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

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 While elephant numbers have widely declined in recent decades, largely due to poaching, Botswana’s population has grown. Vicky Boult, Quartz Africa, "Scientists have some theories on why hundreds of elephants are mysteriously dying in Botswana," 7 July 2020 There's definitely an elephant named after Marge Schott's prized dog, Schottzie. Cole Behrens, The Enquirer, "Cincinnati Zoo now says no buildings named for Marge Schott," 7 July 2020 The first Great Elephant Census, a pan-African survey conducted in 2016, revealed that in just seven years between 2007 and 2014 elephant numbers plummeted by at least 30%, or 144,000. Julia Hollingsworth, CNN, "More than 360 elephants die from mysterious causes in Botswana," 2 July 2020 Murray — who portrayed Gryffindor's resident pyrophile Seamus Finnegan in the Harry Potter series — shared a photo of McCaffrey's ultrasound sonogram laid atop an infant's onesie embroidered with an elephant. Ashley Boucher, PEOPLE.com, "Harry Potter Actor Devon Murray and Girlfriend Expecting First Child Together," 8 July 2020 So to some, scenes of brutality seemed to come almost out of the blue (pun intended)—an elephant if there ever was one, trampling on people for real—on their freedoms, yes, but also literally on their lives. Kc Cole, Wired, "Keeping Up With the Coronas—or Why the Virus Is Winning," 7 July 2020 Think lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, hippo, elephant. Ron Spomer, Outdoor Life, "There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Stopping Rifle’," 3 July 2020 There were gemstones and elephant tusks, ancient insects suspended in amber, even the skull of another Mongolian dinosaur, but Robert was there to stop the sale of the biggest item up for auction. National Geographic, "Episode 3: The United States v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar," 30 June 2020 Last year, more than 500 vultures in Botswana were poisoned after elephant carcasses were laced with chemicals. Fox News, "'Catastrophic' elephant deaths mystery: Hundreds have dropped dead in Botswana, and no one knows why," 3 July 2020

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

31 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Elephant.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elephant. Accessed 8 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for elephant


How to pronounce elephant (audio)

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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