1 of 2

noun (1)

bri·​ar ˈbrī(-ə)r How to pronounce briar (audio)
variants or less commonly brier
plural briars also briers
: a plant (such as a rose, blackberry, or greenbrier) having a usually woody and thorny or prickly stem
a thicket of briars
… head up an almost invisible trail along the left bank, through young pines and briars.Robert F. Jones
see also briar patch
: a mass of briars
… threading his way with perfect skill between tree-trunks, jumping over bush and briar and the smaller streams …C. S. Lewis
… volunteers methodically searching through the briar and trees …Roy Bragg
: a branch or twig of a briar
With my pair of brush cutters that I always carried I cut away enough of the long briars to provide an opening for me to sit comfortably in.Jean Solbert
briary adjective


2 of 2

noun (2)

variants or briar pipe
plural briars or briar pipes
: a tobacco pipe made from a woody root outgrowth of a shrub-like Mediterranean heath (Erica arborea)
He grinned again and disappeared in a great cloud of pipe smoke. I pulled out my briar and joined him.Marshall Harrison
Spelling extracts a black briar pipe from his dinner jacket, draws his courtiers closer and says in a tiny voice, "I hate parties. What am I doing here?"Mary Murphy

Examples of briar in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
No race in the world is quite like Barkley, which forces runners to navigate through woods and briars without the support of phones, GPS trackers or regular course markings. George Ramsay, CNN, 6 Apr. 2024 And in animal news, residents of Springtown, Texas were able to rescue a pig that was trapped in a briar parch after one resident offered a six pack of beer and $100 to whoever could catch it. Candi Bolden, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 27 Feb. 2024 These would be great for any hunter who lives in an area filled with dense thorns and briars. The Editors, Field & Stream, 1 Nov. 2023 Thorns and briars decorate the dial, which comes alive with the press of a pusher at 8 o’clock. Victoria Gomelsky, Robb Report, 7 Aug. 2023 To prevent calls, strikers, shells, and other items from falling out when belly crawling or maneuvering through brambles and briars, look for pockets with a magnetic or zipper closure. Justin Park, Popular Mechanics, 25 May 2023 Roses have thorns, and this superbloom has briars too. Corinne Purtill, Los Angeles Times, 10 May 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'briar.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Noun (1)

Middle English brer, brere, going back to Old English brēr, brǣr, of uncertain origin

Note: The noun briar belongs to a small set of words in which Middle English ę̄ has been raised to ī, whence [ai] in present-day English. These words are all, with the exception of briar, of French origin: friar, quire entry 1, choir entry 1, contrive, umpire entry 1, dice. See hypothesized explanations of this change in E. J. Dobson, English Pronunciation 1500-1700, 2nd edition (Oxford, 1968), vol. 2, pp. 655-58.

Noun (2)

short for briar pipe, from briar "wood of the heath plant Erica arborea," borrowed (with conformation to briar entry 1) from French bruyère "the heath plant Erica arborea," going back to Old French bruiere, bruere "moorland covered with heath, the heath plant Erica arborea," going back to Vulgar Latin *brūcāria, from *brūcus "heath plant" (borrowed from Gaulish *wroikos) + Latin -āria -ary entry 1 — more at erica

Note: The meaning of the derivative *brūcāria must initially have been "place covered with *brūcus," but early on in Old French it was applied to the plant itself. The simplex *brūcus is attested as Old Occitan bruc, bru, breu, Catalan bruc, Upper Italian (Piedmont) brü, (Milan) brüg. A tenth-century botanical vocabulary (see Corpus glossariorum Latinorum vol. 3, p. 587) has the gloss brucus : ramnus [Greek rhámnos "thorny shrub"]. The treatment of the diphthong (*oi > ) in the passage from Celtic to Vulgar Latin is idiosyncratic; it seems unlikely to have any connection to the monophthongization of oe (> ū) in classical Latin.

First Known Use

Noun (1)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (2)

1882, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of briar was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near briar

Cite this Entry

“Briar.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
variants or brier
: a plant (as a rose) with a thorny or prickly usually woody stem
also : a mass or twig of these
briary adjective


2 of 2 noun
variants or brier
: a pipe for smoking tobacco made from the root or stem of a European heath


Old English brēr "thorny plant"


short for briar pipe, from briar "wood of the European heath," from French bruyère "heath"

More from Merriam-Webster on briar

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