spell

1 of 5

verb (1)

spelled ˈspeld How to pronounce spell (audio) ˈspelt How to pronounce spell (audio) ; spelling

transitive verb

1
a(1)
: to name the letters of in order
also : to write or print the letters of in order
(2)
: to write or print the letters of in a particular way
b
: to make up (a word)
What word do these letters spell?
c
: write sense 1b
Catnip is spelled as one word.
2
: to add up to : mean
crop failure was likely to spell stark famineStringfellow Barr
3
: to find out by study : come to understand
often used with out
it requires some pains to spell out those decorationsF. J. Mather
4
: to read slowly and with difficulty
often used with out

intransitive verb

: to form words with letters
teach children to spell
also : to spell words in a certain way
spells the way he speaks

spell

2 of 5

noun (1)

1
a
: a spoken word or form of words held to have magic power
b
: a state of enchantment
2
: a strong compelling influence or attraction

spell

3 of 5

verb (2)

spelled ˈspeld How to pronounce spell (audio) ; spelling

transitive verb

: to put under a spell

spell

4 of 5

noun (2)

1
a
: an indeterminate period of time
waited a spell before advancing
also : a continuous period of time
did a spell in prison
b
: a stretch of a specified type of weather
2
: a period of bodily or mental distress or disorder
a spell of coughing
fainting spells
3
a
: a period spent in a job or occupation
b
chiefly Australia : a period of rest from work, activity, or use
4
a
: one's turn at work
b
archaic : a shift of workers

spell

5 of 5

verb (3)

spelled ˈspeld How to pronounce spell (audio) ; spelling

transitive verb

1
: to take the place of for a time : relieve
we spell each other every two hours
2
: rest

intransitive verb

1
: to work in turns
2
chiefly Australia : to rest from an activity for a time

Examples of spell in a Sentence

Verb (1) it was as if he had spelled the public into believing his ridiculous claims that summertime combination of hot temperatures and equally hot tempers can spell trouble Noun (1) the witch cast a spell that turned the prince into a toad a dizzy spell that caused me to fall come rest a spell
Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
Soma spelled 29 out of 30 words correctly in Scripps’ second-ever spell-off, in which competitors have 90 seconds to spell as many words given to them as possible. Ayana Archie, NPR, 31 May 2024 This opening casts a moving spell that remains with the reader through three sections of potent vignettes that blend personal stories, ecology and history. Megan Mayhew-Bergman, Scientific American, 19 Mar. 2024 But the witch gets the last laugh by casting a spell that causes Zabroha to marry an unappealing woman in the village. Maria Varenikova, New York Times, 27 May 2024 The preacher had a point: in his day, there was a spell to solve nearly every problem, and a whole army of cunning folk willing to sell said spells to desperate clients. Tabitha Stanmore, TIME, 24 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for spell 

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

Word History

Etymology

Verb (1)

Middle English, to mean, signify, read by spelling out letters, from Anglo-French espeleir, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English spellian to relate, spell talk

Noun (1)

Middle English, talk, tale, from Old English; akin to Old High German spel talk, tale

Noun (2)

probably alteration of Middle English spale substitute, from Old English spala

Verb (3)

Middle English spelen, from Old English spelian; akin to Old English spala substitute

First Known Use

Verb (1)

14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 4

Noun (1)

1579, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Verb (2)

circa 1623, in the meaning defined above

Noun (2)

1593, in the meaning defined at sense 4b

Verb (3)

1595, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of spell was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near spell

Cite this Entry

“Spell.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spell. Accessed 19 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition

spell

1 of 5 noun
1
a
: a spoken word or form of words believed to have magic power
b
: a state of enchantment
2
: a very strong influence or attraction

spell

2 of 5 verb
: to put under a spell : bewitch

spell

3 of 5 verb
spelled ˈspeld How to pronounce spell (audio) ; spelling
: to take the place of for a time : relieve
if we spell each other we won't get tired

spell

4 of 5 verb
spelled
ˈspeld,
ˈspelt
; spelling
1
a
: to name, write, or print the letters of in order
b
: to be the letters of
"c-a-t" spells "cat"
2
: to amount to : mean
what you do could spell the difference between life and death
that usually spells trouble

spell

5 of 5 noun
1
: one's turn at work or duty
2
: a period spent in a job or occupation
3
a
: a short period of time
b
: a stretch of a specified type of weather
a hot spell
4
: a period of bodily or mental distress or disorder : attack, fit
a spell of coughing
fainting spells
Etymology

Noun

Old English spell "talk, tale"

Verb

Old English spelian "to take the place of, relieve"

Verb

Middle English spellen "to mean, signify, read by spelling out letters," from early French espeleir (same meaning); of Germanic origin

Noun

probably an altered form of Old English spale "a substitute"; the spelling probably influenced in Middle English by the similar word spelen "to substitute for, relieve"

Medical Definition

spell

noun
: a period of bodily or mental distress or disorder
a spell of coughing
fainting spells

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