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

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

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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


the lower echelons of the bureaucracy We heard stories of corruption in the upper echelons of the firm.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

One candidate who has more centrist rhetoric and had a successful debate night was South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who doesn’t embrace the moderate label but could conceivably occupy that space in the upper echelon of candidates. Washington Post, "Moderate 2020 Dems test if Biden stumbles provide opening," 29 June 2019 CBS Sports broke down the quarterback tiers across college football and concluded the Pac-12 has just two in the upper echelon. Jon Wilner, The Mercury News, "Hotline newsletter: Pac-12 receives $750 million bids from potential partners (reportedly) but details are the key," 7 June 2019 Murray checks in at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, putting him in the upper echelon of both categories among NFL running backs. Luke Johnson,, "‘No added pressure’ for Latavius Murray when it comes to replacing Mark Ingram," 4 June 2019 That’s not to say tech companies aren’t branching out at all beyond the top four markets, especially as real estate costs balloon in the upper echelon of tech cities. Rani Molla, Recode, "Amazon, Apple and others are expanding out of major tech cities — but mostly to other major tech cities," 20 Dec. 2018 Rosie Frankowski continued her climb into the upper echelons of Alaska mountain running Sunday at Bird Ridge, becoming the first woman other than Nancy Pease to bust the 44-minute barrier in the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb. Anchorage Daily News, "Frankowski, Bjornsen make fast ascents of Bird Ridge," 17 June 2019 The president’s fondness for levies has already propelled the United States into the top echelons of tariff-wielding countries. New York Times, "Trump Says Mexico Tariffs Worked, Emboldening Trade Fight With China," 10 June 2019 But more than with most graduate degrees, getting an M.B.A. is about forging bonds with class peers and influential alumni that could turn into an entrée into the upper echelons of the business world. Amber Burton, WSJ, "Does Your Online M.B.A. Program Feel Too Remote? There’s a Bot For That," 5 Dec. 2018 And and two of our planes got in our echelon got shot down and lost all the men in G company. NBC News, "D-Day veterans remember landing in Normandy 75 years ago in World War II," 6 June 2019

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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Statistics for echelon

Last Updated

11 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for echelon

The first known use of echelon was in 1796

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More Definitions for echelon



English Language Learners Definition of echelon

: a level in an organization : a level of authority or responsibility

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More from Merriam-Webster on echelon

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with echelon

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for echelon

Spanish Central: Translation of echelon

Nglish: Translation of echelon for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of echelon for Arabic Speakers

Comments on echelon

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


appealing forcibly to the mind or reason

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