noun, often attributive
\ ˈkōl How to pronounce coal (audio) \
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

Noun 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 In that way, the cost of coal would include the cost to society of burning it: the social cost of carbon (SCC). Gilbert E. Metcalf, Scientific American, "How to Set a Price on Carbon Pollution," 19 May 2020 Those geological processes that exposed sandstone and shale along these banks also exposed seams of coal. Natalie Krebs, Outdoor Life, "Hell or Highwater on the New River," 7 May 2020 That’s the equivalent to the emissions from burning almost 50 million pounds of coal. Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, "The Compost by My Couch: How (and Why) I Started an Odorless Bin at Home," 6 May 2020 Despite the wide use of diesel engines, Italy’s electricity sector doesn’t burn a massive amount of coal, Massetti said — rather, it is driven largely by natural gas and renewable energy. Chris Mooney, Washington Post, "Pollution is plummeting in Italy in the wake of coronavirus, emissions data show," 13 Mar. 2020 This was the ultimate lump of coal in the stocking. Tom Noie, Indianapolis Star, "Another bankrupt day for Notre Dame at Bankers Life Fieldhouse," 21 Dec. 2019 Yet only a handful of executives from the oil, gas and coal industries that are chiefly responsible for warming the planet were seen attending the panel at which Thunberg spoke on Tuesday. Javier Blas,, "Greta Thunberg Tells Davos: You’ve Done Nothing on Climate Change," 5 May 2020 Oil, gas and coal will all be hit hard, the report predicts, as the world has come to standstill and demand for everything from lights in office buildings to power for trains and planes takes a huge dive. Fox News, "Coronavirus could cause largest drop in carbon emissions ever: report," 1 May 2020 The combined share of gas and coal in the global power mix will drop by 3 percentage points in 2020 to the lowest level since 2001. Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, "Daily on Energy: Fossil fuels take the biggest hit in the pandemic," 30 Apr. 2020

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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Time Traveler for coal

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for coal

Last Updated

23 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Coal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for coal


How to pronounce coal (audio)

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
US : a glowing piece of wood from a fire


\ ˈkōl How to pronounce coal (audio) \

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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