noun, often attributive
\ˈkōl \
plural coals

Definition of coal 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a piece of glowing carbon or charred wood : ember

3a : a black or brownish-black solid combustible substance formed by the partial decomposition of vegetable matter without free access of air and under the influence of moisture and often increased pressure and temperature that is widely used as a natural fuel

b coals plural, British : pieces or a quantity of the fuel broken up for burning

haul/rake (someone) over the coals

: to criticize (someone) very severely The government was then raked over the coals for refusing to send out information about the candidates.The Economist The Headmaster was angry. So angry, indeed, that he did what in a more lucid interval he would not have done. He hauled a senior over the coals in the hearing of a number of juniors …— P. G. Wodehouse


coaled; coaling; coals

Definition of coal (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to burn to charcoal : char

2 : to supply with coal

intransitive verb

: to take in coal

Examples of coal in a Sentence


When the coals are red, they are very hot. I toasted one last marshmallow over the coals of the campfire.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

On energy policy, Taiwanese voted to ban coal power in one referendum question but then voted with a 59% majority not to ban nuclear power on another. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "The Taiwan Tightrope," 25 Nov. 2018 A hundred years ago this area was home to thousands of coal miners and their families. The Voorhes, Glamour, "I'm a Woman in a Battleground State. Here's What Politicians Don't Understand About Me.," 21 Aug. 2018 And there are even some remaining cases, in places with lots of coal power on the grid, where natural gas is lower-carbon than electrical heat, at least for now (for instance, Chicago). David Roberts, Vox, "Most American homes are still heated with fossil fuels. It’s time to electrify.," 2 July 2018 The Bloomberg View Senior Executive Editor David Shipley presents an editorial arguing that President Donald Trump’s plan to save uneconomical coal power plants in the name of national security is an expensive mistake., "Americans Will Pay a High Price to Save Coal: Editorial," 6 June 2018 The Navajo government gets 22 percent of its revenue from the operation, while the Hopi’s budget is more than 85 percent dependent on coal power. NBC News, "Biggest coal-burning power plant in the West is most likely shutting down," 11 Apr. 2018 We like these extra-long 16-inch gloves ($17.99) for moving logs and cooking over coals. Megan Barber, Curbed, "The ultimate van life shopping guide," 14 Nov. 2018 The history of local mining—for obsidian, iron, copper, silver, coal—also goes back thousands of years. Kyre Chenven, Condé Nast Traveler, "For Sardinia’s Wild Side, Head to Sulcis," 12 Oct. 2018 The disaster took place in the tiny Welsh coal mining town of Aberfan on October 21, 1966, when the top of a mining heap broke loose after severe rain fall, causing a landslide which killed 116 children and 28 adults. Julie Kosin, Harper's BAZAAR, "New Photos from the Set of The Crown Show Its Commitment to Accuracy," 4 Oct. 2018

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


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


1560, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

History and Etymology for coal


Middle English col, from Old English; akin to Old High German & Old Norse kol burning ember, Middle Irish gúal coal

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Dictionary Entries near coal






coal ball

coal black

Statistics for coal

Last Updated

6 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for coal

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

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More Definitions for coal



English Language Learners Definition of coal

: a black or brownish-black hard substance within the earth that is used as a fuel

: a piece of coal or charcoal especially when burning

: a glowing piece of wood from a fire


\ˈkōl \

Kids Definition of coal

1 : a piece of glowing or charred wood : ember

2 : a black solid mineral substance that is formed by the partial decay of plant matter under the influence of moisture and often increased pressure and temperature within the earth and is mined for use as a fuel

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More from Merriam-Webster on coal

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with coal

Spanish Central: Translation of coal

Nglish: Translation of coal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of coal for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about coal

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