What Does Bringing Up the Rear Mean?

Bringing Up the Rear Meaning

Definition: To be in the back of a group or line.

When a group is traveling together, whoever is in the back of that group is bringing up the rear of the group. There could be just one person to bring up the rear, or a group could bring up the rear.

For example, in a line of students, the last child in the line is bringing up the rear. In a parade filled with several marching bands performing together, all of the people in the last marching band would be bringing up the rear.

Origin of Bring Up the Rear

This idiom comes from lines of soldiers marching together. Because soldiers needed to follow commands and understand exact orders, this phrase was used to describe the soldiers at the back of their group.

Examples of Bring Up the Rear

to bring up the rearNowadays, bringing up the rear can refer to anyone in the back of a group, not just soldiers. It can even refer to non-humans. When ducklings are following their mother duck in a line, one of them is always last and is bringing up the rear of the line.

The phrase can even be used to describe someone who is very slow. For example, if a man is habitually running late, people might say,

  • Sam is always bringing up the rear. Don’t expect him to be one the first to arrive at the party.

bring up the readLastly, bringing up the rear can refer to losing in a competition. In a literal race, bringing up the rear, or being last in line, means a loss. People may also use the phrase figuratively to describe losing. For example, someone who does not turn in work on time may be bringing up the rear in his or her office.

More Examples

  • Still, Thursday’s parade seemed to go off without any obvious problems, with Santa bringing up the rearas usual. –New York Post
  • Sunnyday Scoot co-owner Amy Wagner leads the way through Griffith Park during the 3-hr. Red Carpet tour…Bringing up the rear is company co-owner Michael Hunter. –LA Times


The phrase bringing up the rear means being last.