ad·​mi·​ral | \ ˈad-m(ə-)rəl How to pronounce admiral (audio) \

Definition of admiral

1 archaic : the commander in chief of a navy
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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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 Looking tough as nails, Harris plays a drone-loving admiral who shuts down Cruise's jet program. Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY, 26 Aug. 2021 There would be no hearings that afternoon; the general and the admiral would have to come back another day. Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, 11 Aug. 2021 The admiral in command of the prison took over in May 2019 and, unlike his predecessors, has never met a reporter there or permitted representatives of the media to visit the prison zone, which for years was a regular occurrence. New York Times, 3 May 2021 There would be no hearings that afternoon; the general and the admiral would have to come back another day. Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, 11 Aug. 2021 As the report notes, not one of the five-star naval leaders of World War II could have made admiral in today’s woke Navy. WSJ, 18 July 2021 There would be no hearings that afternoon; the general and the admiral would have to come back another day. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 5 Aug. 2021 In March, the admiral in charge of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific region said the accumulation of Chinese power was such that Beijing may move against the island in six years to a decade. Michael R. Gordon, WSJ, 9 June 2021 The admiral got the full treatment: the cellblock, the dank basement cells, the old fortifications, prison industry sites, the lighthouse, the natural history, the weather, the water currents, the works. Carl Nolte, San Francisco Chronicle, 22 May 2021

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

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Last Updated

27 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Admiral.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Oct. 2021.

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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 How to pronounce admiral (audio) , -mrəl \

Kids Definition of admiral

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


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