\ˈshel \
plural shells

Definition of shell 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a hard rigid usually largely calcareous covering or support of an animal

b : the hard or tough often thin outer covering of an egg (as of a bird or reptile) — see egg illustration

2 : the covering or outside part of a fruit or seed especially when hard or fibrous

3 : shell material (as of mollusks or turtles) or their substance

4 : something that resembles a shell: such as

a : a framework or exterior structure especially : a building with an unfinished interior

b(1) : an external case or outside covering the shell of a ship

(2) : a thin usually spherical layer or surface enclosing a space or surrounding an object an expanding shell of gas around a neutron star

c : a casing without substance mere effigies and shells of men— Thomas Carlyle

d : an edible crust for holding a filling a pastry shell a taco salad in a tortilla shell

e : band shell

f : a small beer glass

g : an unlined article of outerwear

5 : a shell-bearing mollusk

6 : an impersonal attitude or manner that conceals the presence or absence of feeling he retreated into his shell

7 : a narrow light racing boat propelled by one or more persons pulling oars or sculls

8 : any of the regions occupied by the orbits of a group of electrons of approximately equal energy surrounding the nucleus of an atom

9a : a projectile for cannon containing an explosive bursting charge

b : a case (as of metal, paper, or plastic) that holds the charge of powder and shot or bullet used with breech-loading small arms a shotgun shell — compare cartridge

10 : a plain usually sleeveless blouse or sweater

11 : a company or corporation that exists without assets or independent operations as a legal entity through which another company or corporation can conduct various dealings


shelled; shelling; shells

Definition of shell (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1a : to take out of a natural enclosing cover (such as a shell, husk, pod, or capsule) shell peanuts

b : to separate the kernels of (corn, wheat, oats, etc.) from the cob, ear, or husk

2 : to throw shells at, upon, or into : bombard

3 : to score heavily against (someone, such as an opposing pitcher in baseball)

intransitive verb

1 : to fall or scale off in thin pieces

2 : to cast the shell or exterior covering : fall out of the pod or husk nuts which shell in falling

3 : to gather shells (as from a beach)

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Other Words from shell


shell adjective

Synonyms & Antonyms for shell

Synonyms: Noun

exterior, face, outside, skin, surface, veneer

Synonyms: Verb

batter, blitz, blitzkrieg, bomb, bombard, cannonade

Antonyms: Noun

inside, interior

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Examples of shell in a Sentence


the shell of a crab We collected shells at the beach. We're going to have stuffed shells for dinner.


They shelled the enemy troops. The town was shelled during the battle.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Plus, ballistics tests of the guns found in the socks matched shell casings found at the scene of the August 2 shooting. Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica, "How a suspected gang member’s traffic stop led to a crucial privacy case," 8 May 2018 One shell casing believed to be from McNamara's gun was found near the driver's side door of his pickup. Everton Bailey Jr.,, "Suicidal man shot by police in Beaverton claimed he fired first so they would shoot him," 7 May 2018 The researchers behind the current study, working on board the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy, analyzed sediments of deep ocean mud, which contain the shells of long-dead marine organisms called foraminifera. Christopher Mooney,, "Scientists may have solved a huge riddle that led to more than 1,000 years of cold on Earth. It doesn’t bode well," 12 July 2018 Mafia Deep Blue Bag Best for: Vacationing sea monsters The shell of the Deep Blue gets its crinkly feel from recycled spinnaker sails. Michael Calore, WIRED, "2 Eco-Friendly Backpacks for Your Anywhere Adventures," 9 July 2018 The shell of the castor bean is highly poisonous and can be used to make ricin. Eric Schmitt, New York Times, "ISIS May Be Waning, but Global Threats of Terrorism Continue to Spread," 6 July 2018 Hitters have crushed his four-seam fastball this year (.357), forcing him into the shell of being a breaking ball pitcher. Staff,, "Nine Innings: Solving the Yankees' Sonny Gray Problem, AL East Deciding Factors and Our Favorite Statcast Quirks," 2 July 2018 The shell of an invasive European green crab was found last week along the Fidalgo Bay shoreline. Kimberly Cauvel, The Seattle Times, "Shell of invasive green crab found in Fidalgo Bay," 1 July 2018 The bodies — the shell of their physical humanity faded and decomposed by the elements — are carefully removed and turned over to medical examiners. J.d. Gallop,, "Nearly half a dozen people have died in Walmart parking lots in Brevard County since 2015," 24 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Tensions have soared in recent months, as both sides have shelled border posts and villagesr. Aijaz Hussain, The Seattle Times, "India, Pakistan trade fire in Kashmir; 2 dead, 8 wounded," 2 June 2018 Both are small and hard-shelled and are sometimes even covered in a protective coating of calcium oxalate. Julissa Treviño, Smithsonian, "Do Mama Stick Insects Get Eaten to Transport Their Eggs?," 30 May 2018 If peas become overripe, shell them and spread them on a flat surface for 3 weeks or until completely dry. The Editors Of Organic Life, Good Housekeeping, "Growing Peas Has Never Been Easier Than This," 31 Mar. 2017 The fourth floor is shelled for future growth and the fifth floor is the CV/Neuro ICU and intermediate care units. Kaila Contreras, Houston Chronicle, "Kingwood Medical Center to open mammography center and celebrate expansion of south tower July 10," 23 June 2018 The advance put the capital out of range of insurgents’ mortar fire and shelling for the first time in nearly seven years. Philip Issa, USA TODAY, "Syrian army, police celebrate recapturing all of Damascus," 22 May 2018 At 3:15, as the most important paintings were about to come on the block, another explosion shook the neighborhood—actually shelling from a giant new German gun—and more bidders bolted for the door. Jason Zweig, WSJ, "When Keynes Played Art Buyer," 30 Mar. 2018 My heart was on the outside now, shelled and glistening. Liz Arnold, Longreads, "Making Peace with the Site of a Suicide," 11 July 2018 Kister said during an interview that was briefly interrupted several time by artillery shelling on Camp Pendleton just over the hills to the west. J. Harry Jones,, "Farming remains big part of county's economy," 5 July 2018

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


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


1562, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for shell


Middle English, from Old English sciell; akin to Old English scealu shell, Old Norse skel, Lithuanian skelti to split, Greek skallein to hoe

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Learn More about shell

Phrases Related to shell

shell suit

Statistics for shell

Last Updated

16 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for shell

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

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More Definitions for shell



English Language Learners Definition of shell

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: the hard outer covering of an animal, insect, etc., that protects it

: the hard outer covering of an egg

: the hard outer covering of a nut, fruit, or seed



English Language Learners Definition of shell (Entry 2 of 2)

: to remove the shell or outer covering of (something)

: to shoot shells at (someone or something) using large guns

: to score heavily against (a pitcher) in baseball


\ˈshel \

Kids Definition of shell

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a stiff hard covering of an animal (as a turtle, oyster, or crab)

2 : the tough outer covering of an egg

3 : the outer covering of a nut, fruit, or seed especially when hard or tough walnut shells

4 : something like a shell (as in shape, function, or material) a pastry shell

5 : a narrow light racing boat rowed by one or more persons

6 : a metal or paper case holding the explosive charge and the shot or object to be fired from a gun or cannon

Other Words from shell

shelled \ˈsheld \ adjective soft-shelled crabs


shelled; shelling

Kids Definition of shell (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to remove the shell or outer covering of shell nuts

2 : to remove the kernels of grain from (as a cob of corn)

3 : to shoot shells at or upon They shelled the enemy troops.

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Comments on shell

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


lying above or upon

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