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


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

The Clairton Plant bakes coal at high temperatures to produce coke, a high-carbon fuel used in steelmaking. Kris Maher, WSJ, "U.S. Steel Suffers New Fire Knocking Out Pollution Controls in Plant Near Pittsburgh," 17 June 2019 As an engine and coal-car rode past before the soldiers reached him, the quick-thinking Pierpont jumped on board and escaped. Kevin Leonard,, "'The rebels are coming!'– A Laurel Civil War Story," 17 June 2019 The new end product can be burned for energy, and it’s being marketed as a coal substitute for industrial furnaces. Dennis Pillion |,, "Montgomery bet $31 million on future of recycling and its ‘magic garbage machine’," 17 June 2019 The road tops out on Cuchara Pass at 9,995 feet and goes through the old coal country west of Trinidad, as well as the towns of Cuchara and Le Veta — both with a few hotels, places to eat and art galleries and workshops. Joshua Berman, The Know, "6 beautiful Colorado highways that are great for summer road trips," 17 June 2019 Another villain lurks in the background of this story: the Hazelwood power station, a coal-powered plant that looms over Latrobe Valley and provided almost a quarter of the state’s electricity before it was closed in 2017. The Economist, "What caused Australia’s devastating bushfires?," 15 June 2019 In late April, a group of protesters lined up to speak at a Sierra Club news conference in Milwaukee against a proposal to change mercury limits for the coal-burning Oak Creek Plant. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin has cut mercury pollution of its lakes. Climate change puts those gains at risk.," 14 June 2019 The only difference between nuclear and coal power production is that one burns a fossil fuel to heat up water and the other uses a nuclear reaction. Rhett Allain, WIRED, "Estimate the Energy of an Utterly Massive Wind Turbine," 13 June 2019 The biggest sources are coal-burning power plants, factories, and automobiles. National Geographic, "Acid rain, explained," 12 June 2019

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about coal

Dictionary Entries near coal






coal ball

coal black

Statistics for coal

Last Updated

21 Jun 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for coal

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Comments on coal

What made you want to look up coal? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a device or gadget

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!