ech·​e·​lon | \ ˈe-shə-ˌlän How to pronounce echelon (audio) \

Essential Meaning of echelon

: a level in an organization : a level of authority or responsibility the lower echelons of the bureaucracy the industry's top echelon the upper/higher echelons of the firm

Full Definition of echelon

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a(1) : an arrangement of a body of troops with its units each somewhat to the left or right of the one in the rear like a series of steps
(2) : a formation of units or individuals resembling such an echelon geese flying in echelon
(3) : a flight formation in which each airplane flies at a certain elevation above or below and at a certain distance behind and to the right or left of the airplane ahead
b : any of several military units in echelon formation also : any unit or group acting in a disciplined or organized manner served in a combat echelon
2a : one of a series of levels or grades in an organization or field of activity involved employees at every echelon
b : a group of individuals at a particular level or grade in an organization or field of activity the upper echelons of management


echeloned; echeloning; echelons

Definition of echelon (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to form or arrange in an echelon

intransitive verb

: to take position in an echelon

Did you know?


Echelon is a useful word for anyone who is climbing the ladder of success. It traces back to scala, a Late Latin word meaning "ladder" that was the ancestor of the Old French eschelon, meaning "rung of a ladder." Over time, the French word (which is échelon in Modern French) came to mean "step," "grade," or "level." When it was first borrowed into English in the 18th century, echelon referred specifically to a steplike arrangement of troops, but it now usually refers to a level or category within an organization or group of people.

Examples of echelon in a Sentence

Noun the lower echelons of the bureaucracy We heard stories of corruption in the upper echelons of the firm.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Santana, the first Spaniard to win a Grand Slam event, rose to the top echelon of world tennis during the amateur era by winning the U.S. National Championships at Forest Hills, Queens, Wimbledon and the French Open, twice. New York Times, 15 Dec. 2021 The KitchenAid Stand Mixer is right up there with an Instant Pot in the upper echelon of kitchen appliances. Medea Giordano, Wired, 29 Nov. 2021 What followed is a parade of external hires, instantly replacing Ogilvy top echelon. Avi Dan, Forbes, 26 Oct. 2021 Names like Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Assembly Hall, Mackey Arena, and the Gainbridge Fieldhouse are just a few that quickly come to mind, each with their own unique and important histories — shrines built to glorify the highest echelon of hoops. Andy Yamashita, The Indianapolis Star, 15 Oct. 2021 The days when the upper echelon of Manhattan real estate was dominated by whisper listings and co-op boards who cared about the right social references are all but gone. Kim Velsey, Curbed, 13 Oct. 2021 The recruiting is there to be an upper echelon SEC team, but A&M is going to have to make a lot of offensive offseason improvements to be a real contender next season. John Talty |, al, 3 Oct. 2021 And while some routes and aircraft remain mothballed, the options are growing and, in many cases, include improvements intended to make the highest echelon of airline travel rival chartering a private jet. J. George Gorant, Robb Report, 19 Sep. 2021 This type of designation is rare and reserved for the highest echelon of forecast flood events. NBC News, 2 Sep. 2021

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


1796, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)


circa 1860, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

History and Etymology for echelon


French échelon, literally, rung of a ladder, from Old French eschelon, from eschele ladder, from Late Latin scala

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The first known use of echelon was in 1796

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Last Updated

8 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Echelon.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Jan. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on echelon

Nglish: Translation of echelon for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of echelon for Arabic Speakers


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