cap·​stan ˈkap-stən How to pronounce capstan (audio)
: a machine for moving or raising heavy weights that consists of a vertical drum which can be rotated and around which cable is turned
: a rotating shaft that drives tape at a constant speed in a recorder

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Such is the ship’s condition that some of her rigging is still in place, while her wooden capstan and bilge pump are also visible. Fox News, 23 July 2019 Various rare items were also visible aboard the ancient wreck, including a wooden bilge pump and a capstan, a wide cylinder used for winding up lengths of rope. William J. Broad, New York Times, 22 July 2019 Cranes, windlasses and capstans (ancient water-raising devices based on a kind of swinging, see-saw design) may well have inspired the use of counterweights in early elevators and hoists. Adrienne Bernhard, Smithsonian, 27 Apr. 2018

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

Word History


Middle English, probably from Middle French cabestant

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of capstan was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near capstan

Cite this Entry

“Capstan.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 31 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition


cap·​stan ˈkap-stən How to pronounce capstan (audio)
: a device that consists of a drum to which a rope is fastened and that is used especially on ships for moving or raising weights

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