fos·​sil | \ ˈfä-səl How to pronounce fossil (audio) \

Definition of fossil

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : preserved from a past geologic age fossil plants fossil water in an underground reservoir
2 : being or resembling a fossil
3 : of or relating to fossil fuel fossil energy sources



Definition of fossil (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a remnant, impression, or trace of an organism of past geologic ages that has been preserved in the earth's crust — compare living fossil
2a : a person whose views are outmoded : fogy
b : something (such as a theory) that has become rigidly fixed
3 : an old word or word element preserved only by idiom (such as fro in to and fro)

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Did You Know?

A remnant, impression, or trace of an animal or plant of a past geologic age that has been preserved in the earth’s crust is called a fossil. Data from fossils are the primary source of information about the history of life on the earth. Only a small fraction of ancient organisms are preserved as fossils, and usually only organisms that have a solid skeleton or shell. Unaltered hard parts, such as the shells of clams, are relatively common in sedimentary rocks. The embedding of insects in amber and the preservation of mammoths in ice are rare but striking examples of the fossil preservation of soft tissues. Traces of organisms such as tracks and trails may also be preserved.

Examples of fossil in a Sentence

Noun some old fossil who thinks that a boy and a girl shouldn't be together unsupervised until they are engaged
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Despite Trump's efforts to slash regulations, the coal industry is suffering from weak prices, anemic demand and capital flight away from fossil fuels in favor of cleaner alternatives. Matt Egan, CNN, "Trump's coal rescue was doomed from the beginning," 15 Nov. 2020 Biden has pledged to spend trillions of dollars to speed up the transition from fossil fuels, slash emissions and curb climate change. Kevin Miller And Melinda Grenier, oregonlive, "Here are the business sectors that will thrive, dive under Biden administration," 15 Nov. 2020 The CARES Act funding makes sense considering how much revenue Wyoming gets from fossil fuels, said Chris Merrill with the Equality State Policy Center state watchdog group. Mead Gruver, Star Tribune, "Wyoming to help petroleum industry with coronavirus funding," 12 Nov. 2020 The burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, causing global temperatures to increase and sea levels to rise. Doyle Rice, USA TODAY, "'Past a point of no return': Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero still won't stop global warming, study says," 12 Nov. 2020 Most forms of fossil fuels also have a high energy density. Rhett Allain, Wired, "Everything You Need to Know About Energy," 10 Nov. 2020 The plan calls for generating electricity without fossil fuels by 2035 and having a completely carbon-free economy by 2050. Kurtis Alexander,, "California’s climate agenda likely to get big boost from Biden — look for reversal of Trump policies," 9 Nov. 2020 The president-elect has pledged to spend trillions of dollars to speed up the transition from fossil fuels, slash emissions and curb climate change. Gerson Freitas Jr,, "Biden Win May Curb U.S. Oil Drilling, Super-Charge Renewables," 8 Nov. 2020 With Joe Biden closing in on an Electoral College victory, energy executives are weighing the potential impact of a president who supports shifting away from fossil fuels. Bloomberg Wire, Dallas News, "Energy Transfer, Pioneer Natural Resources, Marathon ponder a potential Biden win," 6 Nov. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun In a recent interview, Mainzer responded to a question about the costs of phasing out fossil fuels by emphasizing the costs of continuing to burn them: worsening wildfires, hotter heat waves, coastal inundation and mass species extinctions. Sammy Roth Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "The ‘war on coal’ is over. The next climate battle has just begun," 17 Nov. 2020 Opponents say the project represents an unacceptable risk to the Native American tribes whose land and wild rice stands it crosses, and undermines the state’s climate change goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. Jennifer Bjorhus, Star Tribune, "Minnesota Pollution Control Agency advisers quit over oil pipeline," 17 Nov. 2020 For the last four years, as President Trump worked to roll back environmental regulations and boost fossil fuels, utilities forged ahead with ambitious plans to reduce emissions. Benjamin Storrow, Scientific American, "Biden and Electric Utilities Are Split on Emissions Goals," 13 Nov. 2020 Biden has not explicitly endorsed a carbon tax, as Democrats have united around an agenda that would phase out fossil fuels from the electricity sector through mandates while increasing federal spending on renewable technologies. Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, "Here's what congressional Republicans are thinking on climate following the election," 12 Nov. 2020 The vast majority of scientists agree that carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases released when humans burn fossil fuels is helping warm the Earth. Anchorage Daily News, "Biden set to elevate climate-change action in federal departments besides environmental agencies," 11 Nov. 2020 Of the 39 energy firms, just eight have established plans to lower Scope 3 emissions, which are generated when their customers burn fossil fuels, a figure that comprises about 80% of total greenhouse gases at large oil companies. Tim Quinson,, "Big Oil Has a Long Way to Go on Setting Emissions Targets," 11 Nov. 2020 On the simplest level, this means that wind and solar just have to beat fossil fuels by that much in order to come out ahead. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "As renewable power prices drop, researchers tally up their added costs," 3 Nov. 2020 In contrast, Trump has spent the past four years promoting fossil fuels, rolling back environmental regulations and denigrating climate science. Jess Shankleman,, "U.S. Exits Paris Climate Pact With Election Outcome Uncertain," 4 Nov. 2020

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


1665, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1736, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for fossil


earlier, "dug from the earth, preserved in the ground," borrowed from French & Latin; French fossile, borrowed from Latin fossilis "obtained by digging," from fodiō, fodere "to prod, jab, dig, remove by digging" (going back to Indo-European *bhedh-, *bhodh- "jab, dig," whence also Lithuanian bedù, bèsti "to stick, dig," Old Church Slavic bodǫ, bosti "to prick, stab," Hittite paddai "digs") + -tilis "produced by, characterized by (the action of the verb)"


derivative of fossil entry 1, or borrowed directly from Latin fossilis

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Time Traveler for fossil

Time Traveler

The first known use of fossil was in 1665

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Statistics for fossil

Last Updated

19 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Fossil.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Nov. 2020.

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More Definitions for fossil



English Language Learners Definition of fossil

: something (such as a leaf, skeleton, or footprint) that is from a plant or animal which lived in ancient times and that you can see in some rocks
informal : a person whose ideas are very old-fashioned or out-of-date


fos·​sil | \ ˈfä-səl How to pronounce fossil (audio) \

Kids Definition of fossil

: a trace or print or the remains of a plant or animal of a past age preserved in earth or rock

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