\ ˈēl How to pronounce eel (audio) \

Definition of eel

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : any of numerous voracious elongate snakelike bony fishes (order Anguilliformes) that have a smooth slimy skin, lack pelvic fins, and have the median fins confluent around the tail — compare american eel
b : any of numerous other elongate fishes (as of the order Synbranchiformes)
2 : any of various nematodes (such as the vinegar eel)


eeled; eeling; eels

Definition of eel (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : to fish for eels — see also eeling
b : to fish with eels as bait
2 : to move or make (one's way) sinuously or insidiously : worm Stories my Russian friends had told me about the hundreds who were trampled at Stalin's funeral came back to me. Finally, we gave up and eeled our way out of there.— Ian Frazier

Illustration of eel

Illustration of eel


eel 1a

In the meaning defined above

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Other Words from eel


eellike \ ˈēl-​ˌlīk How to pronounce eellike (audio) \ adjective
eely \ ˈē-​lē How to pronounce eely (audio) \ adjective

Did You Know?

There are more than 500 fish species known as eels. They are slender, elongated, and usually scaleless, with long dorsal and anal fi ns that are continuous around the tail tip. Eels are found in all seas, from coastal regions to the mid-depths. Freshwater eels are active, predatory fish with small embedded scales. They grow to maturity in freshwater and return to the sea, where they spawn and die. The transparent young drift to the coast and make their way upstream. Freshwater eels, considered valuable food fish, include species ranging from 4 in (10 cm) to about 111⁄2 ft (3.5 m) long.

Examples of eel in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Puffins feed their young on sand eels and, suspects Sjurdur Hammer, a conservation scientist at the Faroese Environment Agency, sand eels’ nutritional value has gone down because the seas are warmer, speeding up their metabolism. The Economist, "Puffins on the Faroe Islands are in danger," 9 Aug. 2019 Her daughter Mamie told me that Melvin and Licurtis had revelled in the land as kids, playing among the inky eels and conch shells. Lizzie Presser, ProPublica, "The Reels Brothers Spent Eight Years in Jail for Refusing to Leave It.," 15 July 2019 Another sharp decline in the wild population came in the mid-1990s, when millions of horseshoe crabs were being caught and killed each year, mainly for bait in eel and whelk fisheries. Maddy Lauria,, "Using synthetic crab blood substitute in biomedical testing could help save horseshoe crabs and shorebirds," 22 June 2019 These soft-bodied, golf ball-size cephalopods don’t have much to protect them from predators like seals, eels and fish. Quanta Magazine, "New Squid Genome Shines Light on Symbiotic Evolution," 19 Feb. 2019 Green sea turtles, butterflyfish, parrotfish, tangs, eels and triggerfish thrive along the underwater lava rock ledge of Puu Kekaa — Black Rock. The Seattle Times, "Winter getaway: Stay and play in Kaanapali, Maui," 15 Aug. 2018 Part 5 will be an auditory treat featuring the mysterious sounds of the sea, from grunting haddock to singing cusk eels. Amanda Paulson, The Christian Science Monitor, "Message in a bottle: Forensics meets marine science with eDNA," 15 Aug. 2019 At 6,000 years old, the freshwater aquaculture system that traps eels in Budj Bim is older than Stonehenge—and is vital to the area’s Aborigine culture and economic success. Meredith Carey, Condé Nast Traveler, "UNESCO's Newest World Heritage Sites, in Photos," 11 July 2019 Bottom-dwelling organisms like eel and shrimp will swim 60 feet to the surface just to get some oxygen. Sarah Kaplan, Twin Cities, "‘A major punch in the gut’: Midwest rains projected to create Gulf dead zone," 11 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

These men eel entitled and had been protected from being outed. James Warren,, "How Hollywood Will Change After Weinstein," 20 Oct. 2017 These men eel entitled and had been protected from being outed. James Warren, The Hive, "How Hollywood Will Change After Weinstein," 20 Oct. 2017

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


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1922, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for eel


Middle English ele, from Old English ǣl; akin to Old High German āl eel

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Dictionary Entries near eel





eel-back flounder


eel cat

Statistics for eel

Last Updated

9 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for eel

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

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More Definitions for eel



English Language Learners Definition of eel

: a long fish that looks like a snake and has smooth slippery skin


\ ˈēl How to pronounce eel (audio) \

Kids Definition of eel

: a long fish that looks like a snake and has smooth slimy skin

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More from Merriam-Webster on eel

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with eel

Spanish Central: Translation of eel

Nglish: Translation of eel for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of eel for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about eel

Comments on eel

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


to make a temporary encampment

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