ad·​mi·​ral | \ ˈad-m(ə-)rəl How to pronounce admiral (audio) \

Definition of admiral

1 archaic : the commander in chief of a navy
b : a commissioned officer in the navy or coast guard who ranks above a vice admiral and whose insignia is four stars — compare general
3 archaic : flagship
4 : any of several brightly colored nymphalid butterflies — compare red admiral

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It is a curiosity of history that the word admiral has its source in Arabic, the language of a desert people who acquired their seafaring skills after the great expansion of Islam in the seventh century. As the name for a Muslim chieftain, the Arabic word amir appears as a loanword in medieval Latin documents in spellings such as amiratus, admirandus, and admirallus. These words display a variety of suffixes and an added d, through confusion with the Latin verb admirari, “to admire.” The ending -allus is probably from the Arabic article al, which actually belongs to the following word in phrases such as amir al-‘ali, “supreme commander.” The application of admirallus to a commander of a fleet originated in 12th-century Sicily, was adopted by the Genoese, and then spread to countries throughout western Europe, including France and England.

Examples of admiral in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The Semmes statue shows a mustached Confederate admiral clutching a pair of binoculars in his right hand while standing on a pedestal that had been situated at Royal and Government streets in 1992. al, 17 Dec. 2021 When Roosevelt decided to move much of the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor, one protesting admiral was removed from command. Fiza Pirani, ajc, 7 Dec. 2021 They were told that the admiral’s vessel and headquarters could not be left without officers. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, National Review, 12 Oct. 2021 That decision rests with the 3rd Fleet admiral in San Diego, Vice Adm. Stephen Koehler. Andrew Dyer, San Diego Union-Tribune, 14 Dec. 2021 The Senate Armed Services Committee examines the nomination of Adm. Christopher W. Grady, USN for reappointment to the grade of admiral and to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at 10 a.m. Rick Klein, ABC News, 8 Dec. 2021 Assistant secretary for health Rachel Levine was sworn in as admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps yesterday. Emma Hinchliffe, Fortune, 20 Oct. 2021 In 1968, McCain’s father, an admiral, was named commander of American forces in Vietnam, and the North Vietnamese offered to let McCain go to score a propaganda victory. Adam Kirsch, WSJ, 1 Oct. 2021 The grandson of an English admiral, the schoolboy Sydney studied at a military academy in Peekskill, New York. David Reamer, Anchorage Daily News, 27 Sep. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'admiral.' 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 admiral

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for admiral

Middle English admirail, admiral, amiral "emir, Saracen chieftain, naval commander," borrowed from Anglo-French, borrowed from Medieval Latin admiralis, admirallus, amiralius, borrowed from Arabic amīr-al- "commander of the," in such phrases as amīr-al-baḥr "commander of the sea" (initial adm- for am- probably by association with Latin admīrārī "to admire")

Note: From the 9th century, the Arabic word amīr, "commander," appears in Medieval Latin documents with a variety of suffixal formations, as amiratus, admirandus, and admirallus; the ending -allus in the latter form has usually been construed as the Arabic definite article al, which belongs to the following word in collocations such as amīr al-'alī, "supreme commander." The more specific application of admirallus to the commander of a fleet originated in 12th-century Norman-ruled Sicily.

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The first known use of admiral was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

6 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Admiral.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for admiral



English Language Learners Definition of admiral

: a high-ranking officer in the navy


ad·​mi·​ral | \ ˈad-mə-rəl How to pronounce admiral (audio) , -mrəl \

Kids Definition of admiral

: a commissioned officer in the navy or coast guard ranking above a vice admiral


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