Word Confusion: Run Down vs Run-Down vs Rundown

Posted January 13, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Learning the differences was pure curiosity on my part. In a story I’m editing, the word run down caught my eye, and I wanted to know which version was the correct one for this situation: run down or rundown.

So I decided to run down the possibilities, and I learned there were three—THREE— versions! Each had a different definition, so read on to learn what I ran down of the rundown before I got too run-down.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Run Down Run-Down Rundown
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“Exhausted Enlisted Men” courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons and the National Archives and Records Administration

Enlisted men, run down after more than 24 hours at general quarters, sleep in tangled patterns aboard the USS Lexington (CV-16).

“Katrina-damaged, Rusted-out Car” courtesy of Alexey Sergeev

A run-down car near Lizardi Street in Lower Ninth Ward. New Orleans, Louisiana, 28 January 2006

“BBC News 24 Weekly Reach Lead Over Sky News” courtesy of Briantist at en.wikipedia and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A rundown of the lead BBC News has over Sky News.

Part of Grammar:
Verb Phrase, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: runs down
Past tense or past participle: ran down
Gerund or present participle: running down

Adjective Noun
Plural: rundowns
Verb, intransitive:
To cease to operate because of the exhaustion of motive power

To decline in physical condition or vigor

Verb, transitive:
To collide with and knock down

To run against and cause to sink

To chase to exhaustion or until captured

To trace the source of

To tag out (a base runner) between bases on a rundown


In very bad condition because of age or lack of care; dilapidated

In poor health or physical condition; worn-out or exhausted

[Of a spring-operated device] Not running because it is unwound

A quick report about the main parts of something

A gradual reduction in the size of a business, activity, etc.

[Baseball] A play in which a runner is chased by two or more opposing players who throw the ball to each other in an attempt to tag the runner out

Verb, intransitive:
the clock ran down

Verb, transitive:
They just ran her down and drove off!

Run down the escaped prisoner and bring him back here.

Can you run down the source of those drugs?

She’s always running people down.

The house was pretty run-down looking.

By the end of their terms, most presidents are run-down.

I dunno, I’m just tired and generally run-down.

It had once been a prosperous neighborhood, but now it’s a run-down, vandalized inner-city area.

Months of overwork had left him in a run-down condition.
The clockwork is run-down.

They gave us a rundown on the main points of the news.

a rundown of our public services

He was caught in a rundown and tagged out by the shortstop.

He gave his teammates a rundown on the opposition.

A rundown in the business would be a devastating blow to the local economy.

History of the Word:
Circa 1578 Circa 1821 1908

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Tips on buying a rundown house and renovating it” illustrates a post by Home Loans Australia.