el·​e·​phant ˈe-lə-fənt How to pronounce elephant (audio)
plural elephants also elephant
often attributive
: 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:
: 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 rainforests)

called also African elephant

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

called also Asian elephant, Indian elephant

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

Illustration of elephant

Illustration of elephant
  • 1 African
  • 2 Asian

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 athlete posted a photo series with his kids, including a shot of a beautiful lion (along with snaps of zebras and elephants!) with a lengthy caption of how special the trip was to him. Marisa Sullivan, Peoplemag, 8 Sep. 2023 Elsewhere a large pair of leathery elephants squeal, while at least six gorillas and orangutans top rocky bluffs or emerge from the walls. Linze Rice, Chicago Tribune, 8 Sep. 2023 Only in the 1980s would Ruscha consent to pick up a spray gun, in large-scale, word-free grisailles of an elephant climbing a hill, or two ships tossed at sea. Jason Farago, New York Times, 7 Sep. 2023 During the day, the group sculpted a statue of an elephant out of mud. Dino Grandoni and Kim Bellware, Anchorage Daily News, 6 Sep. 2023 When comparing past evidence of vegetation and the diets of elephants from seven million years ago, scientists found an increase of grasslands and grass-feeding elephants with specialized teeth designed to grind down grasses. Elizabeth Gamillo, Discover Magazine, 5 Sep. 2023 Before Monday, Zahara was the zoo’s youngest elephant, at age 17. Cheryl V. Jackson, The Indianapolis Star, 5 Sep. 2023 Set in a small Nepalese village nestled in the heart of a forest populated by wild elephants, the film follows Pirati, the matriarch of a community of transgender women. Naman Ramachandran, Variety, 31 Aug. 2023 The model can already accurately sort beluga whale calls, and Earth Species plans to apply it to species as disparate as orangutans (who bellow), elephants (who send seismic rumbles through the ground), and jumping spiders (who vibrate their legs). Camille Bromley, WIRED, 29 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'elephant.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near elephant

Cite this Entry

“Elephant.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elephant. Accessed 23 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


el·​e·​phant ˈel-ə-fənt How to pronounce elephant (audio)
: any of a family of huge thickset nearly hairless mammals that have the snout lengthened into a trunk and two incisors in the upper jaw developed into long outward-curving pointed ivory tusks and that include two living forms:
: one with large ears that occurs in tropical Africa
: one with relatively small ears that occurs in forests of southeastern Asia

More from Merriam-Webster on elephant

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