noun, often attributive
\ˈklā \

Definition of clay 

(Entry 1 of 3)

1a : an earthy material that is plastic when moist but hard when fired, that is composed mainly of fine particles of hydrous aluminum silicates and other minerals, and that is used for brick, tile, and pottery specifically : soil composed chiefly of this material having particles less than a specified size

b : earth, mud

2a : a substance that resembles clay in plasticity and is used for modeling

b : the human body as distinguished from the spirit

c : fundamental nature or character the common clay


biographical name (1)
\ˈklā \

Definition of Clay (Entry 2 of 3)

Henry 1777–1852 American statesman and orator


biographical name (2)

Definition of Clay (Entry 3 of 3)

Lucius Du Bi*gnon \du̇-ˈbin-yən \ 1897–1978 American general

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Other Words from clay


clayey \ˈklā-ē \ adjective
clayish \ˈklā-ish \ adjective
claylike \-ˌlīk \ adjective

Examples of clay in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

When the paddy fields dry, the clay soil is soft and spongy, a comfortable surface that eliminates end-of- day pain and fatigue. Rene Wisely, Detroit Free Press, "Kybun Joya Shoes, sports collectibles, sushi, whiskey fill downtowns," 9 July 2018 Here are tips from Washington Post gardening columnist Adrian Higgins: Herbs like full sun, free-draining soil and an open and airy location, as opposed to shade, heavy clay soil and thick wood mulches. Becky Krystal, sacbee, "As you plot to grow herbs, aim for a balance of wants, needs," 29 June 2018 The red clay soil of Alabama, a form of ultisol, is produced by intense weathering, season after season with no new soil. Danielle Jackson, Longreads, "Alabama’s History Haunts, But It Also Instructs," 27 June 2018 Here are tips from Washington Post gardening columnist Adrian Higgins: — Herbs like full sun, free-draining soil and an open and airy location, as opposed to shade, heavy clay soil and thick wood mulches. Becky Krystal, The Seattle Times, "How to pick the most useful herbs to plant in your back yard," 26 June 2018 But keep in mind, there are natives to address just about any yard issues, including heavy clay soil, shoreline protection and nibbling deer. Jennifer Rude Klett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Micro prairies: No yard is too small to go with earth-friendly native plants," 25 May 2018 Archeologists have found oysters shells, bones, stone tools and fragments of clay pots, many of which are on display at the Palmetto Bluff History Center. Smithsonian, "Learn more about the Conservancy at Palmetto Bluff," 1 Apr. 2018 As the rain sets in, native roots push and acclimate to hard, unforgiving local clay soil. Sunset, "10 Fall Gardening Chores to Prep for Winter," 22 Jan. 2018 When backfilling, use the native soil — even clay soil — that came out of the planting hole. Ellen Nibali,, "Garden Q&A: Be wary of the 'bathtub effect'," 12 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'clay.' 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 clay


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

History and Etymology for clay


Middle English, from Old English clǣg; akin to Old High German klīwa bran, Latin gluten glue, Middle Greek glia

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Learn More about clay

Dictionary Entries near clay


claw tool






Statistics for clay

Last Updated

14 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for clay

The first known use of clay was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for clay



English Language Learners Definition of clay

: a heavy, sticky material from the earth that is made into different shapes and that becomes hard when it is baked or dried


\ˈklā \

Kids Definition of clay

1 : an earthy material that is sticky and easily molded when wet and hard when baked

2 : a substance like clay that is used for modeling

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Comments on clay

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