noun, often attributive
\ˈhwāl, 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, ˈwāl-​ \ adjective

Examples of whale in a Sentence


a whale of a pickup truck

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Hunting brought some species of whale to extinction, and climate change is threatening all marine life. Karin Altenberg, WSJ, "What to Give: Nature Books," 15 Nov. 2018 Side-by-side drone photographs of the whale taken over the last week compared with photos last year show a severe loss of condition due to starvation. Lynda V. Mapes, The Seattle Times, "Rescue effort for sick orca underway, but family’s location remains unknown," 6 Aug. 2018 Officials were headed to the site of the third whale to investigate Monday. Anchorage Daily News, "3 gray whales found dead on shores of Kodiak Island," 4 July 2018 The species of the other whale was not identified, according to the federal agency. Washington Post, "Whale strikes Alaska ferry, may have suffered mortal injury," 22 June 2018 Multiple species of whale come to hang out along Cape Breton's northern coast in the beginning of summer and stick around through the end of fall. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, "The Best Islands in the World: 2018 Readers' Choice Awards," 9 Oct. 2018 Undeterred, her family of whales swims slowly beside her. Kate Branch, Vogue, "How I Learned to Grieve the Loss of My Dad in the Age of Instagram," 6 Oct. 2018 Thousands of beluga whales migrate into the Churchill River in Manitoba in July and August to feed and give birth. Rosemary Mcclure, latimes.com, "See beluga whales in a Canadian town known for its polar bear excursions," 11 July 2018 In the late 1990s, there were nearly 100 of these giant whales in the population. New York Times, "Orcas of the Pacific Northwest Are Starving and Disappearing," 9 July 2018

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

17 Dec 2018

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

: something that is very big, important, good, etc.


\ˈhwāl, 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

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