noun, often attributive
el·​e·​phant | \ ˈe-lə-fənt How to pronounce elephant (audio) \
plural elephants also elephant

Definition of elephant

1a : a thickset, usually extremely large, nearly hairless, herbivorous mammal (family Elephantidae, the elephant family) that has a snout elongated into a muscular trunk and two incisors in the upper jaw developed especially in the male into long ivory tusks:
(1) : a tall, large-eared mammal (Loxodonta africana) of tropical Africa that is sometimes considered to comprise two separate species (L. africana of sub-Saharan savannas and L. cyclotis of central and western rain forests)

called also African elephant

(2) : a relatively small-eared mammal (Elephas maximus) of forests of southeastern Asia

called also Asian elephant, Indian elephant

b : any of various extinct relatives of the elephant — see mammoth, mastodon
2 : one that is uncommonly large or hard to manage — see also elephant in the room

Illustration of elephant

Illustration of elephant

elephant: 1 African, 2 Asian

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Examples of elephant in a Sentence

by any standard, the new shopping mall will be an elephant and one that is certain to alter the retail landscape
Recent Examples on the Web The video shows guides tracking down an African savanna elephant for LaPierre, who then shoots and wounds it. Julia Jacobo, ABC News, "Video of NRA executive Wayne LaPierre hunting elephants sparks outrage," 28 Apr. 2021 Millennials are passing through the U.S. economy like an elephant being digested by a boa constrictor. Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, "How a Hungry Canadian Beetle Helped Triple the Price of Lumber," 27 Apr. 2021 And if the skunk grows into an elephant, then it can truly be spun out and sold for a lot of money. Neil Senturia, San Diego Union-Tribune, "What many creators crave most is the autonomy to create — so give it to them," 26 Apr. 2021 For all the chin music about SUV-like design, the profile hides the minivan quotient like a silk sheet conceals an elephant. Dan Neil, WSJ, "2022 Kia Carnival: A Great Minivan in an SUV Disguise," 23 Apr. 2021 Cher and the Loneliest Elephant finds the singer and activist in Islamabad, Pakistan, where an elephant named Kaavan has been cruelly held in captivity for more than 20 years. Rania Aniftos, Billboard, "How to Watch 'Cher & the Loneliest Elephant'," 22 Apr. 2021 In the emotional journeys that follow, Walsh explores love, loyalty, and tragedy at a level that makes walking an elephant seem heartbreakingly simple. Rebekah Denn, The Christian Science Monitor, "‘The Elephant of Belfast’ explores love, loyalty, and tragedy," 16 Apr. 2021 Cher embarks on a journey to help relocate an elephant who’d been living alone in a Pakistani zoo for years in the new trailer for Cher and the Loneliest Elephant. Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, "Cher Fights to Save ‘The Loneliest Elephant’ in New Doc Trailer," 8 Apr. 2021 Alexander the Great’s legendary dog Peritas was said to have felled both a lion and an elephant by himself. Grant Addison, Washington Examiner, "Then and Now: Pets," 1 Apr. 2021

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for elephant

Middle English, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French olifant, elefant, from L. elephantus, from Greek elephant-, elephas

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Time Traveler for elephant

Time Traveler

The first known use of elephant was in the 14th century

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Statistics for elephant

Last Updated

9 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Elephant.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elephant. Accessed 10 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for elephant



English Language Learners Definition of elephant

: a very large gray animal that has a long, flexible nose and two long tusks


el·​e·​phant | \ ˈe-lə-fənt How to pronounce elephant (audio) \

Kids Definition of elephant

: a huge typically gray mammal of Africa or Asia with the nose drawn out into a long trunk and two large curved tusks

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