What's it called when you get a type of award because you didn't get the award you were supposed to get?

Let's say someone was trying to get an award, and they tried really hard, but they didn't end up getting it. But, because people felt bad for them that they didn't get it, the person was given a different award called a(n) ___ award, meaning "Hey, you didn't do it, but here's this instead, because at least you got something."

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    Not a prize/award, but a common expression for someone who nearly made it (ie stronger than just a 'participation award') is 'Honorable Mention'
    – mcalex
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 6:12
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    It would help to differentiate whether the person very narrowly missed out (e.g. 2 exceptional candidates far above the rest of the field but only one prize), or if they missed by miles but are being rewarded anyway (tried hard and showed spirit but had no aptitude). Different circumstances mean different terms.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 9:16
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    This can go a while 'nother way. I've seen a new prize created out of thin air for an original idea never before seen in a contest that had a high creative aspect.
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 19:05
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    In children’s sports up to high school and maybe a little beyond, there’s the concept of a “ ooaches’ award”, which can be given to an athlete who has succeeded in some special way, such as overcoming an injury, improving their game, or helping the team as a whole. So long as these are handed out in small numbers, they provide important recognition to those who don’t win for the most goals or the fastest times
    – user205876
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 1:55
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    Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 6:05

9 Answers 9


A non-winner might be awarded a

consolation prize

A prize given to a competitor who just fails to win or who has come last.
A two-week holiday in Cape Town was the consolation prize.

From Lexico.

The word consolation itself means

The comfort received by a person after a loss or disappointment.

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    When the consolationprize is a two-week holiday in Cape Town, I really wonder what the main prize was :o Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 9:52
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    @infinitezero - probably a one week holiday in Cape Town. I'm joking of course - Cape Town's lovely (apart from the bit around the station).
    – Spratty
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 16:20
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    Back in the day the consolation prize from a game show was often the home version of the game.
    – barbecue
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 20:45
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    @barbecue I remember lots of Rice A Roni and Lee's Press-On Nails.
    – Chaim
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 0:18
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    No. This answer offers a well-known term that is used in the context of the question asked, and is supported with dictionary references. Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 22:55

This is a participation award/trophy/ribbon. According to Wikipedia:

A participation trophy is a trophy given to children (usually) who participate in a sporting event but do not finish in first, second or third place, and so would not normally be eligible for a trophy. It is frequently associated with millennials, those of Generation Y.

When it's not an official reward, you can also use the expression "got an A for effort". From Farlex via TFD:

A verbal acknowledgement of appreciation for attempting a task, even if it did not produce a successful result.

You forgot to sand the wood before you painted it, but I'll give you an A for effort since you tried to help.

I have also heard names for an award for last place, but those aren't typically given as a pat on the back. See What is a "prize" for last place called?

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    "Participation trophy" seems to be the most recent euphemism for "consolation prize", which was what it was called in N. Illinois when I was learning English. Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 22:18
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    @JohnLawler I was posting an answer before seeing your comment. Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 22:21
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    I thought this was what it's called when everyone gets a prize. This is generally only common in children's sports, supposedly as an esteem-building process.
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 15:01
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    It isn't a participation prize because the question suggests a genuine effort and achievement, but not good enough to win. The answer is correct in itself, but misses the intent of the question.
    – cmm
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 15:37

Weather Vane’s answer, consolation prize, is what first came to my mind. You could also say that the judges made it up to the recipient for not giving her the award she truly deserved. A consolation prize is always of lower value, but we make up for not giving someone a prize he deserved by giving him another of equal value.

An award for the second-best finisher is also a runner-up award or silver medal. An American might sometimes ironically call a person who comes in second Miss Congeniality, the title of the runner-up in the Miss America beauty pageant. Someone who always does well but never wins is “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” Thus, a special award given to honor someone who never won the annual award is a bridesmaid award. Or, more politely, a lifetime achievement award.

In some other contexts, we would use make-up as an adjective. When a referee sees a replay, realizes he got a call wrong, and calls the next play wrong for the other team to make up for it, balance the scales, and even things out, that’s a make-up call. We don’t say that for awards, though. A “make-up award” is an award for cosmetics.

This is not a participation trophy, because everyone gets one of those. It’s also not a booby prize. Those are given out mockingly, although it is possible to accept one with grace and dignity, or at least good humor. It’s not a wooden spoon either, as that is for last place, not the person who should have won.

Other commenters have suggested, replacement trophy, and that could work. It could be confused for a new trophy commissioned to replace one that has been lost or stolen.


It’s not a well-known saying, but thinking about it, the best metaphor for this in American culture might be the Academy Award for Best Actress. The Oscars are notorious for repeatedly giving it to the actress who most people felt deserved to win the year before, when they voted to give it instead to the woman who’d deserved to win the year before that.

  • I have never seen the phrase Booby Prize before. Where does that come from?
    – WordyBirdy
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 6:57
  • @WordyBirdy It’s common here in America. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Etymology, the first recorded citation is from 1884: “At the end of every session the dominie had the satirical custom of presenting his tawse [a corporal punishment implement used for educational discipline] as a "booby-prize" to some idle or stupid lout whom he picked out as meriting this distinction so that next time they met he might start fresh and fair with new pair for a new set of classes.”
    – Davislor
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 7:02
  • Consolation award isn't a perfect phrase but probably as a native speaker, it and "substitute award" are closest in meaning to the OP. Specifically, it doesn't imply they got good or bad performance, were a failure or runner up. They simply didn't get the award they should have been given, whatever it may have been .....
    – Stilez
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 14:23
  • @Stilez To me (on the west coast of the US), a “consolation prize”goes to someone who came in second, or sometimes to the top few contenders who didn’t win. I don’t think I’ve ever heard “consolation award.” “Substitute award” might work, but I don’t think it’s common here.
    – Davislor
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 17:34
  • @Davislor - I think y9u are probably right, now I think about it....
    – Stilez
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 18:38
  • Runner Up Prize
  • Runner Up Award


What is runner up prize? English Language Learners Definition of runner-up : a person or team that does not win first place in a competition but that does well enough to get a prize especially : a person or team that finishes in second place. See the full definition for runner-up in the English Language Learners Dictionary. runner-up. noun.


noun, plural run·ners-up. the competitor, player, or team finishing in second place, as in a race, contest, or tournament. runners-up, the competitors who do not win a contest but who place ahead of the majority of the contestants and share in prizes or honors, as those who place second, third, and fourth, or in the top ten.

  • The OP isn't a runner up, here. They just (for unknown reasons) got an award because they weren't given the one they should have got.
    – Stilez
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 14:21
  • @Stilez "or honors" you don't have to get a shiny piece of metal to get recognized. Plenty of runner ups who can say "I was nominated for an Emmy but didn't get it". They are runner ups who, by many arguments, should have won the Emmy over that other guy/gal.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 19:10

Depends on the award. I'd start with calling it a substitute, anything else is more denigrating variants of it really.

E.g. I know of people who got awarded the second highest military honours during the Vietnam war because the people writing the citations were aware that because of the political situation and/or rank of the soldier involved they'd not pass the political process involved with granting the congressional medal of honour. I'd not call that a booby price, participation trophy, or some other denigrating thing at all and neither does the US military (these people are awarded almost the same honours and ceremony when visiting a US military base as any CMH recipient for example).

Especially a participation trophy is something worthless that you get simply for taking part. A campaign ribbon in the military would be such, for example.

  • "workaround" would be accurate if the award were earned but cannot be awarded based on a technicality (or for political reasons) and in no way denigrates the recipient. Perhaps it speaks poorly of the rules-writer. But the question is clearly not talking about this scenario where the rules were defective, but where the person didn't earn the award but will anyway receive a prize for the effort.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 22:25
  • Substitute award isn't a perfect phrase but probably as a native speaker, it and "consolation award" are closest in meaning to the OP. Specifically, it doesn't imply they got good or bad performance, were a failure or runner up. They simply didn't get the award they should have been given, whatever it may have been .....
    – Stilez
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 14:25
  • @Stilez correct, and there's no single word to describe that scenario so you have to come up with a descriptive term.
    – jwenting
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 7:22

An almost-winner might receive an

honorable mention

a commendation given to a candidate in an examination or competition who is not awarded a prize

From Oxford Languages

One might consider that honorable mentions would have won the award, or placed in the top three, if the eventual winner had not entered.

Therefore an honorable mention would equate to a fourth/fifth/sixth place if there were awards for first, second, and third place.


Wooden Spoon

A wooden spoon is an award that is given to an individual or team that has come last in a competition.

It was presented originally at the University of Cambridge as a kind of booby prize (see other answer) awarded by the students to the person who achieved the lowest exam marks but still earned a third-class degree in the Mathematical Tripos.


  • Another one of those from the world of sports is the “Mr. Irrelevant” title given (as a joke by sports columnists at first, but now there’s an informal award ceremony in the parking lot outside) to the player picked last in the NFL Draft. This isn’t well-known enough to be used without explanation, but some years’ “Mr. Irrelevant” have gotten endorsement contracts because of it. One joked that everybody always remembered that he was in the NFL, and won some kind of award, but not which one, and one person even thought he was “Mr. Omnipotent.”
    – Davislor
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 17:10
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    No, the OP is not referring to an alternative award for visibly bad performace.....
    – Stilez
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 14:19
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    So the worst passing performance. But like I said,the OP isn't asking about an award signifying worst performance of any kind, passing or failing as it may be.
    – Stilez
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 18:37

booby prize

Definition of booby prize

1: an award for the poorest performance in a game or competition

2: an acknowledgment of notable inferiority

Examples of booby prize in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

And a booby prize awaits for whichever team happens to finish second: a possible date with England in London in the round of 16. — Joshua Robinson, WSJ, 22 June 2021

Right now, that seems like more a booby prize than a reward. — Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle, 6 Mar. 2021


Example sentence:

I win 2nd place booby prize in Loser pool if the OH teams win. — King Hippo. Admin. October 13, 2019 12:04 pm [DOOR FLIES OPEN]

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    It’s important to realize that a “booby prize” is given out ironically, and receiving it is an insult. Which it is still possible to accept with grace and dignity. Or at least good humor.
    – Davislor
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 16:37
  • I’m not sure I understand your comments, but what Joshua Robinson was, if I understand him, talking about the 2021 European football championships, and saying that the second-place finisher in group F would have to play England next, in their home stadium. And this was really no prize at all.
    – Davislor
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 9:11
  • That is, the second quote was saying that the second-place finisher in that group would get an ostensible prize (advancement to the next round of the tournament), but it was really a punishment for losing (because the match-up was so unfavorable), not a prize anyone would want.
    – Davislor
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 9:14
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    An alternative to 'Booby Prize' would be the 'Wooden Spoon', which is also (generally) given, ironically, to the last place position.
    – Neil
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 12:41
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    No, the OP is not referring to an alternative award for visibly bad performace.....
    – Stilez
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 14:19


An award that is given which is nevertheless lacking in real weight and significance is sometimes referred to as a 'Bauble'. For example, in this news article Dominic Raab was reported to be appointed to the constitutionally almost meaningless role of 'Deputy Prime Minister' of the UK. His new role is described thusly:

But even with the bauble of deputy prime minister as part of his title [...], Mr Raab, the now former foreign secretary, is a less senior figure in the government.

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