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

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

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Other Words from whale


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

Examples of whale in a Sentence

Noun a whale of a pickup truck
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The whale, which measured about four meters (13 feet) long, was first seen lying on the lock's boat rollers Sunday night. Mike Fuller, Star Tribune, "Hopes fade for minke whale stuck in River Thames near London," 10 May 2021 Sam's Club Choose from a unicorn, whale, alligator, and other creatures on this colorful pool float that won't break the bank. Southern Living, "This Member's Mark Retro Pink Limo Island Float from Sam's Club Has Us Ready for Lake Life," 20 Apr. 2021 The whale, a 41-foot female, found Thursday at nearby Muir Beach died from a ship strike, Boehm said, adding its injuries included bruising and internal hemorrhaging. Scottie Andrew, CNN, "Four gray whales have been found dead in California's Bay Area within eight days," 9 Apr. 2021 The whale, an adult or adolescent perhaps 30 feet long, was first spotted around 7:30 a.m. off the St. Francis Yacht Club. Steve Rubenstein, San Francisco Chronicle, "A gray whale carcass washed ashore at S.F.'s Crissy Field," 31 Mar. 2021 Assateague officials said in a Facebook post Tuesday that, despite several hours of work, crews were unable to move the whale, which is estimated to weigh about 30 tons. baltimoresun.com, "Maryland officials investigating death of humpback whale found on beach at Assateague Island National Seashore," 24 Feb. 2021 By the 1880s, decades of non-Alaska Native hunters had decimated the Alaskan whale, seal, and walrus populations. David Reamer, Anchorage Daily News, "In the midst of the Cold War, Alaska’s effort to spread Christmas cheer involved sending a small herd of reindeer to D.C.," 21 Dec. 2020 Safaris, famous vineyards, whale-watching, and shark-diving all make easy day trips. Anne Olivia Bauso, Travel + Leisure, "25 Most Beautiful Beaches in the World," 12 Apr. 2021 On the southside of the island, sign up for a whale-watching tour with Blue Water Rafting. USA Today, "Amp up your next road trip by choosing a theme, whether it be whale watching or taco tasting," 5 Apr. 2021

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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Time Traveler for whale

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for whale

Last Updated

15 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Whale.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whale. Accessed 18 May. 2021.

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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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