There are 2 main definitions of rub in English:

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rub 1

Pronunciation: /rʌb/

verb (rubs, rubbing, rubbed)

1 [with object] Apply firm pressure to the surface of (something), using a repeated back and forth motion: she rubbed her arm, where she had a large bruise [no object]: he rubbed at the earth on his jeans
More example sentences
  • Jerry Davis shook his head with a grim set to his firm jaw, rubbing the back of his neck with his large, callused hand.
  • It is important not to just rub the skin over the area but to apply firm downward pressure with the thumb, knuckle or elbow.
  • Julia has her arms crossed and she rubs them, obviously cold.
1.1 [with object and adverbial of direction] Move (one’s hand, a cloth, or another object) back and forth against a surface: he rubbed a finger round the rim of his mug
More example sentences
  • She swallowed hard and moved, rubbing the cloth over a greasy part of the counter yet to be attended to in her study.
  • She moved away from the wall and rubbed a hand over her face.
  • She found herself twirling her brown hair around her fingertips and rubbing the toe of her shoe on the floor.
1.2 [with object and adverbial] Apply (ointment, polish, or a similar substance) with a back and forth motion: she took out her suncream and rubbed some on her nose
More example sentences
  • Next, a mixture of fine sea salt, cocoa, vitamin C and Chocolate Body Syrup is rubbed into the skin.
  • The ointment must be rubbed into the area, not just applied superficially.
  • At the time, a cream like substance was being rubbed onto my scalp.
1.3Make dry, clean, or smooth by rubbing: she found a towel and began rubbing her hair [with object and complement]: I rubbed myself dry
More example sentences
  • She towel dried her hair, rubbing the black, wet strands.
  • The woman watched after him for a moment, then began to rub herself completely dry.
  • I realised that Edward was rubbing me dry with the large towel.
1.4 (rub something in/into/through) Work an ingredient into (a mixture) by breaking and blending it with firm movements of one’s fingers: sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the fat
More example sentences
  • Sift the flour, cinnamon and sugar into a bowl and rub the butter in until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs.
  • Alternatively, rub the butter into the dry ingredients in a large mixing-bowl until combined.
  • Sift the flour into a bowl, rub the butter in until it looks like fine bread crumbs and add the oatmeal.
1.5Reproduce the design of (a sepulchral brass or a stone) by rubbing paper laid on it with coloured wax, pencil, or chalk, etc. he was rubbing an old brass
More example sentences
  • You can rub the names, inscriptions, dates and more, but also think about rubbing the beautiful artistic carvings you see.
2(With reference to two things) move or cause to move to and fro against each other with a certain amount of friction: [with object and adverbial]: many insects make noises by rubbing parts of their bodies together [no object, with adverbial]: the ice breaks into small floes that rub against each other
More example sentences
  • Carefully avoiding letting her trouser legs rub against each other causing a large amount of sound, she eased her way to the door and burst it open.
  • The bony surfaces are covered with cartilage and separated by a small disk, which prevents them from rubbing against each other.
  • The only noises to be heard over the crackling of the fire were the branches of the trees rubbing eerily against each other, and the occasional rumble of thunder.
2.1 [no object] (Of shoes or other hard items in contact with the skin) cause pain through friction: badly fitting shoes can rub painfully
More example sentences
  • I had a blister on my heel that burned badly as my oversized shoes rubbed up and down.
  • Rucksacks and running shoes rub, turning burns into sores.
  • Avoid using tight fitting diapers that could rub against the skin.
chafe, pinch, scrape, abrade;
hurt, be sore, be painful
2.2 [no object] (Of a bowl) be slowed or diverted by the unevenness of the ground.


1An act of rubbing: she pulled out a towel and gave her head a quick rub
More example sentences
  • The pain startled him out of his thoughts, but a quick rub of the injury relieved the throbbing.
  • I strolled over to him, gave him a friendly rub, and then turned to back to tend to Chaz.
  • Befriend an alley cat that could benefit from some catnip and a few rubs.
1.1An ointment designed to be rubbed on the skin to ease pain: a muscle rub
More example sentences
  • I also keep Bach Rescue Remedy in my first-aid kit, along with a good muscle balm and a chest rub.
  • She discovered a recipe book of 19th-century balms - everything from boot wax to saddle polish - and began to cook up all kinds of potions, rubs, and salves.
  • Has anyone ever written to tell you that a muscle rub works to quell the itching of mosquito bites?
2 (the rub) The central problem or difficulty in a situation: that was the rub—she had not cared enough
From Shakespeare's Hamlet ( iii. i. 65)
More example sentences
  • Now here is the rub: you cannot lower both error rates simultaneously.
  • Anyone who has read the script for the film knows that it's a singularly brilliant piece of writing, but the rub is that screenplays are written to be filmed, not to be read.
  • But here is the rub: the performance lacks in integration what it provides in imaginative ambition.
3(In bowling) an uneven patch of ground that impedes or diverts a bowl.
Example sentences
  • He got a brilliant rub with his bowl to Farley's corner and he was suddenly a bowl of odds clear again.



not have two pennies (or farthings etc.) to rub together

informal Be very poor.
Example sentences
  • They don't have two pennies to rub together but they are actually writing lyrics that can break your heart in 15 million places.
  • I love to go out and have a good drink, but it is very difficult to charge people who don't have two pennies to rub together,’ he said.
  • I didn't have two pennies to rub together, and I had to borrow a fiver to run the horse.

the rub of the green

Golf An accidental or unpredictable influence on the course or position of the ball.
2.1Good fortune, especially as determining events in a sporting match: we didn’t get the rub of the green
More example sentences
  • Nevertheless both teams acquitted themselves very well and did the school proud and were somewhat unlucky on the night as they didn't quite get the rub of the green in both matches.
  • We just didn't get the rub of the green but the pleasing thing for me was that we were positive in everything we did and we tried to win the game.
  • Now we've just got to keep going, keep our fingers crossed and hope we get the rub of the green.

rub one's hands

Rub one’s hands together to show keen satisfaction: figurative the manufacturers rubbed their hands with delight as people went on a spending spree
More example sentences
  • Instead, he rubbed his hands together, satisfied.
  • Then he rubs his hands together in anticipation.
  • Statuesquely seated on a sofa, with her carefully straightened hair cascading down her back, she practically rubs her hands together in glee when she talks about her stint as a crime reporter.

rub it in (or rub someone's nose in something)

informal Emphatically draw someone’s attention to an embarrassing fact or mistake: they don’t just beat you, they rub it in
More example sentences
  • Aren't you going to be happy unless you're rubbing my nose in the fact I got caught?
  • He has won the argument, but there is no point in rubbing his opponent's nose in it.
  • ‘I hate to rub your nose in it, but it is beautiful sunshine here in Athens,’ he joked.
emphasize, stress, underline, highlight;
keep going on about, harp on, dwell on, make an issue of
informal rub someone's nose in it

rub noses

Rub one’s nose against someone else’s in greeting (especially as traditional among Maoris and some other peoples).
Example sentences
  • She rubbed noses with Phoenix who, in the way of these things, had been asked to ‘present’ her with her prize.
  • I'm told that New Zealand's Maori tribesmen rub noses when they meet, that Tibetans stick out their tongues to say hello, and that some East Africans might say howdy by spitting at your feet.
  • Following this, the group had the opportunity to rub noses - literally - with the local Maori people as the members were introduced to the typical Maori method of greeting friends.

rub shoulders (or North American elbows)

Associate or come into contact with another person: he rubbed shoulders with TV stars at the party
More example sentences
  • Back then the place was a hubbub of activity at the weekends, with walkers, families and locals rubbing shoulders and jostling for elbow room in front of a glowing open fire.
  • He admits he misses socialising and rubbing shoulders with Royalty during the horse trials.
  • Denis was well known among the racing fraternity having rubbed shoulders with them for many years.
associate with, mingle with, fraternize with, socialize with, mix with, keep company with, consort with;
North American  rub elbows with
informal hang around/out with, hobnob with, run around with, knock about/around with, pal around with, chum around with
British informal hang about

rub someone (or British rub someone up) the wrong way

Irritate or repel someone (as by stroking a cat against the lie of its fur): he had a cold manner that rubbed people the wrong way
More example sentences
  • They just rub me up the wrong way.
  • But I don't think for a minute that he's no good, he just rubs me up the wrong way.
  • Also, the actress really rubs me the wrong way somehow.
jar on, grate on
British informal nark, get on someone's wick, give someone the hump, wind up, get across
North American informal rankle, ride, gravel
vulgar slang piss off
British vulgar slang get on someone's tits
rare exacerbate, hump, rasp

Phrasal verbs


rub along

British informal
Cope or manage without undue difficulty: they rub along because their overheads are so low
More example sentences
  • Local journalists who had been rubbing along on whatever miserable pay journalists make were suddenly migrating to the East Side where they were not getting employed as journalists, but as content providers.
  • All I want is what is best for my Asian community, not for them to keep rubbing along.
  • If the county disappears and we become a unitary authority, we do not have a redundant building and, if not, I am sure we can rub along nicely.
manage, cope, get along/on, make do, be/fare/do all right, muddle along/through, shift
informal make out, get by
1.1Have a satisfactorily friendly relationship: they liked each other and rubbed along quite well
More example sentences
  • A wide variety of age groups, families and friends, happily rubbed along side-by-side enjoying everything that we had to offer in this beautiful setting.
  • But I like their blogs and the personalities that shine through the writing and we usually rub along quite amicably.
  • He wasn't much loved in his own time, apparently, even by people - schoolmates, for example, and neighbours in Vermont - with whom he thought he was rubbing along well.

rub something down

Dry, smooth, or clean something by rubbing: bare wood should be rubbed down with abrasive paper
More example sentences
  • Dig out your tools from the back of the shed, clean them up, rub them down, sharpen and oil them and head outdoors.
  • He looked over the boot he was working on, spit on it, and then began rubbing it down with a rag furiously.
  • Spray a little silicone or Teflon spray lubricant on the tracks and rub them down with fine steel wool.
2.1Rub the sweat from a horse or one’s own body after exercise: the horses were unsaddled and rubbed down
More example sentences
  • Imprinting involves rubbing the foal down with towels and touching all areas of the body in order to desensitize him.
  • We brought the horses into the barn rubbed them down, and fed them.
  • She rubbed the horses down and let them loose among the grass to graze.
clean, sponge, wash;

rub off

Be transferred by contact or association: when parents are having a hard time, their tension can easily rub off on the kids
More example sentences
  • Celebrity rubs off on the people surrounding the glittering stars, too.
  • What would be nice is if the negative people could try and be positive because that rubs off on the players.
  • There seems to be a natural intensity and desire there to put in a top performance every week, so it will be interesting to see how this rubs off on the rest of the players.
be transferred to, be passed on to, be transmitted to, be communicated to;
affect, influence, have an effect on

rub someone out

informal, chiefly North American Kill someone: you can bet he’s been rubbed out for business reasons
More example sentences
  • So of course they're gonna rub him out, or kill him, or something.
  • I've often wondered why they haven't just rubbed him out.
  • Two of their assassins were sent in to rub him out for good.

rub something out

chiefly British Erase pencil marks with a rubber: he rubbed out a couple of lines and carried on drawing
More example sentences
  • You make your mark and that is it, you can't rub it out.
  • They quite often have to rub their work out at the end of the day and use the paper again.
  • It was built unsymmetrically because Stalin wrote on the plans; they were redesigned around his scrawl because nobody had the courage to rub it out.
erase, delete, scrub out, wipe off, remove, efface, obliterate, expunge


Middle English (as a verb): perhaps from Low German rubben, of unknown ultimate origin. The noun dates from the late 16th century.

  • The origin of this word is unknown. If you want to impress the consequences of a mistake on someone you may be tempted to rub their nose in it. This comes from house-training puppies or kittens: literally rubbing their noses in any deposit they may make in the house in an attempt to dissuade them from repeating the offence. To rub someone up the wrong way, or irritate them, is another pet-related image, from the idea of stroking a cat against the lie of its fur. Someone pointing out a particular difficulty may say there's the rub. The expression comes from Shakespeare's Hamlet, when Hamlet says: ‘To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub.’ In the game of bowls a rub is an impediment that prevents a bowl running smoothly. The same idea is found in the rub of the green, which in golf is an accidental interference with the flight or roll of the ball, such as hitting a tree. More broadly it is also luck or fortune, especially in sport. Rubber, recorded from the mid 16th century, is based on the verb rub. The original sense was ‘an implement (such as a hard brush) used for rubbing and cleaning’. Because an early use of the elastic substance once known as caoutchouc was to rub out pencil marks, rubber acquired the sense ‘eraser’ in the late 18th century. The meaning was subsequently generalized in the mid 19th century to refer to the substance in any form or use, at first often differentiated as India rubber.

Words that rhyme with rub

blub, bub, chub, Chubb, club, cub, drub, dub, flub, grub, hub, nub, pub, scrub, shrub, slub, snub, stub, sub, tub

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: rub

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There are 2 main definitions of rub in English:

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For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: RUB

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