I need help settling a debate regarding the correct usage of the verb eclipse.

The headline in question is (slightly paraphrased):

Runner Completes 2mi Run; Eclipses 12m Result

Now, let's assume the 12m result is nobody else's (the runner does not compare himself to any other runner)— but rather a hint at the final result of the runner which is, say, 12:05m.

The headline above uses eclipse in the sense of achieved a result that is above X, and not in the sense of achieved a result which puts the other result in its shadow. MW dictionary lists exceed as one of the translations, but I gather it is in the sense of exceed an achievement or result made by someone else or at an earlier time.

Does the headline make a correct/sensible use of the verb given the assumption mentioned above about the result?

  • "Eclipse", in the context you describe, is generally used to mean "substantially beat" or "substantially improved on". The particulars would depend on the sport, but in this case (where new records are likely registered in half-second increments) I'd guess the implication would be that the new time is maybe 10 seconds less than the 12-even prior record.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 28, 2015 at 12:50
  • The result A can be put to shame by the result B, even if both results were achieved by the same person. It is the running time which was eclipsed, not the runner.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 28, 2015 at 12:51
  • Ok, and let's say it's the first time this guy is running (it is important for me to emphasize that there is no previous case to reference here)
    – vmalloc
    Apr 28, 2015 at 13:20
  • Maybe you should use the real headline instead of a paraphrased one because as the reader, I don't know if the "12m Result" is miles or minutes. And what is the significance of the "12m Result"? That would also impact how or if "eclipse" is used. Apr 28, 2015 at 14:56
  • 1
    @vmalloc Eclipse is inherently comparative: a body is interposing itself between two others, rendering the one behind it invisible. The very presence of the new body renders the other one (the prior one) irrelevant. Consigned to the dustbin of history. In your sentence, if there is not a previous case to reference, then there must have been some reason to believe -- a prior expectation -- that 12m is an impressive outcome. In summary: to eclipse requires three entities: an audience, a previous champion (or expectation), and a new contender who overshadows that previous champion.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 28, 2015 at 15:35

2 Answers 2


I think the sentence is fine.

I feel that both 2a and 2b meanings apply:

eclipse verb

transitive verb

1 : to cause the obscuration of : darken by or as if by an eclipse


a : to reduce especially in importance or repute : cast down (as into obscurity or disgrace)

b : to make insignificant by comparison : throw into the shade

Merriam Webster Unabridged Dictionary

See also these samples showing that the usage is well established for quite a while:

The Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes - Volume 2 - Page 107 1887

but in a race at Cambridge soon afterwards Pelham eclipsed the performance by beating for the first time 2 minutes over Fenner's path, finishing in the race in front of Templer.


The Illustrated Official Guide and Tourist's Hand Book to ... - Page 17 J. Baxter Langley - 1863

The " Rocket" had thus eclipsed the performance of all locomotive engines that had yet been constructed, and outstripped even the sanguine anticipations of its constructors.


And if there are any doubts caused by "his own" character of the performance:

Reminiscences of an Athlete: Twenty Years on Track and Field Ellery Harding Clark - 1911

I finished second, with 6189, and Gunn third, with 6111. Sheridan, in the matter of scoring, did not stop here. In 1907 he made a record of 7130|, and in 1909 again eclipsed his own performance with the phenomenal total of 7385.

  • I disagree that these examples are the same. In both cases 'eclipse' references an achievement stated slightly earlier in the page. In the example above it is important that the 12m result is nobody elses. This headline stands alone.
    – vmalloc
    Apr 28, 2015 at 13:19
  • @vmalloc No prob, but you may want to have a look at the 3rd example. Apr 28, 2015 at 13:31
  • @vmalloc But headlines don't stand alone. Headlines are inextricable from the article they head. The point of an article is to summarize and entice people to read the article itself; to that end headlines make reference to facts to be presented (i.e. not explicitly presented in the headline).
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 28, 2015 at 16:10
  • Perhaps I wasn't making myself clear. The assumption is that even in the article that follows, there is no new evidence or new facts about a previous achievement. So to be clear - let's say you have an article with that headline, and even after reading the article you're convince that this is the first time that man runs and he did not break any previously mentioned record or improved on his own previous result. Given this new information - does that headline make sense?
    – vmalloc
    Apr 28, 2015 at 18:39

Does the headline make a correct/sensible use of the verb given the assumption mentioned above about the result?

Yes, this is a common term for expressing that a previous mark has been passed, or surpassed.

Eclipsed, eclipsing, eclipses:

1 a: To cause an eclipse of. b: To obscure; darken.

2 a: To obscure or diminish in importance, fame, or reputation. b: To surpass; outshine: an outstanding performance that eclipsed the previous record. The Free Dictionary eclipse

  • 2
    It seems odd to me that the Free Dictionary chooses to include "outshine" in its definition 2(b), given that "to surpass" would have handled the job just fine without requiring readers to think of of an overshadowing event as involving superior radiance. Outshine does indeed mean "to surpass," but I doubt that most dictionaries would define it as "to surpass; eclipse." Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) has this entry for eclipse as a verb: "to cause an eclipse of: as (a) OBSCURE, DARKEN (b) to reduce in importance or repute (c) SURPASS." No outshining necessary.
    – Sven Yargs
    Apr 28, 2015 at 17:19
  • @Sven Yargs - yeah, I went to TFD because OP's usage is a colloquial, as is a definition such as "outshine", wouldn't you say? I didn't find "eclipse" in the sense of "pass" or "surpass" in my other sources.
    – user98990
    Apr 28, 2015 at 17:27

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