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sal·​low ˈsa-(ˌ)lō How to pronounce sallow (audio)
: any of several Old World broad-leaved willows (such as Salix caprea) including important sources of charcoal and tanbark


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: of a grayish greenish yellow color
sallowish adjective
sallowness noun

Did you know?

In Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel A Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian’s unscrupulous friend Lord Henry Wotton impresses upon the young Dorian what the process of aging will do, saying "Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses. You will become sallow, and hollow-cheeked, and dull-eyed." Literature of the 19th century abounds with sallow people—Charles Dickens applied the word to characters in no fewer than 12 novels—but the word had been in use with the same meaning for centuries before that literary heyday. Its synonymous Old English forbear is salu, which shares an ancestor with an Old High German word meaning "murky" as well as with a Russian word meaning "yellowish gray."

Examples of sallow in a Sentence

Adjective he was still a bit sallow after a week spent in bed with the flu
Recent Examples on the Web
When Wednesday's finale began, Eddie (David Giuntoli) and Maggie (Allison Miller) find her husband Gary (James Roday Rodriguez) looking sallow, unable to talk and unwilling to eat in his hospice bed. Dana Rose Falcone, Peoplemag, 4 May 2023 Chiffchaffs and willow warblers sing in the sallow and alder, while every leaf seems to hold a butterfly or dragonfly or hoverfly. The Economist, 5 July 2018
An awkward, sallow, provincial, minor army officer, Napoleon, was irresistibly drawn to Joséphine, attracted by her proximity to the most powerful men in France. Anne Higonnet, Vogue, 17 Nov. 2023 His sallow legs are stippled with acid pock marks. Washington Post, 16 Feb. 2022 The eyes are sallow, the shoulders slumped, and the proud corona of hair is gone, instead a thin outline of flat, dark hair covers his head. Bob Guccione Jr, SPIN, 17 Feb. 2023 In recent years, conservation scientists have taken advantage of non-invasive imaging and high-energy X-rays produced by particle accelerators to understand just why these beautiful yellows have morphed into dark browns and sallow whites. Stephanie Demarco, Discover Magazine, 18 May 2021 According to Wednesday's world, a sallow complexion with carved cheekbones is definitely in. Abby Dupes, Seventeen, 30 Nov. 2022 His skin’s dark complexion was also tinted a dull yellow, producing the sallow cast of dead grass. Jonathan Reisman, Discover Magazine, 21 Mar. 2016 Many of us know from personal experience that dry skin also often looks dull and sallow, and fine lines can appear more pronounced. Hannah Coates, Vogue, 31 Oct. 2022 His round face, once crimson, had become sallow, and acquired deep lines and wrinkles; his eyes too had become like his father’s, the rims swollen and red, a feature common to most peasants who work by the sea…. Leslie T. Chang, The New York Review of Books, 21 Sep. 2022 See More

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

Word History



Middle English, from Old English sealh; akin to Old High German salha sallow, Latin salix willow


Middle English salowe, from Old English salu; akin to Old High German salo murky, Russian solovyĭ yellowish gray

First Known Use


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of sallow was before the 12th century


Dictionary Entries Near sallow

Cite this Entry

“Sallow.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


: of an unhealthy yellowish color
sallow complexion
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