: a bowed stringed instrument chiefly of the 16th and 17th centuries made in treble, alto, tenor, and bass sizes and distinguished from members of the violin family especially in having a deep body, a flat back, sloping shoulders, usually six strings, a fretted fingerboard, and a low-arched bridge

Examples of viol in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Most of the pieces sung by Davies were arranged for viol consort by Richard Boothby, co-founder of Fretwork and one of its bass viol players. Washington Post, 17 Oct. 2019 The instrumental selections were actually composed for viol consort. Washington Post, 17 Oct. 2019 FRETWORK The English viol consort stops in Boston on its American tour, joined by countertenor Iestyn Davies. Zoë Madonna, BostonGlobe.com, 5 Sep. 2019 With Amelie Chemin, viol; Thomas Boysen, theorbo; Markus Hunninger, harpsichord. Chronicle Staff Report, San Francisco Chronicle, 1 Mar. 2018 In addition to his wife and son Laurence, a viol player and musicologist, Mr. Dreyfus is survived by a daughter, violist Karen Dreyfus; son Daniel Dreyfus; five grandchildren; and sister Ethel Tumim. Peter Dobrin, Philly.com, 4 Aug. 2017 The intimate Sunday concert at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington would have benefited from a brief introduction to the recorders and viols that played in J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati.com, 21 June 2017 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'viol.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English vial, borrowed from Anglo-French viel, viele, viole, corresponding to continental Old French viele (by suffix substitution vielle) and viole, from a Gallo-Romance base vi-, attested earliest in Old Occitan viola, viula "viol," of uncertain origin

Note: It has been claimed that the base vi- is of onomatopoeic origin, originally in verbal derivatives (Old French vieller, Old Occitan violar "to play a stringed instrument"), from which the noun designating the instrument is derived. However, it is unlikely that the resemblance between the viola words and Germanic *fiþlō- (whence Old High German fidula, Old English *fiðele; see fiddle entry 1), a noun probably designating a string instrument, is pure chance, and borrowing from Germanic into Gallo-Romance seems more plausible than the reverse direction (despite the unexplained voicing of initial f). Medieval Latin vitula, vidula (best attested in English documents) are not necessarily indicative of an earlier Gallo-Romance form of viola, as the Germanic etymon may have contaminated the Romance word. There is no likely relation between the Medieval Latin words and Latin Vītula "goddess of joy," vītulārī "to utter a cry of exultation," which should have developed quite differently in Romance.

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of viol was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near viol

Cite this Entry

“Viol.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/viol. Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


vi·​ol ˈvī(-ə)l How to pronounce viol (audio)
: an old stringed instrument like the violin

More from Merriam-Webster on viol

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!