noun, often attributive
\ ˈ(h)wāl How to pronounce whale (audio) \
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

2 : to strike or hit vigorously
3 : to defeat soundly

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from whale


whalelike \ ˈ(h)wāl-​ˌlīk How to pronounce whalelike (audio) \ adjective

Examples of whale in a Sentence

Noun a whale of a pickup truck
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Ankylorhiza was the first echolocating whale to become an apex predator because of a cranial joint that allowed a range of motion identical to a modern orca, Boessenecker said. Kristen Rogers, CNN, "An extinct giant dolphin behaved like a killer whale, study finds," 9 July 2020 The largest of the Hawaiian islands is home to some of the best whale-watching in the world. Kendall Cornish, Travel + Leisure, "These Are the 25 Most Romantic Islands in the World, According to Travelers," 8 July 2020 In June 2019, whale sharks were caught on camera mating in Western Australia for the first time ever. Fox News, "Whale sharks have eyes that are covered in teeth, researchers find," 2 July 2020 This is at least the second time in three weeks that a whale has collided with a boat. CBS News, "3 family members injured when boat collides with humpback whale in Alaska," 1 July 2020 It is not advised to get into the water alone, at night, or if there has been a whale stranding in the area. Jack Guy, CNN, "Drone video shows surfers' very close encounter with great white shark," 24 June 2020 Happening now: a whale breached the surface and landed on a boat only a few dozen yards off D Street. CBS News, "Breaching whale capsizes boat in New Jersey, tossing 2 people into ocean," 9 June 2020 In California’s Santa Ynez valley, that might mean foraging for mushrooms for dinner, or a private whale watching sail. Megan Spurrell, Condé Nast Traveler, "The Road Trip Has Always Been DIY—These Experts Are Here to Change That," 9 June 2020 The juvenile whale was first spotted along Turnagain Arm on May 25. Tess Williams, Anchorage Daily News, "Stranded gray whale finally swims out of river into Turnagain Arm during high tide," 4 June 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about whale

Time Traveler for whale

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for whale

Last Updated

13 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Whale.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whale. Accessed 13 Jul. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for whale


How to pronounce whale (audio)

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

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on whale

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for whale

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


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!