In any sort of competition, you generally have a winner (first place), runners up (2nd place through Nth place), sometimes an Honorable Mention placement award, and then everyone else who participated but did not "place" at all. Is there a specific word or term for these "non-placers"? I know the word participant applies to all competitors, not just those who place or those who do not; but I'm looking for a word that specifically describes only those participants who did not win some kind of placement award.

Edit: For added context: I'm a visual artist working on a piece where a youngster has created a Science Fair project, is standing beside it after judging has finished, and is dejected because he thought he did an outstanding job, but did not even place. I was hoping to put some kind of sign, ribbon, or placard on there with the appropriate word to show that the project did not place. I realize and appreciate that the first answer is quite correct, but in my mind it just doesn't seem to fit this context exactly right. Maybe it is exactly right, though. Also-ran just seems to fit contextually more appropriately within official sporting competitions or elections.

Edit: I'm not looking to create a depiction or situation that is common. I understand how competition, awards, consolation, and ridicule all work when applied to real world science fairs and other competitions. I understand that in normal circumstances, if one competes and does not win an award, they do not typically receive any kind of recognition, either positive or negative. This ribbon is not an award or admonishment. In fact, within the context of the image, it serves no other purpose than to point out that this participant did not win and received no positive or negative attention; his effort was simply not noteworthy. The ribbon or sign or placard is not meant to convey any specific meaning to the boy at all; it's not for him, it's for the viewers of the image - a small part of a larger image meant to convey an over-arching, concise point. The ribbon should simply be, combined with other elements in the image, part of a collective symbology showing that the boy thought he was going to do really, really well with his effort, but his effort didn't even really garner attention or interest from those who judged it.

The first answer, Also-ran, was a good answer. It's emotionally neutral and describes the situation exactly. The only reason I don't think it's quite what I need is it seems to connote that someone to whom it would be applied was "running" for something; the Kentucky Derby, political office, maybe even a triathlon, etc. I could definitely be wrong about it, but it just doesn't seem to apply contextually as well to science fairs, a game of Monopoly, poetry slams, dance offs, etc. I'm hoping that there's a word or term that basically means the same thing as also-ran, but either with no connotation at all, or a connotation that fits more specifically to events like science fairs.

The only thing I can come up with so far is "Participant" or "Participated". I remember when my younger brother was in school, he competed in various academic things and would sometimes get a yellow Participant ribbon. It was obviously a consolation prize so that no one felt left out. But consolation is not what I'm looking to convey.

Again, in a nutshell, I want to convey that this boy thought he did a great job (and that will be done with other imagery), and with the ribbon - without the overtones that the judges judged him harshly or negatively, only impartially - that he was deemed by those with more experience and wisdom to not have done so well as he thought.

Edit: @Lawrence may have just the right idea! He suggested that the comment should be about the effort and not the participant. That's the idea. The ribbon itself is less about the boy than it is about the project he submitted. So Good Effort is just about spot on. The only reason I might go with a slight alteration of that, like maybe Decent Effort or Fair Effort, is that part of the idea of the whole image is a subtlety that I want to come through - specifically that according to those smarter and more experienced than him, the project did not turn out nearly as well as the boy thought it did. And so, even though it may seem semantic and splitting hairs, I might want to try to use the ribbon to say that his effort was almost good. Anyway, I think @Lawrence gave me what I needed. Thanks, everyone. :)

  • 2
    Would “loser” be too harsh? Oct 1, 2018 at 3:12
  • @Scott, not in and of itself, but for what I'm looking for I think so.
    – nollaf126
    Oct 1, 2018 at 3:22
  • What exactly do you mean by place? In horse racing, to place is to come in second—but it doesn't seem like you mean that. Do you mean didn't finish at all? Didn't come in first? Or didn't finish in such a way as to win a prize? Oct 1, 2018 at 3:49
  • 1
    Highlighting that the youngster didn't even place seems like an odd way of consoling him on not placing. It sounds more like taunting.
    – Lawrence
    Oct 1, 2018 at 3:59
  • @JasonBassford I mean the latter; he fully participated but did not do well enough as to have won any prize. He completed all the required goals but was among all other participants who did not receive any positive recognition for his efforts.
    – nollaf126
    Oct 1, 2018 at 14:40

4 Answers 4



From m-w.com :

also-ran noun
al·so-ran | \ -ˌran \
Definition of Also-Ran

1 : a horse or dog that finishes out of the money in a race
2 : a contestant that does not win
3 : one that is of little importance especially competitively
was just an also-ran in the scramble for … privileges —C. A. Buss”

  • Thank you, @Moonstar. This was the first thing I thought of. I almost always think of this term in relation to elections. :)
    – nollaf126
    Oct 1, 2018 at 3:12
  • You are quite welcome. @nollaf126
    – moonstar
    Oct 1, 2018 at 3:13
  • I think that I heard a phrase once of the form "non-[insert word here] competitor". However, I do not know what data-base of contemporary English I could search using regular expressions. There might be someone with a free-to-use data-base of American and British television scripts. Someone could search the data-base for anything which matches the regular expression non-? ?[A-Za-z]+ ?compeditor Sep 24, 2022 at 1:02

The following words have less negative connotations

  • Good sport

  • Rest of the field/troops

  • Non-titlists

  • Aspirants/Hopefuls/contestants

  • Worthies


Here are two options:

  • competitor
  • participant

Contender, qualifier or made the cut, in line with the usage in sports where a certain standard must be met in order to take part.

A golfer who plays in the Masters might finish in last place, but as golfers go he’s still pretty darn good.

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