\ ˈelf How to pronounce elf (audio) \
plural elves\ ˈelvz How to pronounce elf (audio) \

Definition of elf

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a small often mischievous fairy
2 : a small lively creature also : a usually lively mischievous or malicious person

Definition of ELF (Entry 2 of 2)

extremely low frequency

Other Words from elf


elfish \ ˈel-​fish How to pronounce ELF (audio) \ adjective
elfishly adverb

Frequently Asked Questions About elf

What is the plural of elf?

Although elfs may occasionally be found in print the accepted modern plural form of elf is elves. This follows the common method of pluralizing nouns in English ending in an –f (shelf/shelves, calf/calves). There are, it should be noted, numerous exceptions to this, such as roof/roofs, and serf/serfs.

Why are elves associated with Christmas?

Elves began to be associated with Christmas in the United State in the 19th century, following the publication of such works as Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," which described the titular figure as "a right jolly old elf."

What is the origin of the word elf?

Elf is a very old word, and has been with us not only in modern English, but in Middle and Old English as well (in Old English it was ælf). Dating in use from before the 12th century, elf has similarities to a number of related words in other languages, such as the Middle Low German alf ("incubus") and the Old Norse alfr ("elf").

Examples of elf in a Sentence

Noun elves are often portrayed as rather mischievous
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The theater will be collecting donations to the San Antonio Food Bank throughout the run of the musical, which stars the gifted Ivan Ortega as Buddy the elf. Jim Kiest And Deborah Martin, San Antonio Express-News, 22 Nov. 2021 According to Ed Cullinane and Alan Johnson of My London, the elf outfit worn by Will Ferrell in the 2003 film fetched nearly $300,000. David Kindy, Smithsonian Magazine, 17 Nov. 2021 Luckily, mom was an ER nurse and reattached the elf's arm. Mike Snider, USA TODAY, 9 Nov. 2021 The elf dolls are supposed to move to a different location each night. NBC News, 9 Nov. 2021 He might be dressed up for St. Patrick's Day or as an elf. Sue Selasky, USA TODAY, 19 Oct. 2021 Each vignette, from candy cane arbors, to an elf village, to gingerbread houses, will be part of the outdoor walking trail. Rosalind Bentley, ajc, 14 Oct. 2021 In the early years of Japan’s Meiji Restoration, a human ronin must unite with an orc assassin to save an elf orphan from their common adversary. Jacob Siegal, BGR, 8 Oct. 2021 Buddy the elf helps power up Santa’s sleigh while his friends spread Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear. Nardine Saad, Los Angeles Times, 30 Aug. 2021

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


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

History and Etymology for elf


Middle English, from Old English ælf; akin to Old Norse alfr elf & perhaps to Latin albus white — more at alb

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Time Traveler for elf

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

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Last Updated

25 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Elf.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elf. Accessed 6 Dec. 2021.

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More Definitions for elf



English Language Learners Definition of elf

: a small creature in stories usually with pointed ears and magical powers


\ ˈelf How to pronounce elf (audio) \
plural elves\ ˈelvz \

Kids Definition of elf

: an often mischievous fairy

More from Merriam-Webster on elf

Nglish: Translation of elf for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of elf for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about elf


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