Merriam-Webster provides the following definitions for the verb "relegate"


a : to assign to a place of insignificance or of oblivion :

b : to assign to an appropriate place or situation on the basis of classification or appraisal

(a) & (b) give me a complete different impression of this verb, in which (a) denotes the idea that the thing that is "relegated" is of an inferior quality, whereas (b) is complete neutral as the thing is assigned to an "appropriate" place.

Most other dictionaries (e.g. Cambridge, Macmillian, Collins, all British English dictionaries though) do not even include (b) and define "relegate" as

to move someone or something to a less important position

To native English speakers, what comes to mind when this word is used, heard or read ?

  • 3
    Collins does indicate something close to your (b). The fifth entry in Collins says "to assign (something) to a particular group or category". Vocabulary.com says "assign to a class or kind" in its second entry. The third entry in Dictionary.com says "to assign or refer (something) to a particular class or kind." These are all equivalent to the second entry (b) in MW. The word however is rarely used to express this particular meaning. Often, "relegate" is used to mean "to send someone to a lower rank."
    – AIQ
    Sep 15, 2019 at 2:57
  • 1
    The only meaning which readily comes to mind for me is "to move (a team or sportsperson) out of one division of a competition into a lower division".
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 3, 2019 at 0:59

3 Answers 3


As a native speaker, “relegate” has a negative connotation. The two definitions you cite are not in conflict if “appropriate” also happens to be “inferior” or at least “not superior”.


The dictionary definition:

assign an inferior rank or position to.

I would have to say yes, "relegate" always has a negative connotation because to be relegated something has to be considered inferior. I wouldn't call it a "condescending" term because relegation isn't necessarily done out of spite or malice - it is often just a result of judging performance.

The most common usage of the word in British English is in sports leagues. A football team may be relegated to a lower division of the league if they do not perform well enough to maintain their position.

There are lots of situations where items may be ranked by number and yet their position does not denote relative superiority or inferiority, but in such a context you would not use a term like "relegate".

Also, I highlighted the word "assign" because it is important to note that relegation is not something that happens naturally - a decision is made to relegate. A sports team's performance might lead to them being relegated, but the decision has to be made.


English is a beautiful language with its words carrying more than one meaning. You just saw an example! But then, you also see the context in which the word is used. There are many surprises in English where the word's meaning completely changes when you change the context.

So, to answer, native speakers do check the context before they judge any word's meaning.

Check this; it is amazing!

alto (n; pronounce: aal toe):

1) a woman with the lowest singing voice
2) a man with the highest singing voice

Means, if it's used for a woman, it's the lowest voice; if it's for a man, it's the highest!

Do you see the context there?

  • 1
    This is not an answer to the question.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 3, 2019 at 0:58

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