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

The Blue Eye lounges will be positioned beneath the waterline and feature two large observation windows, one on each side of the ship, shaped like whales' eyes. Rosemary Mcclure, latimes.com, "Six more Ponant ships to be launched, all equipped with underwater lounges," 26 Mar. 2018 These toxins suppress the whales' immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to disease, and can affect the females' ability to reproduce. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian, "Pacific Northwest Orca Population Hits 30-Year-Low," 10 July 2018 Steps are being planned to help the whales persevere. New York Times, "Orcas of the Pacific Northwest Are Starving and Disappearing," 9 July 2018 According to San Diego Whale Watch, the whales were circling their boat and the calf might have been nursing. Shannon Tompkins, Houston Chronicle, "Boat ramps a gateway to fun or frustration," 28 June 2018 Near Boundary Pass, the deep-water strait that, as the name suggests, marks the U.S.-Canada maritime border, Jay checked a Facebook page that whale-watching tour operators use to notify each other of sightings. Matthew Kronsberg, WSJ, "An Unmissable Outdoor Adventure in Canada’s Gulf Islands," 21 June 2018 Or are the dolphins actually a bunch of bullying surf bros that the whales begrudgingly tolerate? Saryn Chorney, PEOPLE.com, "WATCH: Thousands of Friendly Dolphins Guide and Play with Baby Humpback Whale," 5 June 2018 Photos posted on the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources Facebook page, show dozens of bags pulled from the whale's stomach. Mary Bowerman, USA TODAY, "Pilot whale dies after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags: 'Still going to dump trash?'," 4 June 2018 During the rescue attempt, the whale vomited up five bags while officials used buoys to keep it afloat. Travis Fedschun, Fox News, "Whale dies in Thailand after eating more than 80 plastic bags," 4 June 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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Phrases Related to whale

a whale of a time

whale watch

Statistics for whale

Last Updated

22 Oct 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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Comments on whale

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