\ ˈnel How to pronounce knell (audio) \

Definition of knell

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a stroke or sound of a bell especially when rung slowly (as for a death, funeral, or disaster)
2 : an indication of the end or the failure of something sounded the death knell for our hopes


knelled; knelling; knells

Definition of knell (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to summon or announce by or as if by a knell

intransitive verb

1 : to ring especially for a death, funeral, or disaster : toll
2 : to sound in an ominous manner or with an ominous effect

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for knell

Synonyms: Verb

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of knell in a Sentence

Verb the church bells knelled to mark the death of the nation's beloved leader
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Power plants are transitioning to natural gas, and that will be the death knell for electric power from coal, and any coal mines. J.j. Anselmi, The New Republic, "The Rise and Fall of a Fracking Boom Town: An Oral History," 21 Dec. 2020 Decision paralysis is a death knell in any business. John Cherwa, Los Angeles Times, "Horse racing newsletter: Los Alamitos is back in the daytime," 4 Dec. 2020 This final death knell for Arecibo’s telescope, which tracked asteroids approaching Earth and searched the heavens for habitable planets, followed other serious damages to the massive observatory and weeks of discussion about its future. Alex Fox, Smithsonian Magazine, "Massive Arecibo Telescope Collapses in Puerto Rico," 3 Dec. 2020 That now famous move 37 of game two was the death knell of human preeminence in strategy games. Will Roper, Wired, "There's No Turning Back on AI in the Military," 24 Oct. 2020 Scientists and historians will likely debate the circumstances of Arecibo’s death knell for years to come. Leonard David, Scientific American, "Arecibo Observatory to Close Its Giant Eye on the Sky," 20 Nov. 2020 Conservatives have a litany of other objections — that the lockdown is a death knell for the economy, an infringement of civil liberties and proof that the government lacks a coherent strategy for getting past the pandemic. Mark Landler, New York Times, "U.K.’s Johnson Faces a Growing Revolt Over His Coronavirus Policy," 2 Nov. 2020 But there’s little else voters approve of, and Democratic strategists believe that knocking Trump on the economy could be his campaign’s death knell. Nicole Goodkind, Fortune, "Everything we just learned about how Joe Biden would run the economy," 9 July 2020 Texas Republicans don’t see changing demographics as the death knell of their party. Washington Post, "Why Texas’s overwhelmingly Latino Rio Grande Valley turned toward Trump," 10 Nov. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Day 18: Hard to focus with all the death knells tolling. Daniel Pollack-pelzner, The New Yorker, "What Shakespeare Actually Did During the Plague," 1 Apr. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'knell.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of knell


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


14th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

History and Etymology for knell

Verb and Noun

Middle English, from Old English cnyllan; akin to Middle High German erknellen to toll

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about knell

Time Traveler for knell

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for knell

Last Updated

7 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Knell.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for knell


How to pronounce knell (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of knell

literary : a sound of a bell when it is rung slowly because someone has died


\ ˈnel How to pronounce knell (audio) \

Kids Definition of knell

1 : a stroke or sound of a bell especially when rung slowly for a death, funeral, or disaster
2 : an indication of the end or failure of something “… it sounds the death knell of our society.”— Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

More from Merriam-Webster on knell

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for knell

Nglish: Translation of knell for Spanish Speakers

Comments on knell

What made you want to look up knell? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Slippery Words Quiz—Changing with the Times

  • ducreux self portrait yawning
  • What is an earlier meaning of nice?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

 AlphaBear 2

Spell words. Make bears.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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