noun, often attributive
\ ˈhwāl How to pronounce whale (audio) , ˈwāl\
plural whales

Definition of whale

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 or plural whale : any of various very large, aquatic, marine mammals (order Cetacea) that have a torpedo-shaped body with a thick layer of blubber, paddle-shaped forelimbs but no hind limbs, a horizontally flattened tail, and nostrils that open externally at the top of the head also : cetacean — see baleen whale, toothed whale
2 : one that is impressive especially in size a whale of a difference a whale of a good time


verb (1)
whaled; whaling

Definition of whale (Entry 2 of 3)

intransitive verb

: to engage in whale fishing


verb (2)
whaled; whaling

Definition of whale (Entry 3 of 3)

transitive verb

1 : lash, thrash
2 : to strike or hit vigorously
3 : to defeat soundly

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Other Words from whale


whalelike \ ˈhwāl-​ˌlīk How to pronounce whalelike (audio) , ˈwāl-​ \ adjective

Examples of whale in a Sentence


a whale of a pickup truck

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Even with the latest unusual mortality event, the eastern North Pacific population of gray whales has thrived, reaching a population of about 27,000 whales, according to NOAA. Allen Kim, CNN, "7 dead whales were found in Alaska over the weekend, and experts blame the climate crisis," 11 July 2019 According to the data gathered by the National Marine Fisheries Services, nearly all of the dead whales are being found on the West Coast of North America. Eric Todisco, PEOPLE.com, "7 Dead Gray Whales Wash Up on the Shores of Alaska in a Single Weekend," 11 July 2019 The Japanese government has scrapped supposedly scientific whaling expeditions in Antarctic waters that involved killing a much larger number of whales. The Economist, "Politics this week," 6 July 2019 The Heat have been desperate for star power ever since LeBron’s departure in 2014, and Butler is one of the whales Pat Riley has been searching for ever since. Rohan Nadkarni, SI.com, "Trade Grades: Jimmy Butler Headed to the Heat in 3-Team Deal," 30 June 2019 According to Canadian government Twitter accounts, a total of three whales have died in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this week. David Abel, BostonGlobe.com, "Fifth North Atlantic right whale found dead in Canadian waters," 27 June 2019 Many of the whales have appeared skinny and malnourished, scientists have said. Tegan Hanlon, Anchorage Daily News, "3 more gray whale carcasses found in Alaska amid spike in deaths along West Coast," 21 June 2019 Only one of the whales remains have been preserved. Fox News, "Scientists reveal skull of beluga-narwhal hybrid through DNA analysis," 21 June 2019 Plastic waste has become so prevalent that tales of dead whales found with pounds of plastic trash — including shopping bags — in their stomachs have become commonplace. Anna Schaverien, New York Times, "Store’s Bid to Shame Customers Over Plastic Bags Backfires," 12 June 2019

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


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

Verb (1)

1700, in the meaning defined above

Verb (2)

circa 1790, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for whale


Middle English, from Old English hwæl; akin to Old High German hwal whale and perhaps to Latin squalus sea fish

Verb (2)

origin unknown

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Statistics for whale

Last Updated

16 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for whale

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

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More Definitions for whale



English Language Learners Definition of whale

: an often very large animal that lives in the ocean and that is a mammal rather than a fish
informal : something that is very big, important, good, etc.


\ ˈhwāl How to pronounce whale (audio) , ˈwāl\

Kids Definition of whale

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a very large sea mammal that has flippers and a flattened tail and breathes through an opening on the top of the head


whaled; whaling

Kids Definition of whale (Entry 2 of 2)

: to hunt whales

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More from Merriam-Webster on whale

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with whale

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for whale

Spanish Central: Translation of whale

Nglish: Translation of whale for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of whale for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about whale

Comments on whale

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


an act or instance of editing or removing

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