Pronunciation Verb

swell (swells, present participle swelling; past swelled, past participle swollen)

  1. (intransitive) To become bigger, especially due to being engorged.
    • circa 1598 William Shakespeare, Henry V (play), Prologue,
      O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
      The brightest heaven of invention,
      A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
      And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
    • 1914, P. C. Wren, Snake and Sword, London: Longmans, Green, Chapter 5, p. 78,
      “If you drinks a drop more, Miss Lucy, you’ll just go like my pore young sister goed, […] Pop she did not. She swole … swole and swole.”
      “You mean ‘swelled,’ Cookoo,” corrected Lucille […]
      “ […] I say she swole—and what is more she swole clean into a dropsy.”
  2. (transitive) To cause to become bigger.
    Rains and dissolving snow swell the rivers in spring.
    • 1633, John Donne, “The Storme” in Poems, London: John Marriot, p. 57,
      Mildly it [the wind] kist our sailes, and, fresh, and sweet,
      As, to a stomack sterv’d, whose insides meete,
      Meate comes, it came; and swole our sailes, when wee
      So joyd, as Sarah her swelling joy’d to see.
    • 1687, Francis Atterbury, An Answer to Some Considerations on the Spirit of Martin Luther and the Original of the Reformation, Oxford, p. 12,
      ’Tis low ebb sure with his Accuser, when such Peccadillos as these are put in to swell the Charge.
    • 2013 June 18, Simon Romero, "Protests Widen as Brazilians Chide Leaders ↗," New York Times (retrieved 21 June 2013):
      After a harsh police crackdown last week fueled anger and swelled protests, President Dilma Rousseff, a former guerrilla who was imprisoned under the dictatorship and has now become the target of pointed criticism herself, tried to appease dissenters by embracing their cause on Tuesday.
  3. (intransitive) To grow gradually in force or loudness.
    The organ music swelled.
  4. (transitive) To raise to arrogance; to puff up; to inflate.
    to be swelled with pride or haughtiness
  5. (intransitive) To be raised to arrogance.
    • circa 1598 William Shakespeare, Henry V (play), Act 5, Scene 1,
      Why, here he comes, swelling like a turkey-cock.
    • 1814, Walter Scott, Waverley (novel), Edinburgh: James Ballantyne, Volume 3, Chapter 9, p. 111,
      […] you swell at the sight of tartan, as the bull is said to do at scarlet.
  6. To be elated; to rise arrogantly.
    • 1662, John Dryden, To My Lord Chancellor Presented on New-Years-Day, London: Henry Herringman, p. 5,
      In all things else above our humble fate
      Your equal mind yet swells not into state,
      But like some mountain in those happy Isles
      Where in perpetual Spring young Nature smiles,
      Your greatnesse shows:
  7. To be turgid, bombastic, or extravagant.
    swelling words  a swelling style
  8. To protuberate; to bulge out.
    A cask swells in the middle.
Translations Translations Noun


  1. The act of swelling; increase in size.
  2. A bulge or protuberance.
  3. Increase of power in style, or of rhetorical force.
    • 1826, Walter Savage Landor, Imaginary Conversations, London: Henry Colburn, 2nd edition, Volume I, Conversation 6, p. 128,
      Concentrated are his arguments, select and distinct and orderly his topics, ready and unfastidious his expressions, popular his allusions, plain his illustrations, easy the swell and subsidence of his periods […]
  4. A long series of ocean waves, generally produced by wind, and lasting after the wind has ceased.
    • 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, ch. 24:
      There was a great, smooth swell upon the sea.
  5. (music) A gradual crescendo followed by diminuendo.
  6. (music) A device for controlling the volume of a pipe organ.
  7. (music) A division in a pipe organ, usually the largest enclosed division.
  8. A hillock or similar raised area of terrain.
    • 1909, Joseph A. Altsheler, The Last of the Chiefs, ch. 2:
      Off on the crest of a swell a moving figure was seen now and then. "Antelope," said the hunters.
  9. (geology) An upward protrusion of strata from whose central region the beds dip quaquaversally at a low angle.
  10. (informal, dated) A person who dresses in a fancy or elegant manner.
    • circa 1850 William Makepeace Thackeray, "The Kickleburys on the Rhine" in The Christmas Books of Mr. M. A. Titmarsh:
      It costs him no more to wear all his ornaments about his distinguished person than to leave them at home. If you can be a swell at a cheap rate, why not?
    • 1887, Horatio Alger, The Cash Boy, ch. 9:
      He was dressed in a flashy style, not unlike what is popularly denominated a swell.
  11. (informal) A person of high social standing; an important person.
    • 1864, Anthony Trollope, The Small House at Allington, ch. 2:
      "I am not in Mr Crosbie's confidence. He is in the General Committee Office, I know; and, I believe, has pretty nearly the management of the whole of it."
      "I'll tell you what he is, Bell; Mr Crosbie is a swell." And Lilian Dale was right; Mr Crosbie was a swell.
    • 1900, Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood Chapter 14, p. 176,
      The only sensible man I came across was the cabman who drove me about. A broken-down swell he was, I fancy.
    • 1906, Gilbert Parker, The Trespasser, ch. 8:
      You buy a lot of Indian or halfbreed loafers with beaver-skins and rum, go to the Mount of the Burning Arrows, and these fellows dance round you and call you one of the lost race, the Mighty Men of the Kimash Hills. And they'll do that while the rum lasts. Meanwhile you get to think yourself a devil of a swell—you and the gods!
    • 1938, Graham Greene, Brighton Rock (novel), New York: Vintage, 2002, Part Seven, Chapter 3, p. 209,
      ‘ […] Colleoni’s going to take over this place from you, and he’s got his lawyer. A man in London. A swell.’
  • (person dressed in a fancy or elegant manner) dandy, dude, toff
  • (person of high social standing) toff
Translations Adjective

swell (not comparable)

  1. (dated) Fashionable, like a swell or dandy.
    • 1912, Popular Mechanics (page 20)
      We pay the express, $5 a day our new agents are making and wearing the swellest clothes besides; old agents after one season make twice as much.
  2. (North America, informal, dated) Excellent.
    • 1931, Dashiell Hammett, The Glass Key, New York: Vintage, 1972, Chapter 9, p. 176,
      Jeff swaggered over to Ned Beaumont, threw his left arm roughly around his shoulders, seized Ned Beaumont’s right hand with his right hand, and addressed the company jovially: “This is the swellest guy I ever skinned a knuckle on and I’ve skinned them on plenty.”
    • 1958, Robert A. Heinlein, Have Space Suit—Will Travel, New York: Ballantine Books, 1977, Chapter 1, p. 8,
      […] we’re league champions in basketball and our square-dance team is state runner-up and we have a swell sock hop every Wednesday.
    • 2012, Ariel Levy (journalist), "The Space In Between", The New Yorker, 10 Sep 2012:
      Orgasms are swell, but they are not the remedy to every injustice.
Translations Adverb

swell (not comparable)

  1. (North America, informal) Very well.
    • 1929, Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest, Chapter 12,
      “That lousy ring wasn’t worth no grand. I did swell to get two centuries for it.”
    • 1966, Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, New York: Modern Library, 2013, Part 3, p. 251,
      “ […] Last August, when I left The Walls, I figured I had every chance to start new. I got a job in Olathe, lived with my family, and stayed home nights. I was doing swell—”

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