gal·​lows | \ ˈga-(ˌ)lōz How to pronounce gallows (audio) , -ləz, in sense 3 also -ləs \
plural gallows or gallowses

Definition of gallows

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a frame usually of two upright posts and a transverse beam from which criminals are hanged

called also gallows tree

b : the punishment of hanging
2 : a structure consisting of an upright frame with a crosspiece



Definition of gallows (Entry 2 of 2)

: deserving the gallows

Examples of gallows in a Sentence

Noun He was sentenced to death on the gallows.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The Mavericks’ win over Denver at American Airlines Center was the last game concluded that night, with otherwise-solemn Mavericks owner Mark Cuban allowing a gallows-humor quip. Dallas News, "At last, there’s hope for an NBA season restart — and it could be an optimal scenario for the Mavs," 3 June 2020 Her assignment: The ‘Stick, already consigned to the gallows. Gary Peterson, The Mercury News, "Oakland Coliseum, Oracle Arena becoming behind-the-curtain tourist traps," 18 Feb. 2017 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The song’s narrator has been sentenced to death, and in each verse, a member of her family arrives beneath the shade of the gallows tree, not to save her, but to watch the rope tighten around her throat. Chris Richards, Washington Post, "How to listen alone in a lockdown," 7 Apr. 2020 The gallows humorists of the day, mimicking flight attendants, told travelers to turn back their watches to the 1950s. Alan Cowell, New York Times, "Mugabe’s Reign Began With Bob Marley and Good Schools. Despotism Soon Followed.," 6 Sep. 2019 Not the waking up in the embrace of corpses under a gallows part. Dana Snitzky, Longreads, "This Month in Books: ‘The Minor Figure Yields to the Chorus’," 13 Aug. 2019 As a lot of people have this gallows sense of humor doing impossibly difficult things. Gogo Lidz, Newsweek, "Matt Damon Spills About 'The Martian'," 18 June 2015 At the other extreme, William Hooper conjures apocalyptic scenes with a gallows sense of humor. Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times, "September gallery highlights: From Antarctic ice to apocalyptic flames," 13 Sep. 2017 However, behind this delightful French treat lies a dark past as Buttes Chaumont was once a former trash dump and gallows ground. Josh Lee, Vogue, "The Most Beautiful Picnic Spots Around the World," 31 Aug. 2017 Welcome to Braggsville’ Here’s a setup for a gallows-humor joke: Seattle Times Staff, The Seattle Times, "theaterpicks-2," 31 May 2017 Now, amid all the hand-wringing, anger and exasperation, the crisis is bolstering Brazil’s tradition of gallows humor, fueling a mix of satire and existential resignation. Simon Romero, New York Times, "Their Government in Chaos, Brazilians Fear the Joke Is on Them," 26 May 2017

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


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


15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for gallows


Middle English galwes, galwes, plural of galwe, going back to Old English galga, gealga, going back to Germanic *galgōn "pole, stake, pole on which a condemned person was hung" (whence Old Saxon galgo "gallows, stake," Old High German galga, galgo, Old Norse galgi, Gothic galga "stake, cross"), going back to dialectal Indo-European *ǵholgh-, whence also Lithuanian žalgà "thin stake" and perhaps Armenian jałk

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Time Traveler for gallows

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

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Last Updated

23 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Gallows.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for gallows


How to pronounce gallows (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of gallows

: a structure on which a criminal who has been sentenced to death is killed by being hanged


gal·​lows | \ ˈga-lōz How to pronounce gallows (audio) \
plural gallows or gallowses

Kids Definition of gallows

: a structure from which criminals are hanged

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More from Merriam-Webster on gallows

Spanish Central: Translation of gallows

Nglish: Translation of gallows for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of gallows for Arabic Speakers

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