ground·​ling ˈgrau̇n(d)-liŋ How to pronounce groundling (audio)
: a spectator who stood in the pit of an Elizabethan theater
: a person of unsophisticated taste
: one that lives or works on or near the ground

Did you know?

In Elizabethan times, play-going audiences were a diverse bunch. In the upper gallery, the wealthier patrons fanned themselves and looked with disdain at those who could only afford the penny admission to the pit below. Pit spectators had to sit or stand in close proximity on the bare floor, exposed to the sweltering sun or the dampening rain. At times, they behaved less than decorously, and they reportedly emitted a less than pleasant odor. The pit was also called the ground; those in it were groundlings. Today, we use groundlings to refer not only to the less than couth among us, but also (often with some facetiousness) to ordinary Janes or Joes.

Examples of groundling in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Officials cleared dozens of barges from a river channel near Lake Providence, Louisiana, and dredged it after a groundling occurred Friday, halting river traffic in both directions for days. Jim Salter, USA TODAY, 10 Oct. 2022 Aimed straight at the groundlings, this rousing drinking song is pure silly fun, with Sir Toby Belch (Shuler Hensley) and the gang trading late-night insults. New York Times, 22 Apr. 2020 His creations scared the crap out of groundlings and aristocrats alike, including the Queen of Denmark and the Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Meiningen. James Marcus, The New Yorker, 29 Oct. 2019 Those onstage, like Feste and Puck before them, mocked their patrons, played to the groundlings, but spoke honestly of broader uncertainties. Ian Malone, Vogue, 3 Oct. 2019 This collision of classes is an old promise of the theatre, all the way back to Shakespeare’s Globe, where the court and the groundlings watched the same actors perform the same play—while also watching each other. Helen Lewis, The Atlantic, 30 Aug. 2019 Goslings and ducklings are baby birds, but a groundling is an uncritical or unrefined person (too poor to pay for a seat in Renaissance theaters) and a changeling is a child exchanged by fairies, or any kind of replacement of inferior value. Melissa Mohr, The Christian Science Monitor, 28 June 2018 The section of the theater where the groundlings stand? Alexis Soloski, New York Times, 28 June 2017 See More

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

Word History

First Known Use

1602, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of groundling was in 1602


Dictionary Entries Near groundling

Cite this Entry

“Groundling.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


ground·​ling ˈgrau̇n-(d)liŋ How to pronounce groundling (audio)
: a spectator who stood in the part of a theater in Shakespeare's time where there were no seats

More from Merriam-Webster on groundling

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!