ad·mi·ral | \ ˈad-m(ə-)rəl \

Definition of admiral 

1 archaic : the commander in chief of a navy

2a : flag officer

b : a commissioned officer in the navy or coast guard who ranks above a vice admiral and whose insignia is four stars — compare general

3 archaic : flagship

4 : any of several brightly colored nymphalid butterflies — compare red admiral

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Did You Know?

It is a curiosity of history that the word admiral has its source in Arabic, the language of a desert people who acquired their seafaring skills after the great expansion of Islam in the seventh century. As the name for a Muslim chieftain, the Arabic word amir appears as a loanword in medieval Latin documents in spellings such as amiratus, admirandus, and admirallus. These words display a variety of suffixes and an added d, through confusion with the Latin verb admirari, “to admire.” The ending -allus is probably from the Arabic article al, which actually belongs to the following word in phrases such as amir al-‘ali, “supreme commander.” The application of admirallus to a commander of a fleet originated in 12th-century Sicily, was adopted by the Genoese, and then spread to countries throughout western Europe, including France and England.

Examples of admiral in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

In the film, Khan blames Kirk for the death of his wife and seeks to destroy the Enterprise’s enterprising leader, who’s now a Starfleet admiral contemplating bifocals. René A. Guzman, San Antonio Express-News, "William Shatner returns to San Antonio for ‘Wrath of Khan’ Q&A at the Tobin Center," 19 June 2018 More than 60 admirals have come under investigation by the Justice Department and the Navy for their interactions with Francis and his company. Craig Whitlock, Anchorage Daily News, "Leaks, feasts and sex parties: How ‘Fat Leonard’ infiltrated the Navy’s floating headquarters in Asia," 1 Feb. 2018 The admiral’s notice said the prison would use existing funds to level the site sometime in February. Carol Rosenberg, miamiherald, "Guantánamo to demolish prison camp built to send message of ‘hope’," 31 Jan. 2018 One party that will be unhappy with the admiral's appointment to Seoul is the Chinese government, which has been a longtime critic of Harris. Ben Westcott, CNN, "Trump's ambassador switch risks estranging Australia and angering China," 25 Apr. 2018 Trump nominated a retired Navy admiral, Edward Masso, to replace Melville late last year - but withdrew the nomination last month for unknown reasons, according to Estonian public radio. Avi Selk, Anchorage Daily News, "US ambassador to Estonia abruptly resigns over Trump's attacks on allies," 1 July 2018 Trump nominated a retired Navy admiral, Edward Masso, to replace Melville late last year — but withdrew the nomination last month for unknown reasons, according to Estonian public radio. Avi Selk, Washington Post, "‘Time to go’: U.S. ambassador to Estonia abruptly resigns over Trump’s attacks on allies," 30 June 2018 His father and grandfather were four-star admirals, and McCain was a Navy airman when he was shot down over Hanoi in 1967, then held captive for 5 ½ years. Lorraine Ali,, "HBO’s ‘John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls’ is as candid as the maverick himself," 27 May 2018 The entire region was a hodgepodge of colonial outposts, sea gypsies, Christian missionaries, tea thieves, and Chinese admirals spreading Islam. Mark Orwoll, Condé Nast Traveler, "The Best Way to Island Hop in Thailand," 14 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'admiral.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of admiral

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for admiral

Middle English admirail, admiral, amiral "emir, Saracen chieftain, naval commander," borrowed from Anglo-French, borrowed from Medieval Latin admiralis, admirallus, amiralius, borrowed from Arabic amīr-al- "commander of the," in such phrases as amīr-al-baḥr "commander of the sea" (initial adm- for am- probably by association with Latin admīrārī "to admire")

Note: From the 9th century, the Arabic word amīr, "commander," appears in Medieval Latin documents with a variety of suffixal formations, as amiratus, admirandus, and admirallus; the ending -allus in the latter form has usually been construed as the Arabic definite article al, which belongs to the following word in collocations such as amīr al-'alī, "supreme commander." The more specific application of admirallus to the commander of a fleet originated in 12th-century Norman-ruled Sicily.

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Last Updated

13 Sep 2018

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The first known use of admiral was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for admiral



English Language Learners Definition of admiral

: a high-ranking officer in the navy


ad·mi·ral | \ ˈad-mə-rəl , -mrəl \

Kids Definition of admiral

: a commissioned officer in the navy or coast guard ranking above a vice admiral

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More from Merriam-Webster on admiral

Spanish Central: Translation of admiral

Nglish: Translation of admiral for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of admiral for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about admiral

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