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

On paper, there's a lot purportedly going on here, but as seems increasingly common for artists of this echelon, editing of ideas doesn't appear to be on the agenda. Jonny Coleman, The Hollywood Reporter, "Critic's Notebook: Taylor Swift's Sunny 'Lover' Plays it Safe," 23 Aug. 2019 To be at the top echelon of Conference USA, of Conference USA West, vying for position. Greg Luca,, "North Texas will be measuring stick for UTSA in Conference USA," 17 Aug. 2019 That hope is rooted in logic, since the top echelon of backs continues to be one of the primary engines powering championship fantasy teams. Kevin Scott,, "Fantasy Football 2019: Running Back Position Primer," 6 Aug. 2019 Also expensive are the human brains behind the artificial ones—the top echelon of machine learning experts command mid to high six- or even seven-figure salaries. Jeremy Kahn, Fortune, "How OpenAI, Founded to Keep Powerful A.I. Out of Corporate Hands, Got Into Bed With Microsoft," 24 July 2019 The top echelons of the federal government are now filled with such individuals since the election of Donald Trump, who himself has dismissed climate change as a hoax concocted by China. Dino Grandoni, Washington Post, "The Energy 202: Why climate scientists want to be thought of as the real 'climate skeptics'," 18 May 2018 The Bill Maher-Stephen Colbert-Chelsea Handler echelon of late-night public comment, and their even more banal and imbecilic day-time television analogues, ghoulishly lavished hundreds of millions of free airtime on the Trumps. Conrad Black, National Review, "Trump: A Brief History Thereof," 1 Aug. 2019 Cristobal and his coaching staff have targeted the nation’s best backs in the past two years, and have made a particular effort to recruit upper-echelon ball-carriers who blend speed with a power running game., "Evan Pryor, nation’s No. 2 RB in 2021, visiting Oregon Ducks for ‘Saturday Night Live’ camp," 22 July 2019 Maybe on third downs Fitzpatrick will be asked to go to the boundary to press cover upper-echelon receivers like the Dallas Cowboys’ Amari Cooper and Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green. Omar Kelly,, "Will Dolphins’ Minkah Fitzpatrick ever reach his full potential if Miami keeps moving him around? | Countdown to camp," 20 July 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

5 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for echelon

The first known use of echelon was in 1796

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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).


one from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

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