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

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 Many pass by San Diego’s 70 miles of coastline, making the city’s cliffs, beaches and bluffs ideal for whale watching from December through April. Los Angeles Times, 20 Jan. 2022 If the net cannot be loosened, the whale will perish miserably. Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, 18 Jan. 2022 It’s also known as the world’s leading dolphin and beluga whale care facility. Sheryl Devore, chicagotribune.com, 10 Jan. 2022 In the dimness, the pale heavy brow of a whale’s skull holds back the earth. Longreads, 7 Jan. 2022 Scientists fitted each whale with an animal-borne tag—a device that tracks their location and behavior—as well as an acoustic recorder, which simultaneously logs the soundtrack of the ocean. Ashley Stimpson, Popular Mechanics, 7 Jan. 2022 According to Van Daele, the whale had been dead several weeks; her body was in poor shape, with little fat. Susanne Rust, Anchorage Daily News, 26 Dec. 2021 Off island excursions that can be coordinated include whale watching, hiking, and private beach lunches. Kristin Braswell, Vogue, 15 Dec. 2021 Surfing is, of course, one of the area's most popular activities, but guests can also enjoy stand-up paddleboarding, diving, fishing, and whale-watching. Rachel Chang, Travel + Leisure, 3 Dec. 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

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

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Dictionary Entries Near whale




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Statistics for whale

Last Updated

27 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Whale.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whale. Accessed 29 Jan. 2022.

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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 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

More from Merriam-Webster on 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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