cap·​tain | \ ˈkap-tən also ˈkap-ᵊm \

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

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Other Words from captain


captaincy \ ˈkap-​tən-​sē \ noun
captainship \ ˈkap-​tən-​ˌship \ noun

Examples of captain in a Sentence


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


The ship was captained by John Smith. She captained last year's team.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The Fitzgerald’s captain, executive officer, and command master chief were all relieved of duty after the collision, as was the commander of Destroyer Squadron 15 and Task Force 70. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "Secret Probe Into USS Fitzgerald Disaster Revealed a Ship in Appalling Shape," 14 Jan. 2019 While there, several department members including a division chief and EMS captains, practiced multiple intubations on the body, the Bellingham Herald reported, citing information received from the city’s communications director. Lucia I. Suarez Sang, Fox News, "Washington state fire department used dead body for training without family's consent: report," 25 Sep. 2018 An unsuspecting Drac is immediately smitten by the ship’s captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), the great-granddaughter of Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan). Kimber Walsh,, "Review: 'Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation' hits the open seas with its creature comforts intact," 12 July 2018 Milwaukee residents have been receiving scam phone calls from people pretending to be sheriff's captains, the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office said Friday. Elena Weissmann, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Alert: Milwaukee residents report scam phone calls from fake sheriff's captains," 29 June 2018 Aly Raisman, captain of the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams, has become a high-profile advocate for survivors of Nassar’s abuse. Rachel Bachman, WSJ, "Gymnastics Scandal’s Surprise Aftermath: More Gymnasts," 24 Jan. 2019 Back in the present and picking up from the cliffhanger events of season one, captain of the (now battle-damaged) USS Enterprise Christopher Pike, played by Anson Mount, assumes command of the Discovery. Darren Orf, Popular Mechanics, "'Star Trek: Discovery' Season Two Wants You to Forget About Season One," 18 Jan. 2019 During the almost six hours spent inside the Buffalo terminal, the passengers got only a couple of early updates from the captain that provided no hard information. Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times, "Alaska Airlines flight diversion leads to a 30-hour nightmare for passengers," 8 Jan. 2019 Davern, a family friend as well as Navy vet, was the captain that fateful weekend. Nancy Bilyeau, Town & Country, "What Really Happened to Natalie Wood?," 29 Nov. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Don Cheadle stars as an impulsive trader who captains a misfit firm with his more levelheaded lieutenant, played by Regina Hall. John Jurgensen, WSJ, "‘Black Monday’ Plays the Wall Street Crash for Laughs," 16 Jan. 2019 All eyes will be on England forward Harry Kane, who leads the Golden Boot race with five goals and will captain the Three Lions. Avi Creditor,, "LIVE: Colombia, England Clash to Close World Cup Round of 16," 3 July 2018 Michel Platini captained the French side in front of the home fans at Parc Des Princes but a late goal courtesy of Juan Carlos Oblitas spoiled the party for the French as they were beaten 1-0., "World Cup Preview: France vs Peru - Recent Form, Previous Encounter, Team News, Predictions & More," 20 June 2018 Europe nearly pulled off an incredible victory against one of the strongest U.S. teams of them all, captained by Nicklaus himself, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Pan Pylas, Fox News, "British love affair with Ryder Cup to persist beyond Brexit," 27 Sep. 2018 The Moroccan international, who is currently captaining his country at the 2018 World Cup, cemented himself in the first team picture ahead of the likes of Andrea Barzagli and Daniele Rugani., "Arsenal Continuing Their Pursuit of Juventus' Medhi Benatia as They Look to Bolster Their Defence," 24 June 2018 At Hopkinton High, Chandler captained the girls volleyball, basketball, and lacrosse teams. Marvin Pave,, "Chandler found the strength to bounce back for BC," 8 June 2018 The tournament's second-youngest team arrived in Russia with lofty ambitions 20 years after Deschamps captained Les Bleus to the 1998 World Cup title at the Stade de France. Justin Davis,, "Deschamps: France 'must do better' despite win over Australia," 16 June 2018 Boats are captained and guided by total pros who know these waters like no one else. Jennifer M. Wood, Condé Nast Traveler, "3 Best Day Trips from Miami," 4 Mar. 2018

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.

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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

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Statistics for captain

Last Updated

14 Feb 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for captain

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

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More Definitions for captain



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 \

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.

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