cap·​tain | \ ˈkap-tən also ˈkap-ᵊm How to pronounce captain (audio) \

Definition of captain

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a(1) : a military leader : the commander of a unit or a body of troops
(2) : a subordinate officer commanding under a sovereign or general
(3) : a commissioned officer in the army, air force, or marine corps ranking above a first lieutenant and below a major
b(1) : a naval officer who is master or commander of a ship
(2) : a commissioned officer in the navy ranking above a commander and below a commodore and in the coast guard ranking above a commander and below a rear admiral
c : a senior pilot who commands the crew of an airplane
d : an officer in a police department or fire department in charge of a unit (such as a precinct or company) and usually ranking above a lieutenant and below a chief
2 : one who leads or supervises: such as
a : a leader of a sports team or side
c : a person in charge of hotel bellhops

called also bell captain

3 : a person of importance or influence in a field captains of industry


captained; captaining; captains

Definition of captain (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to be captain of : lead captained the football team

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from captain


captaincy \ ˈkap-​tən-​sē How to pronounce captaincy (audio) \ noun
captainship \ ˈkap-​tən-​ˌship How to pronounce captainship (audio) \ noun

Examples of captain in a Sentence

Noun The captain has turned off the “fasten seat belt” sign. the captain is responsible for everything that happens to his ship in the course of a voyage Verb The ship was captained by John Smith. She captained last year's team.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Roach rebelled for a time against the new staff and battled through injury, only to grow into a Sugar Bowl champion and team captain. Nick Moyle,, "Texas Longhorns’ seniors reflect on ups and downs of last few years under Tom Herman, Charlie Strong," 27 Nov. 2019 Carlos Ghosn was a jet-setting captain of industry, the brash superhero who helped save both Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. Washington Post, "Ghosn’s Legal Odyssey and What It Says About Japan," 19 Nov. 2019 And inside China, Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, inside countries large and small, there are people hungry for the chance to become captains of their fate. Time, "The American International Order Is Finished," 18 Nov. 2019 Lauren Littlejohn, now a charter broker for Ocean Independence, grew up in a yachting family (her father was a captain of a 102-foot yacht that cruised the Great Lakes and Bahamas) and spoke with us about what actually happens below deck. Alyssa Haak, Marie Claire, "How Real Is Bravo's 'Below Deck'?," 11 Nov. 2019 So it's official; Granit Xhaka is no longer captain of Arsenal., "Why the Granit Xhaka Captaincy Saga Proves Unai Emery Isn't the Man for Arsenal," 6 Nov. 2019 Get our daily newsletter A more appropriate image than a clown is that of a rugby captain. The Economist, "The four faces of Boris Johnson," 2 Nov. 2019 Uniformed children goose-stepping in formation past bleachers full of police captains. Nell Zink, Harper's magazine, "The Bird Angle," 28 Oct. 2019 And right at the plane is Dennis Milliken, who is the transportation captain of Breaking Bad, of Better Call Saul, and, of course, of El Camino. Dan Snierson,, "Bryan Cranston on El Camino's secret reunion, Robert Forster, and if he'll play Walt again," 18 Oct. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Mobile’s Raphael Semmes captains the Confederate sea raider CSS Alabama that roams the world’s shipping lanes. al, "The story of us: Alabama history 10,000 BC to now," 28 Nov. 2019 The 29-year-old Van Veenendaal captained the Netherlands to the final of the women’s World Cup. Daniella Matar, The Denver Post, "Megan Rapinoe, Lionel Messi win FIFA player of the year awards," 23 Sep. 2019 Smith's greatest concern was the defensive line, which has been gutted over the past two offseasons and most recently lost Roe Wilkins and team captain Zach Abercrumbia. Glynn A. Hill, Houston Chronicle, "Rice coaches discuss upcoming season at THSCA convention," 23 July 2019 Down 2-1 in the series, Thunderbirds captain Nolan Volcan said his team needed more focus. Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times, "With NHL’s arrival looming, Seattle Thunderbirds, Everett Silvertips in local junior hockey golden era," 10 Apr. 2019 Greenwood opted to drop down a division to play for rivals Manchester United, and captained the side to promotion in 2018/19., "Seven Female Footballers Who Risked Fan Anger by Moving to Rival Clubs," 2 Nov. 2019 In a player draft Tuesday night by All-Star captains Elena Delle Donne and A’ja Wilson, Delle Donne chose Griner as one of her starters and Bonner as one of her reserves. Jeff Metcalfe, azcentral, "Brittney Griner goes No. 1 in WNBA All-Star draft, will join Mercury's DeWanna Bonner on Team Delle Donne," 23 July 2019 The 30-year-old Houston Texans star is engaged to his longtime sweetheart, soccer player Kealia Ohai, who captains the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League. Jason Duaine Hahn, Sports Illustrated, "JJ Watt Engaged to Houston Dash Captain Kealia Ohai: 'I'm the Luckiest Man in the World'," 26 May 2019 Taylor, whose father James played running back on Alabama’s 1973 national champions, was a wide receiver for the Crimson Tide, working his way up from walk-on status to special teams captain as a senior in 2003. Mike Berardino, Indianapolis Star, "Jafar Armstrong, Tony Jones Jr. set to lead revamped Notre Dame running game," 28 Aug. 2019

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

See More

First Known Use of captain


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)


1598, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for captain


Middle English capitane, from Anglo-French capitain, from Late Latin capitaneus, adjective & noun, chief, from Latin capit-, caput head — more at head

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about captain

Time Traveler for captain

Time Traveler

The first known use of captain was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Statistics for captain

Last Updated

5 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Captain.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 6 December 2019.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for captain


How to pronounce captain (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of captain

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a person who is in charge of a ship or an airplane
: an officer of high rank in some branches of the military
chiefly US : an officer of high rank in a police or fire department



English Language Learners Definition of captain (Entry 2 of 2)

: to be in charge of (a ship or airplane)
: to lead (a team)


cap·​tain | \ ˈkap-tən How to pronounce captain (audio) \

Kids Definition of captain

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the commanding officer of a ship
2 : a leader of a group : someone in command the captain of a football team
3 : an officer of high rank in a police or fire department
4 : a commissioned officer in the navy or coast guard ranking above a commander
5 : a commissioned officer in the army, air force, or marine corps ranking below a major


captained; captaining

Kids Definition of captain (Entry 2 of 2)

: to be captain of She captains the team.

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on captain

What made you want to look up captain? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


very cautious or careful

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Semantic Drift Quiz

  • a twisty river
  • Which of the following was once a synonym for fun?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!