\ ˈswel How to pronounce swell (audio) \
swelled; swelled or swollen\ ˈswō-​lən How to pronounce swollen (audio) \; swelling

Definition of swell

 (Entry 1 of 3)

intransitive verb

1a : to expand (as in size, volume, or numbers) gradually beyond a normal or original limit the population swelled
b : to become distended or puffed up her ankle is badly swollen
c : to form a bulge or rounded elevation
2a : to become filled with pride and arrogance
b : to behave or speak in a pompous, blustering, or self-important manner
c : to play the swell
3 : to become distended with emotion

transitive verb

1 : to affect with a powerful or expansive emotion
2 : to increase the size, number, or intensity of swell the applicant pool



Definition of swell (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : a long often massive and crestless wave or succession of waves often continuing beyond or after its cause (such as a gale)
2a : the condition of being protuberant
b : a rounded elevation
3a : the act or process of swelling
b(1) : a gradual increase and decrease of the loudness of a musical sound also : a sign indicating a swell
(2) : a device used in an organ for governing loudness
4a archaic : an impressive, pompous, or fashionable air or display
b : a person dressed in the height of fashion
c : a person of high social position or outstanding competence



Definition of swell (Entry 3 of 3)

1a : stylish
b : socially prominent
2 : excellent used as a generalized term of enthusiasm

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms & Antonyms for swell

Synonyms: Verb

accelerate, accumulate, appreciate, balloon, boom, build up, burgeon (also bourgeon), climb, enlarge, escalate, expand, gain, increase, mount, multiply, mushroom, proliferate, rise, roll up, snowball, spread, wax

Synonyms: Noun

bulge, bunch, convexity, jut, overhang, projection, protrusion, protuberance

Synonyms: Adjective

A-OK, A1, awesome, bang-up, banner, beautiful, blue-chip, blue-ribbon, boffo, bonny (also bonnie) [chiefly British], boss [slang], brag, brave, bully, bumper, capital, choice, classic, cool [slang], corking, crackerjack, cracking, dandy, divine, dope [slang], down [slang], dynamite, excellent, fab, fabulous, famous, fantabulous [slang], fantastic, fine, first-class, first-rate, first-string, five-star, four-star, frontline, gangbusters (also gangbuster), gilt-edged (or gilt-edge), gone [slang], grand, great, groovy, heavenly, high-class, hot, hype [slang], immense, jim-dandy, keen, lovely, marvelous (or marvellous), mean, neat, nifty, noble, number one (also No. 1), numero uno, out-of-sight [slang], par excellence, peachy, peachy keen, phat [slang], prime, primo [slang], prize, prizewinning, quality, radical [slang], righteous [slang], sensational, slick, splendid, stellar, sterling, superb, superior, superlative, supernal, terrific, tip-top, top, top-notch, top-of-the-line, top-shelf, topflight, topping [chiefly British], unsurpassed, wizard [chiefly British], wonderful

Antonyms: Verb

contract, decrease, diminish, dwindle, lessen, recede, wane

Antonyms: Noun

cavity, concave, concavity, dent, depression, dint, hollow, indent, indentation, indenture, pit, recess

Antonyms: Adjective

atrocious, awful, execrable, lousy, pathetic, poor, rotten, terrible, vile, wretched

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Choose the Right Synonym for swell


expand, amplify, swell, distend, inflate, dilate mean to increase in size or volume. expand may apply regardless of the manner of increase (such as growth, unfolding, addition of parts). a business that expands every year amplify implies the extension or enlargement of something inadequate. amplify the statement with details swell implies gradual expansion beyond a thing's original or normal limits. the bureaucracy swelled to unmanageable proportions distend implies outward extension caused by pressure from within. a distended abdomen inflate implies expanding by introduction of air or something insubstantial and suggests a vulnerability to sudden collapse. an inflated ego dilate applies especially to expansion of circumference. dilated pupils

Examples of swell in a Sentence


Her broken ankle swelled badly. Heavy rains swelled the river. The population has swelled in recent years. The economy is swelling at an annual rate of five percent. Immigrants have swelled the population.


The storm has brought high winds and heavy swells along the coast. the swell of a pregnant woman's belly a swell in the population the swell of the music


That was a swell party. what a swell time we had at the country club dance
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

However, Marr’s condition quickly worsened with severe swelling on his brain. Dr. Manny Alvarez | Fox News, Fox News, "How a nearly brain dead 'miracle man' survived after being taken off life support," 8 Sep. 2019 The building Clavi and others were sheltering in was less than 2,600 feet from the shore, according to Google Maps — yet the whole landscape was covered with swelling water. Patrick Smith, NBC News, "'Please pray for us': Hurricane Dorian slams the Bahamas," 2 Sep. 2019 As the sound begins to wilt, it is joined imperceptibly by the tape, which stretches and swells the note in space. New York Times, "Mario Davidovsky, Composer Who Made Electronics Sing, Dies at 85," 28 Aug. 2019 This in turn stimulates the flow of lymphatic fluid to reduce swelling, NYU Langone explains. Caroline Picard, Good Housekeeping, "Wendy Williams Calls Out Critics After Revealing She's Been Diagnosed With Lymphedema," 10 July 2019 And amazingly, big cap America’s efforts at inclusion are failing at what should be the ultimate measure of success, swelling the number of female CEOs. Shawn Tully, Fortune, "More People Named Jeffrey Got Top CEO Jobs Than Women Last Year," 27 June 2019 Meghan stopped wearing her engagement ring at public appearances later on in her pregnancy, likely due to swelling fingers (which is normal for women who are expecting). Erica Gonzales, Harper's BAZAAR, "Meghan Markle Apparently Updated Her Engagement Ring to Include More Stones," 24 June 2019 After two summers of extreme heat disrupted business and caused swelling pages and blurry prints, the printing company found that a nascent cooling industry could offer help. Haleema Shah, Smithsonian, "The Unexpected History of the Air Conditioner," 24 June 2019 Pakistan, the Maldives and Tajikistan have little in common beyond swelling budget deficits thanks to Chinese loans. Gerard Gayou, WSJ, "Who’s Afraid of the Belt and Road?," 9 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

There will be some great surfing in the coming days as the swells move north from the center of Dorian. Dave Epstein, BostonGlobe.com, "Storm surge could be biggest threat to US coastal areas," 2 Sep. 2019 His owner, race-car driver Denny Swift (This Is Us’ Milo Ventimiglia), picks him up gently; the music swells. Leah Greenblatt, EW.com, "The Art of Racing in the Rain is earnest, floppy-eared family entertainment," 6 Aug. 2019 The current swell is forecast to produce 35-45 foot breaking waves along the beaches through Thursday night. OregonLive.com, "Portland metro Thursday weather: Coastal flood warning for high seas and inundating waves," 18 Jan. 2018 Less than 48 hours later, the Hong Kong company made its offer public, hoping to cause a swell of support for the deal from the London Stock Exchange’s shareholders. New York Times, "A Hong Kong-London Stock Exchange Bid Ties 2 Cities in Turmoil," 11 Sep. 2019 And like all the best vocalists, past and present, Salvant brings an ever-changing array of colors to her work, shifting from gauzy whispers to vast swells of sound at the drop of a 16th note. Howard Reich, chicagotribune.com, "Jazz Fest review: Cecile McLorin Salvant tops an exuberant weekend," 1 Sep. 2019 That night the water in the port is a clean swell of black glass. Antonia Quirke, Condé Nast Traveler, "These Islands Near Sicily Might Be the Last Uncrowded Part of Italy," 22 Aug. 2019 Images and video of Fu, tied to an airport trolley, went viral in mainland China, triggering a swell of social media outrage. Los Angeles Times, "Hong Kong’s tough strategy against protests — and how it could backfire," 20 Aug. 2019 As the ship crane lowers black Zodiacs into the swell, the crew of the Resolute gives us our snorkel briefing: Here’s how to use your snorkel. Rowan Jacobsen, Outside Online, "An Ocean Plastics Field Trip for Corporate Executives," 8 Aug. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

There is a wider morphing process (literally) that takes place: hips expand, feet swell, breasts blow up and the entire shape of one’s physique alters. Anna Ben Yehuda Rahmanan, SELF, "I'm Pregnant And Want to Wear Skintight Clothes and Nothing Else," 20 Aug. 2019 That’s still substantially smaller than common lilacs, which, left to their own devices, swell to 20-foot behemoths. Washington Post, "A lesson from Miss Kim: Give other lilac species a try," 5 June 2019 Mexico and China levied tariffs on U.S. pork and chicken products last year, helping swell domestic stockpiles to a record 2.6 billion pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Jacob Bunge, WSJ, "Justice Department Investigates Chicken Industry," 25 June 2019 This engineering, accomplished in pieces over three centuries, often came at the behest of the swell-heads who bought up the valley and demanded protections against the river’s floods. Aaron Gilbreath, Longreads, "On a Wild Patch of Mississippi Soil," 14 Aug. 2019 This is the home of the swell shark and chain catshark. Joanna Klein, New York Times, "How Sharks Glow to Each Other Deep in the Ocean," 8 Aug. 2019 This includes the chain catshark (Scyliorhinus retifer) and the swell shark (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum). Brian Clark Howard, National Geographic, "These sharks glow underwater—thanks to tiny ‘lightsabers’," 8 Aug. 2019 Both it and the swell shark are the only sharks known to give off a green glow when exposed to light. Elizabeth Pennisi, Science | AAAS, "This shark glows using a process previously unknown to science," 8 Aug. 2019 Florida saw a swell in venture capital dollars raised from April to June, with South Florida companies making up nearly half, according to the second-quarter MoneyTree Report on venture capital. Marcia Heroux Pounds, sun-sentinel.com, "Magic Leap and other Florida tech companies raise big money," 16 July 2019

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


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


1606, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1785, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for swell


Middle English, from Old English swellan; akin to Old High German swellan to swell

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about swell

Dictionary Entries near swell






swell box


Statistics for swell

Last Updated

5 Oct 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for swell

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for swell



English Language Learners Definition of swell

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: to become larger than normal
: to make (something, such as a river) larger or more full than normal
: to increase in size or number



English Language Learners Definition of swell (Entry 2 of 3)

: an upward and downward movement of the water in the sea
: the curved or rounded shape of something
: an increase in size or number



English Language Learners Definition of swell (Entry 3 of 3)

US, informal + old-fashioned : very good


\ ˈswel How to pronounce swell (audio) \
swelled; swelled or swollen\ ˈswō-​lən \; swelling

Kids Definition of swell

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : to enlarge in an abnormal way usually by pressure from within or by growth Her sprained ankle is swelling up.
2 : to grow or make bigger (as in size or value) The town's population swelled.
3 : to stretch upward or outward : bulge The sails swelled in the breeze.
4 : to fill or become filled with emotion His heart swelled with pride.



Kids Definition of swell (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : a gradual increase in size, value, or volume a swell of laughter
2 : a long rolling wave or series of waves in the open sea
3 : the condition of bulging the swell of big muscles
4 : a rounded elevation



Kids Definition of swell (Entry 3 of 3)

: excellent, first-rate We had a swell time.
\ ˈswel How to pronounce swell (audio) \
swelled; swelled or swollen\ ˈswō-​lən How to pronounce swollen (audio) \; swelling

Medical Definition of swell

: to become distended or puffed up her ankle swelled

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on swell

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with swell

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for swell

Spanish Central: Translation of swell

Nglish: Translation of swell for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of swell for Arabic Speakers

Comments on swell

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


a topic to which one constantly reverts

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Where in the World? A Quiz

  • peter bruegel tower of babel painting
  • What language does pajama come from?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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