\ 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 outer layer of usually baked or fried pastry dough or bread for holding a filling a pastry shell a taco salad in a tortilla 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

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

But the inner shell is so thick, most conventional methods can't penetrate it. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Italy’s famous dome is cracking, and cosmic rays could help save it," 21 Aug. 2018 Dumplings and bao buns: the shells are chewy with morsels that are so juicy the drippings might squirt right onto your lap or, worse, other diners a table away. Tan Vinh, The Seattle Times, "One of Seattle’s best dumpling restaurants comes to Bellevue," 16 July 2018 Fundamentally, the molecular soup tells scientists that the environment beneath Enceladus’s icy shell is capable of extremely complex chemistries. National Geographic, "Right Stuff for Life Found on Small Saturn Moon," 27 June 2018 Shoulder-season picks for women and men. Outdoor Research Optimizer ($399) Best For: Redlining Most winter hard shells are oppressive in balmy conditions—or when hiking uphill regardless of the weather. Kelly Bastone, Outside Online, "The Best Rain Jackets for Every Activity," 20 June 2018 The opening of the shotgun's action and the empty shells ejecting backward, and then the smoke emptying out of the barrels, was a new kind of exhale. Author: Christine Cunningham, Anchorage Daily News, "How the Cow Face Pose can make you a better duck hunter," 19 June 2018 Is its shell doomed to remain vacant forever, or will someone in a position of power finally make a decision to determine its fate? Longreads, "The Top 5 Longreads of the Week," 5 June 2018 The current hatch shell is the third of it’s kind on the site. Margeaux Sippell,, "Scaffolding on the Hatch Memorial Shell? Not for much longer," 5 June 2018 The theater closed in the 1970s, and the shell was stripped of its screens and seats to make way for the offices of Nickel Ads. Abby Lynes,, "Fire temporarily closes Academy Theater," 30 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

In January, shelling sparked a fire at the Red Sea Mills that damaged some of the wheat stored there, the U.N. said. Jared Malsin, WSJ, "U.N. Seeks Access to Grain Stored in Besieged Yemeni City as Millions Starve," 11 Feb. 2019 But fighting continued in corners of the complex. State media outlets in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates accused the Houthis of shelling civilian districts. New York Times, "Battle Intensifies for Yemeni Port as Dock Workers Still Unload Aid," 19 June 2018 The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Sunday that over the past month at least 30 civilians have been killed and another 52 wounded by shelling and airstrikes in the area, including three children and two women. Samy Magdy, The Seattle Times, "UN envoy arrives in Yemen after deadly weekend attack," 28 Jan. 2019 The neo-Moorish City Hall, a monument to multiculturalism that was shelled and burned, has been burnished to a high standard. Steven Erlanger, New York Times, "In a New Cold War With Russia, Balkans Become a Testing Ground," 10 Apr. 2018 Fox News host Sean Hannity has ties to shell companies that own tens of millions of dollars in real estate, including some purchased through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to a recent report. Leada Gore,, "Sean Hannity companies reportedly spent $90 million on property, including some in Alabama," 23 Apr. 2018 With the smooth, or shell, side of the large piece of leather facing down, place the smaller pieces shell side up so that they are aligned with the outside edges of the larger piece. Jeremy Bennett, Popular Mechanics, "How To Make a Leather Wallet," 20 Aug. 2018 Place the sauteed greens in a blender or food processor with ½ cup toasted shelled pistachios or walnut pieces, ¼ cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and ¼ cup water. Sarah Fritsche, San Francisco Chronicle, "Citrus, chicories and the winter farmers’ markets," 2 Feb. 2018 On Sunday, Israeli shelling killed three Palestinian militants from the smaller Islamic Jihad group after the troops found a bomb planted along the border. NBC News, "Mortar shells fired from Gaza, Israeli military says," 29 May 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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Statistics for shell

Last Updated

20 Feb 2019

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
US, informal : 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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More from Merriam-Webster on shell

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with shell

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for shell

Spanish Central: Translation of shell

Nglish: Translation of shell for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of shell for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about shell

Comments on shell

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