switch·​back | \ˈswich-ˌbak \

Definition of switchback 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: a zigzag road, trail, or section of railroad tracks for climbing a steep hill


switchbacked; switchbacking; switchbacks

Definition of switchback (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

: to follow a zigzag course especially for ascent or descent a trail that switchbacks

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Other Words from switchback


switchback adjective

Examples of switchback in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Many of the latter are within walking distance of the Corte Gondina—a bonus after a long day driving those switchback roads. Lettie Teague, WSJ, "Why Wine Lovers Flock to a Foggy Corner of Italy," 29 Nov. 2018 This region is filled with cliff towns and castles that are so fun to drive to, navigating the switchbacks and sharp turns. Matt Hranek, Condé Nast Traveler, "Great Drives: Speeding Through the French Countryside in the Audi A8," 25 Sep. 2018 The ride starts out in Wasatch Mountain State Park, and climbs through an Aspen grove, then takes a sharp descent through rock switchbacks before continuing downhill through lush pine forests. Annie Daly, SELF, "12 Beautiful Biking Destinations You’ll Want to Add to Your Bucket List," 18 July 2018 From here, the trail drops through a natural break in the Redwall Limestone in steep switchbacks that deposit you on the scrubby Tonto Plateau. Roger Naylor, azcentral, "10 best hikes in Arizona show off state's diverse scenery," 13 July 2018 After switchbacks over three passes, the road straightens on the far side of the range where the terrain transitions; the canyon lands and Bookcliffs around Grand Junction resemble Utah more than the Rockies. latimes.com, "Detours worth taking on your next road trip," 20 May 2018 Climbing the canyons above Malibu, California, handling the tight, twisting sweepers, descending into quick switchbacks, the Expedition exudes confidence and stability. Aaron Bragman, USA TODAY, "Review: Ford's revamped Expedition SUV moves to the front of the pack," 13 July 2018 The trail leads down to the road via the switchbacks, cliffs or roots, which are all safe options thanks to this summer's uncharacteristically dry weather. Author: Kat Sorensen, Anchorage Daily News, "Mount Marathon race trail has it all: snow, lush vegetation, flowing water and lots of dust," 3 July 2018 In a passage near the end, the performers moved in what Ms. Kravas calls, in a program note, a switchback: a simple-seeming phrase that had dancers going to and fro to face one way, then the opposite. Alastair Macaulay, New York Times, "Review: To Open Performance Space New York, ‘visions of beauty’," 11 Jan. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Flanagan cannot quite make Ziggy’s magnetism or sinister influence plausible, but the novel, with its switchbacking recollections and cyclical dialogue, its penetrating scenes of birth and, eventually, death, is enigmatic and mesmerizing. Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, "Briefly Noted," 19 May 2018 From the main entrance near Broad and Noble Streets, the trail switchbacks past urban glades, clusters of benches, reimagined steel catenaries, and a public art sculpture that resembles (much too literally) a telephone pole. Inga Saffron, Philly.com, "The first piece of the Reading Viaduct rail park opens in June. Then what?," 19 Apr. 2018 Jerome is laid out vertically, with Arizona 89A switchbacking through it. Scott Craven, USA TODAY, "Arizona road trip: Five must-see small towns," 13 Oct. 2017 Find two easily accessible ones at the Upper Picnic Area, or drive down to the canoe launch area for a challenging hike via switchbacks up Mt. Pisgah. Chelsey Lewis, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "13 places to see fall colors from up high in Wisconsin," 28 Sep. 2017

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


1863, in the meaning defined above


1903, in the meaning defined above

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Statistics for switchback

Last Updated

4 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for switchback

The first known use of switchback was in 1863

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More Definitions for switchback



English Language Learners Definition of switchback

: a road, trail, or section of railroad tracks that has many sharp turns for climbing a steep hill

More from Merriam-Webster on switchback

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with switchback

Comments on switchback

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


to make faulty or ineffective

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