What Does Bar None Mean?

Have you ever heard or read the phrase bar none and wondered what it meant? Have you wanted to use it yourself when writing or speaking but been unsure how to do so correctly? This article will share the meaning of this fairly common idiomatic expression, as well as provide tips for using it in your speech and written material. By the end, you’ll have what it takes to be the best user of the idiom out there, bar none!

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What Does Bar None Mean?

To understand the meaning of this idiomatic phrase, we must first look to one very specific definition of the word bar. In American English, bar can mean many different things and is used as many different parts of speech:

NOUN:

  • A counter at which food and drinks, especially alcoholic drinks, are served
  • A place/establishment where drinks—again, usually alcoholic drinks, and food are served and enjoyed
  • A long, straight, narrow piece of material, like wood or metal, often used for support or as a barrier (i.e., the bars on a jail or a ballet bar)
  • A standard (as in, raise the bar)

VERB: 

  • To prevent or forbid (as in, I bar you from attending the party)
  • To exclude (as in, You’re barred from the team this year)

Yet, none of these common definitions are used in the phrase bar none. Indeed, the list of possible meanings and parts of speech for the word bar goes on and on.

Here is the rarer meaning of bar, and an additional part of speech this word can assume, that we need to know to understand the definition of bar none:

PREPOSITION: 

  • Except; except for; with the exception of


Bar is typically used this way in British English much more often than it is used in American English. Here’s an example sentence: Everyone is invited to attend the free concert, bar those who have already seen the show. In both British English and American English, it is, of course, also used this way in the phrase bar none

Since we now know bar also means “except,” we can uncover the meaning of the full phrase. Replacing bar with except, the phrase reads except none. Since none means “not one” or “not any,” we can understand the phrase to mean “without any exception” or “no exception.”

How Is the Phrase Bar None Used?

Knowing that the prepositional form of bar is most often used in British English, it makes sense, then, that what is believed to be the first use of the phrase bar none is attributable to an English author. Indeed, bar none is suspected to have first been used by Mary Elizabeth Braddon in her 1866 novel Lady’s Mile. She writes, “I know that your ‘Aspasia’ is the greatest picture that ever was painted—‘bar none,’ as Mr. Lobyer would say.”

From 1866 to today, not much has changed in terms of how the phrase is used. (A note, though, that the expression may have originated as to bar none or barring none, and been shortened for ease of use.) As in the excerpt above from Lady’s Mile, the idiom is used today in sentences that contain a noun that is modified by a superlative adjective. What’s more, it is often, although not always, used at the end of a sentence. 

What is a superlative adjective? Superlatives are used in making comparisons. These words show that a person, place, or thing is either to a greater or lesser degree than another person, place, or thing—in one way or another. Common superlatives include: larger, smaller, bigger, better, faster, slower, best, worst, taller, shorter, smarter… you get the idea. 

As mentioned above, the phrase bar none typically follows a noun that is modified by a superlative adjective. In this way, it is used to emphasize the comparison being made; to stress that, in the speaker’s opinion or another person’s opinion, the comparison is unequivocally true, without exception. It is used to say that no person or no thing is better, worse, faster, or slower, etc. than the noun in the sentence. As you can see below, the phrase is set off with a comma when written.

Here are some example sentences:

  • Little Women is the best book ever written, bar none. 
  • I have the funniest co-workers in the world, bar none. 
  • Mrs. Harvilchuck is the smartest teacher I’ve had, bar none.

The idiomatic expression can also come before a noun that is modified by a superlative adjective. Used in this way, it also provides emphasis and strengthens the comparison being made. You could argue that, in coming before the noun, it emphasizes the comparison even more. Again, it is set off with commas when written like this.

For instance:

  • J.K. Rowling is, bar none, the greatest author living in the world today.
  • Lionel Messi is, bar none, the best goalscorer out there.
  • This furlough, bar none, is the worst thing that has happened to me.

Understanding Idioms

As has been mentioned already, the phrase bar none is an idiom. But what is an idiom exactly? An idiom is an expression with an intended meaning that can’t fully be understood just by looking at the words that comprise it. These words and phrases have a figurative rather than literal meaning. In other words, they don’t mean what they appear to mean. Even if you’ve never heard the term idiom, you have most likely heard many idiomatic expressions. Here are just a few of the most common idioms used today:

You’re in hot water.
His boss gave him the ax.
It’s time to face the music.
You’ve hit the nail on the head.

If you took the first example literally, you’d think it was describing a person standing in a bathtub full of hot water, perhaps. But the expression is actually used to describe a person who’s in trouble. Likewise, rather than literally being handed a tool for chopping wood, if you get the ax from your boss, it means you’re getting fired. It’s time to face the music means that it’s time to come to terms with the consequences of your actions. And when someone has hit the nail on the head, they’ve gotten an answer exactly right or done something exactly as it should have been done.

When you know the rare definition of bar, to mean “except,” then the idiom bar none can be taken more literally. But if you didn’t and you heard or read the phrase, you’d be hard pressed to make sense of this expression. If you were to substitute in other meanings for bar, such as “a long pole” or “to exclude,” the phrase simply wouldn’t make sense. You need to know the prepositional use and definition of bar to deduce the figurative meaning of the expression: without exception, or unequivocally.

Synonyms for Bar None

There are a variety of words and phrases, including additional idiomatic expressions, that can be used to convey the same meaning as bar none. When writing or speaking and looking for a substitute for bar none, consider the following options; if you need more choices, you can consult a thesaurus:

  • Unequivocally
  • Without question
  • No question
  • Hands down
  • Without exception
  • No exception
  • Unquestionably
  • Indisputably 
  • Without comparison
  • Incomparably
  • No substitute
  • Clearly
  • For sure

Similar Expressions

Don’t confuse bar none with the similar expression no holds barred. No holds barred means “without restraint or restriction,” or “without limits,” as in: Mary and Jim argued no holds barred. It’s thought that this phrase comes from the world of wrestling, in which holds are used to pin an opponent to the ground. Want to know more phrases like these? An idioms dictionary will turn up other idiomatic expressions using bar and none, or variations of these words.

Summary

The idiom bar none means “without exception.” Use it when you’re making a comparison, to emphasize that comparison and stress that it is believed and felt to be true. When speaking or writing, the phrase can come either before or after a noun that is modified by a superlative adjective, such as best or worst. When writing the phrase, set it off be a comma or commas.