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Compete vs Contend vs Contest

Compete, contend, contest are comparable especially in their intransitive senses when they mean to strive to gain the mastery or upper hand.

Compete (see also RIVAL) implies a struggle to overcome or get the better of in an activity requiring two or more participants and involving rivalry (as an athletic match or a debate); the term may sometimes connote an additional incentive or inducement (as a prize or reward).

Contend, which may suggest a straining or stretching (see CONTEND), usually implies opposition that has equal or better chances of succeeding and therefore a vigorous endeavor to win or to attain or to down or to frustrate; the term usually connotes competition, but it stresses the need of fighting or struggling.

Contest usually implies a competing but, since the word may be qualified with respect to the way in which the rivalry manifests itself, it often suggests a contending. The term may be used in reference to a debate, dispute, or controversy, a race or an athletic competition, or a physical fight or struggle but it invariably involves the idea of proving one’s mastery or superiority.