noun car·di·nal \ˈkärd-nəl, ˈkär-də-\

: a priest of the Roman Catholic Church who ranks immediately below the Pope

: a common North American bird

Full Definition of CARDINAL

:  a high ecclesiastical official of the Roman Catholic Church who ranks next below the pope and is appointed by him to assist him as a member of the college of cardinals
:  cardinal number —usually used in plural
[from its color, resembling that of the cardinal's robes] :  a crested finch (Cardinalis cardinalis of the family Cardinalidae) of the eastern United States and adjacent Canada, the southwestern United States, and Mexico to Belize which has a black face and heavy red bill in both sexes and is nearly completely red in the male
car·di·nal·ship \-ˌship\ noun

Examples of CARDINAL

  1. The Pope appointed two new cardinals this year.

Illustration of CARDINAL

Origin of CARDINAL

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin cardinalis, from Late Latin cardinalis, adjective
First Known Use: 12th century

Other Birds Terms

aerie, bunting, clutch, covey, hackle, ratite, rictus, ruff, skein, zygodactyl



: basic or most important

Full Definition of CARDINAL

:  of basic importance <a cardinal principle>
:  very serious or grave <a cardinal sin>
car·di·nal·ly adverb

Examples of CARDINAL

  1. the cardinal principles of news reporting
  2. My cardinal rule is to always be honest.

Origin of CARDINAL

Middle English, from Late Latin cardinalis, from Latin, serving as a hinge, from cardin-, cardo hinge
First Known Use: 14th century
May 22, 2015
nepotism Hear it
favoritism based on kinship
Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!
How to use a word that (literally) drives some people nuts.
Test your vocab with our fun, fast game
Ailurophobia, and 9 other unusual fears