Free-for-all is a hyphenated idiom. We will examine the meaning of the idiom free-for-all, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

A free-for-all is a situation in which there are no rules or a chaotic and confusing situation. The idiom free-for-all describes a highly competitive situation or an unregulated situation. The expression free-for-all came into use in the 1870s when it primarily described a horse race or fight. Sometime after the turn of the twentieth century, free-for-all became an adjective that described any chaotic, confusing, or unregulated situation that lacks control. Note that free-for-all is spelled with two hyphens.


For instance, before the pandemic, a baseball clubhouse was a free-for-all — the unwashed media horde would huddle in the middle of the room and one-by-one pick off players at their lockers on the perimeter. (The Mercury News)

“The goal is not to have a free-for-all where people are just sort of converting buildings just at random into reception halls.” (The Alton Telegraph)

Experts, for instance, say California’s regulations have created a chaotic supply chain and a free-for-all on the ground, with illicit suppliers and counterfeit products that have harmed consumers. (The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle)