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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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 Her father-in-law, John S. McCain Sr., was also an admiral, who commanded Western Pacific Naval air and carrier task forces in World War II. Robert D. Mcfadden, New York Times, "Roberta McCain Dies at 108; Mother of the Senator and His Beacon," 12 Oct. 2020 This week, the Pentagon announced that the top members of the military would be quarantined until at least next week after a top admiral with the Coast Guard, Adm. Charles Ray, the service’s vice commandant, tested positive. Gordon Lubold, WSJ, "Trump Suggests His Covid-19 Infection Came From Gold Star Military Families," 8 Oct. 2020 Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are in isolation after a top Coast Guard admiral tested positive for the coronavirus, the Pentagon said Tuesday. Washington Post, "Live updates: Trump abruptly cuts off coronavirus aid talks, but tweets send mixed messages," 7 Oct. 2020 Zheng He, the supposedly peaceful admiral, launched a military expedition on the island of Sumatra (now part of Indonesia) against a rival to the local king and Chinese vassal. Michael Schuman, The Atlantic, "The Future of Chinese Power," 5 Oct. 2020 The admiral has become a frequent guest on television talk shows. Washington Post, "Amid Mediterranean tensions, retired Turkish admiral grabs the spotlight touting supremacy at sea," 27 Sep. 2020 The next president of the other party picks an openly partisan former admiral for another high office. Jamie Mcintyre, Washington Examiner, "Trump and Biden campaigns tout dueling endorsements by retired generals and admirals, raising doubts about apolitical military," 25 Sep. 2020 The Kemal Reis, a Turkish frigate named after a 15th-century Ottoman admiral who tormented the Venetian fleet, was one of five escorts sent to protect the Oruc Reis, an exploration ship designed to hunt for undersea oil and gas. The Economist, "Angst in the Aegean A row between Turkey and Greece over gas is raising tension in the eastern Mediterranean," 22 Aug. 2020 Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés reached the shoreline from his homeland in 1565. Jennifer Nalewicki, Smithsonian Magazine, "Ten American Towns That Feel Like Europe," 11 Aug. 2020

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

20 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Admiral.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for admiral


How to pronounce admiral (audio)

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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