tar·​pau·​lin | \tär-ˈpȯ-lən, ˈtär-pə-; nonstandard tär-ˈpōl-yən\
plural tarpaulins

Definition of tarpaulin 

1 : a piece of material used especially for protecting exposed objects or areas : tarp The hatchways of some armed vessels are but poorly secured in bad weather. … They were merely spread over with an old tarpaulin, cracked and rent in every direction.— Herman Melville

2 dated : sailor "What does this here blessed tarpaulin go and do," said Mr. Peggotty, with his face one high noon of enjoyment, "but he loses that there art of his to our little Em'ly."— Charles Dickens The Englishman replied, like a rough tarpaulin, "They might starve; they should not plant nor build in that place."— Daniel Defoe

Examples of tarpaulin in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

In Arsal, where refugees number about twice as many as the town’s residents, some 70,000 Syrians live in shabby tarpaulin tents and have few legal rights, including authorization to work. Sune Engel Rasmussen, WSJ, "Refugees Become Pawns in Syria’s Bid for Foreign Aid," 27 July 2018 Most days, Nyine’s side of the family wasn’t in their blue tarpaulin home but at the Bigo clinic for wound checks. Nick Turse, Teen Vogue, "The Democratic Republic of Congo Has Humanitarian Crises Leaving Millions of Children In Danger," 14 Nov. 2018 The tarpaulin fabric is lightweight yet super durable. Ariella Gintzler, Outside Online, "Testing Adventure-Ready Travel Bags from Eagle Creek," 10 May 2018 There was not a single tarpaulin or cot left in stock. Frances Robles, New York Times, "FEMA Was Sorely Unprepared for Puerto Rico Hurricane, Report Says," 12 July 2018 From the moment her belly began to swell, Noor, who like others in this story is being identified only by her first name for her protection, stayed huddled in her tarpaulin shelter, hiding from the judgment of others. New York Times, "When a Baby Is an Everyday Reminder of Rohingya Horror," 7 July 2018 Dozens of divers arrived at the Tham Luang cave on Sunday morning and officials set up more tarpaulin sheets blocking off the divers' operating area. Fox News, "Thai officials clear media as cave rescue seems imminent," 7 July 2018 Relatives, who had been sleeping on plastic chairs and cots under a tarpaulin tent since their disappearance, burst into tears. Feliz Solomon / Tham Luang Cave, Time, "Trapped Thai Soccer Team Sends a Message From the Cave," 5 July 2018 With the Orioles leading 2-0 thanks to a home run by Mark Trumbo and four shutout innings from a returning Andrew Cashner, the tarpaulin came onto the field at Nationals Park for what has the makings of a lengthy rain delay Wednesday night. Jon Meoli, baltimoresun.com, "Orioles leading 2-0 in Washington with game delayed by rain," 21 June 2018

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

1607, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for tarpaulin

probably from tar entry 1 + -palling, -pauling (from pall)

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Dictionary Entries near tarpaulin



tar paper


tarpaulin muster


tar pit

Statistics for tarpaulin

Last Updated

7 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for tarpaulin

The first known use of tarpaulin was in 1607

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English Language Learners Definition of tarpaulin

: a large piece of waterproof material (such as plastic or canvas) that is used to cover things and keep them dry


tar·​pau·​lin | \tär-ˈpȯ-lən, ˈtär-pə-lən\

Kids Definition of tarpaulin

: a sheet of waterproof canvas

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tarpaulin

Spanish Central: Translation of tarpaulin

Nglish: Translation of tarpaulin for Spanish Speakers

Comments on tarpaulin

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


to make faulty or ineffective

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