers I see no reason why the term must be applied only to the chess pieces and not to the human opponents. And certainly it may be used in a metaphorical sense. (There was an old US TV detective show back in the 60s called "Checkmate". The chess metaphor was literally presented during each episode.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 13:06
  • merriam-webster.com/dictionary/checkmate (Note that the verb sense is presented first.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 13:09
  • Well, yes, of course "checkmate" can be used metaphorically, but the OP specifically is asking about the literal use ("in the context of the chess game"), hence my answer. In the context of the game itself, I think the first sentence sounds very odd to my ear; I rather doubt you would hear any chess player use it. And the stated dictionary definition implies the in-game restriction with its parenthetical aside. Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 18:50

2 Answers 2


The only transitive verb usage I've heard in the context of chess itself is the one given as the second definition in your question. As implied by the definition, the object of the checkmate action must be the king piece of your opponent, as no other piece is used to define the state of checkmate. The object cannot be the opponent themselves (though there does seem to be an exception for formal third person usage - see the final paragraph below). There isn't any real restriction on the subject - either the player or the pieces could be said to be performing the checkmating.

In short, I don't think your first sentence is correct, but any of the other three examples you give seem reasonable. The second sentence seems correct through implication: by only denoting colors, you are implying that it is the black king which has been checkmated. The third and fourth are correct through explicit usage of the king as the object of the verb.

I will say, however, that I've heard this transitive-verb usage of the word checkmate only rarely, and would likely not use it myself, instead preferring to find ways to phrase my sentences such that checkmate appears only as a noun.

Note that this is true only for use within the game of chess itself, as specified by your question. In any other context, checkmate is frequently used as a metaphor, and many things can be checkmated, including people, armies, and objects. However, during an actual game of chess, using checkmate as a transitive verb essentially requires that the object be the king chess piece. Any other usage will sound very strange to a native speaker (though they may be able to determine what you mean). One would never say they had "checkmated your knight" or "checkmated your rook" in the game, and attempting to use such a phrase would likely confuse the listener. One could say "I have checkmated you" perhaps, during a game, but again it will sound fairly odd to a native speaker. Instead, they would say "I've put you in checkmate" or something similar. If they are bound and determined to use checkmate transitively, they may say "And now I have checkmated your king", but it will sound fairly formal and stilted, if not incorrect.

One of the in-game uses of the transitive verb form listed in the OED in a comment below was interesting, however, and does sound formal but acceptable in contemporary English: "A player must checkmate his opponent within fifty moves" and similar sentences do seem to work due to them being in third person. In contemporary English this will sound formal and somewhat "instructive", but will also be perfectly acceptable usage. However, attempting to use second or first person ("I checkmated you!" or "Will you be checkmating me soon?") will still sound odd in modern English.

  • Mark, I found interesting your implication as of what "the white" or "the black" means - I have always presumed it means the players. Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 11:44
  • Interesting! When used without a noun, I have always assumed that the colors indicated the set of pieces ("I'll take white this game!"), but I can see how you could also use them to indicate the players ("White pondered his move and then reluctantly took the remaining black rook.") Without context, I do assume the pieces, but I may not be typical in this regard. Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 18:44
  • Mark, please see the WS2's quatation below: "1882 J. H. Blunt Reformation Church of Eng. II. 10 To checkmate their dangerous rival instantly.". This is clearly using a person as an object of the verb checkmate. It seems to me in apposite to what you say. Or is the usage of the verb's object different when talking figuratively and when talking about the chess game? Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 8:08
  • 1
    It's all about context. As I said, in the context of the chess game, I don't think anyone would use the word checkmate to mean anything but the act of putting a king into checkmate (you would never "checkmate a knight" for instance). When used in any other context as a metaphor, anything could be checkmated including people, armies, abstract ideas like goals or aspirations, etc. Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 8:16
  • Couldn't then the sentence "Yesterday we played chess and I checkmated George twice" be taken metaphorically? :) However I do not know the native-English chess players slang so maybe they would never used it in this way? Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 12:12

The OED clearly lists checkmate as a verb, as well as a noun. It provides multiple examples of its use over the centuries, both related to the game of chess, and metaphorical senses.

Some examples of the latter kind are:

a1400 Octouian 1746 There was many an hethen hounde, that they chekmatyde [So MS. clearly].

a1529 J. Skelton Vppon Deedmans Hed 30 Oure days be datyd To be chekmatyd With drawttys of deth.

1571 A. Golding tr. J. Calvin Psalmes of Dauid with Comm. (x. 13)
He is despitefully pulled out of his throne, and after a sort checkmated.

1603 J. Florio tr. Montaigne Ess. ii. xxxiv. 424 As an impetuous or raging torrent..shockes and checke-mates what ere it meeteth withall.

[1649 A. Ascham Bounds Publique Obed. 58 At this distance he [sc. Jas. I] contrived how to extinguish or check that mate [sc. the Kirk] there.]

1868 E. Edwards Life Sir W. Ralegh I. xxvi. 665 Some..had their own reasons for checkmating the Spaniards in relation to Ralegh, if they could.

1882 J. H. Blunt Reformation Church of Eng. II. 10 To checkmate their dangerous rival instantly.

1884 Manch. Examiner 2 May 4/7 It will need a stringent clause to checkmate the ingenuity of the local taxmasters.

  • could you please translate your examples into the contemporary English? :-) Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 11:41
  • 1
    Perhaps include more contemporary examples of usage.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 12:09
  • @Mari-LouA People need to find ways of access to the OED. We are fortunate in the UK since most people have on-line access free-of-charge through their public library membership.
    – WS2
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 12:12
  • 1
    In the 1649 quotation, is "check that mate" a pun on "checkmate"? ('Mate' in the sense of 'fellow'?)
    – anemone
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 10:08
  • @WS2: Although your quotations are very interesting, they do not answer my question. I am asking about the usage in the literal meaning of the word to checkmate in the context of the chess game. All your quotations use the verb figuratively. Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 10:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.