right of way

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See also: right-of-way


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Alternative forms[edit]


right of way (countable and uncountable, plural rights of way or right of ways)

  1. (uncountable) The right to proceed first in traffic, on land, on water or in the air. Also in metaphorical senses.
    • 1994, Di Goodman, Ian Brodie, Learning to Sail[1], →ISBN, page 86:
      Even when you have the right of way, you must take action to avoid a collision if another boat fails to give way.
  2. (countable) A legal right of passage over another's land or pathways.
    • 2000, "Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000) (c.37)" (UK), II.48(4)[2],
      “restricted byway” means a highway over which the public have restricted byway rights, with or without a right to drive animals of any description along the highway, but no other rights of way.
  3. (countable) A strip of land or alignment where portions of a roadway, railway, power line, or other utilities and their associated structures and facilities is located or passes acquired through eminent domain or expropriation.
    Meronym: permanent way
    • 1941, Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration, Los Angeles: A Guide to the City and its Environs[3], page 307:
      Phillips granted a right-of-way to the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1873.
  4. (countable) Land on which a right of way exists.
    • 1970, Diana L. Reische, Problems of Mass Transportation[4], →ISBN, page 143:
      New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans a rail line on an unused right of way of the Long Island Rail Road between JFK and Penn Station to whisk passengers to midtown Manhattan in twenty minutes.
  5. (countable) The area modified for passage of a railway; often specifically the railbed and tracks.
    Synonym: permanent way
    • 1948, Howard Rothmann Bowen, Toward Social Economy[5], page 71:
      For example, if a railroad is required to connect a mine and a smelter, it is necessary to construct a right of way, to lay tracks, etc.
    • 2006, Jane Bloodworth Rowe, “Ferrell Parkway”, in Echoes from the Poisoned Well: Global Memories of Environmental Injustice[6], →ISBN, page 187:
      Mayne, speaking at the 1999 meeting, ranked the trees along the right-of-way as "old growth" or "rare," although she never defined these terms.
  6. (fencing, uncountable) The priority granted to the first person to properly execute an attack.
    • 2002, Elaine Cheris, Fencing: Steps to Success[7], →ISBN, page 63:
      In foil the important thing is to be sure you have the right of way. You gain right of way by starting the attack first or beating the blade last.
  7. (Wisconsin) The strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street.

Usage notes[edit]

  • The plural "rights of way" can be used for all senses. The alternative plural "right of ways" is generally used only when referring to a strip of land or alignment where portions of an infrastructure and their associated structures and facilities are located, and may be regarded as an error.
  • In sense 1 the phrase is often used without a preceding article; e.g. to have right of way.