Unsung Hero: Meaning, Origin & Correct Usage

Are you curious about the meaning of the term “unsung hero”? This phrase describes people who don’t get credit for saving the day; let’s learn how to use it correctly.

You might have heard the term “unsung hero” and wondered about its meaning. After all, aren’t heroes generally praised for their good deeds? This phrase is an idiom used to describe someone who has done something heroic but didn’t receive any recognition for it.

This meaning was captured perfectly by Dwayne Johnson when he said: “I’ve always seen first responders as unsung heroes and very special people because, when everyone else is running away from danger, they run into it.”

Let’s learn more about the origin of this phrase and how to use it. While you’re here, you might also be interested in the hero’s journey, and how you can use it in your fictional writing.

What Is An Unsung Hero?

This phrase is a combination of two words: “hero” means someone who is admired for their good deeds, courage, or character, and “unsung” means someone who is unpraised for their hard work. In other words: an unsung hero is someone who doesn’t get appreciation, thanks, or credit for their good character and achievements, according to Wikipedia’s Wiktionary and other English dictionaries.

How To Use The Term “Unsung Hero” Correctly

How to use the term “unsung hero” correctly?
An unsung hero is a person whose courage or good work goes unpraised

The term “unsung hero” is generally used to describe people, but this isn’t a hard rule. You can describe an animal, place, or thing are an unsung hero in certain circumstances. For example, if a fire alarm disrupted an exam you weren’t prepared for, you might jokingly call it an unsung hero.

Although it wouldn’t be grammatically incorrect to refer to yourself as an unsung hero, people rarely say it about themselves. Instead, it’s considered a compliment to say it about someone else. If you wanted to vent about feeling unappreciated, you could say you feel overlooked or taken for granted.

Here are some example sentences:

  • The receptionists are the unsung heroes at the vet, they take the brunt of customer’s frustrations.
  • Nurses are unsung heroes; the care they deliver to patients is invaluable.
  • My partner is really the unsung hero, I couldn’t have gotten my Ph.D. without their support.
  • My dog is the unsung hero, he first alerted me that something was wrong; I just pulled the fire alarm.
  • My sister is the unsung hero here, I would have failed my Spanish exam without her help.
  • My German is weak, my translation app was the unsung hero of the trip.

Unsung Hero Origin

The term “unsung hero” has been part of English speakers’ vocabularies for almost 200 years. The first recorded use of this term came in 1860 when it was used in an article in Merry’s Museum & Parley’s Magazine.

The individual words have a much longer history.

Unsung (ʌnˈsʌŋ) means unpraised, but it originally meant a song that was not sung and can still be used in this context. Sing came from the Old English word “singan,” which became “singen” in Middle English. It didn’t come to mean something or someone that was not praised or celebrated until the 1600s.

Hero comes from the Greek word “hērōs” and was believed to be used to describe “protectors” and God-like figures, such as Heracles, also known as Hercules. The word was borrowed from Greek by Latin, then by Old French, before eventually becoming the English word we know today. It came to be a word to describe humans who were exceptionally brave, rather than mythical characters and demi-gods, in the 1600s.

As mentioned earlier, the phrase “unsung hero” is an idiom. Idioms are words or phrases with a figurative definition that does not always make sense when we look at the phrase literally.

It is also considered a collocation. These are words that are often used together. Other examples of collocations are “fast food,” “save time,” and “pay attention.”

You might also be interested in our guide on basic English grammar rules.

Unsung Hero Synonyms

Unsung hero synonyms
If you need synonyms for ‘unsung hero’, a thesaurus offers several options

There are a few synonyms for the phrase “unsung hero” in a thesaurus. Below is a word list to add to your English learner’s dictionary to increase your vocabulary:

  • Hidden gem
  • Secret Weapon
  • Silent hero
  • Nameless hero
  • Unheralded
  • Invisible
  • Unappreciated
  • Overlooked
  • Unseen
  • Inglorious
  • Unfamed
  • Unlauded
  • Unrenowned
  • Noteless

If you want to learn some more new words, check out our list of essay words.

Unsung Hero Meaning: FAQs

What Is The Unsung Hero Award?

There are several unsung hero awards, including the UK’s Unsung Hero Awards (AHA) to celebrate non-clinical and non-medical volunteers and staff in the NHS, BBC Sports’ Unsung Hero Award, and Thank a Teacher’s Unsung Heroes Award. The purpose of awards like these is to give people the recognition they deserve.

Is Unsung Hero One Word Or Two?

“Unsung hero” is two separate words, but it is referred to as an open compound word. That is two words that function together to create meaning but remain separated by a space. If you were attempting to use this word in a game like Scrabble, you would have to find a synonym or use “unsung” and “hero” separately.


  • Aisling is an Irish journalist and content creator with a BA in Journalism & New Media. She has bylines in OK! Magazine, Metro, The Inquistr, and the Irish Examiner. She loves to read horror and YA. Find Aisling on LinkedIn.