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 2008, emissions from coal triggered the most deaths and imposed the largest share of health care costs nationwide. Michael Hawthorne,, "Burning natural gas is now more dangerous than coal in Illinois, study shows," 5 May 2021 Those methane leaks could offset the carbon reduction benefits of the switch in recent years from coal to gas for generating electricity. Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, "Senate votes to cancel Trump EPA deregulation in effort to reinstate methane emissions curbs," 28 Apr. 2021 More must-read stories from Fortune: How much Bitcoin comes from dirty coal? Sophie Mellor, Fortune, "Business optimism riding high in Europe, survey finds," 27 Apr. 2021 This projection is based on an increase in electricity from burning coal. Ian Palmer, Forbes, "Oil And Gas Industry Caught In Transition To Renewables – An International View.," 27 Apr. 2021 Emissions from the sector have dropped 37 percent since 2005, though that's partly due to the switch from coal to natural gas. Paul Douglas, Star Tribune, "Weekend Warm Front Will Put Some Spring Back In Your Step," 27 Apr. 2021 Switching from coal to renewable energy sources is relatively easy compared to other changes that will be required. Ivana Kottasová, CNN, "The problem with the big climate pledges we've heard this week," 24 Apr. 2021 Emissions from the sector have dropped 37 percent since 2005, though that’s partly due to the switch from coal to natural gas. Matt Simon, Wired, "How the US Might Reach Biden's New Climate Goal," 22 Apr. 2021 The focus on new fuel sources marks the biggest change in ship power since the sector switched from coal to oil more than 100 years ago. Costas Paris, WSJ, "Ship Operators Move Toward LNG to Pare Emissions," 22 Apr. 2021

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

16 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Coal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 May. 2021.

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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
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

More from Merriam-Webster on coal

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