Definition of pencil in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈpensəl/


1An instrument for writing or drawing, consisting of a thin stick of graphite or a similar substance enclosed in a long thin piece of wood or fixed in a metal or plastic case.
Example sentences
  • Common complimentary gifts include plastic bags, ballpoint pens, pencils, writing pads, water bottles and paper cups.
  • I always think of myself as a kid in the street with a pencil and piece of paper, watching other people.
  • After hours of trying to elicit any scrap of detail about his life, someone had the idea of leaving him with a drawing pad and pencils.
1.1Graphite or a similar substance used as a medium for writing or drawing: the words were scribbled in pencil
More example sentences
  • The new writing in blue ink slightly overlapped my writing that was in pencil.
  • The latter is certainly the centre-piece (with a price tag to match) and is accompanied by two beautiful pencil and ink drawings.
  • Students were allowed to use graphite pencil or a very fine-tipped felt pen.
1.2 [usually with modifier] A cosmetic in a long thin stick, designed to be applied to a particular part of the face: an eyebrow pencil
More example sentences
  • The bar staff are dressed in school uniform with prefect badges and kohl pencil freckles and the clientele are sipping shrimp flavored vodka shooters.
  • She had a lot of mascara on - with dark eyeliner and pencil thin eyebrows.
  • For eyeliners and eye brow pencils, select a shade of gray or brown or a complementary color rather than black.
1.3Something with the shape of a pencil: a pencil of light [as modifier]: a long pencil beam
More example sentences
  • This firm has also designed masts in the shape of a giant pencil, a sculpture and boat masts.
  • A big rubber thing with a beam like a broadsword and a pencil torch.
  • There was no trace of the person responsible, except for a black pencil torch below one of the nests.
beam, ray, shaft, finger, gleam
1.4 Physics & Geometry A set of light rays, lines, etc., converging to or diverging narrowly from a single point.
Example sentences
  • The thin line of his pencil transcribes the desert light and, for the first time in this exhibition, a unique and unmistakable vision appears.
  • These conservative pencils of light also displayed the biological diversity of the ship's crew.
  • Peepholes at strategic points along its length admitted pencils of light.

verb (pencils, penciling, penciled ; British pencils, pencilling, pencilled)

[with object]
Write, draw, or color (something) with a pencil: a previous owner has penciled their name inside the cover (as adjective penciled) a penciled note
More example sentences
  • As I write this he's pencilled it onto the canvas and judging by the noises he was making in the background as I spoke to him, he has just begun to paint.
  • Turns out that my name has been pencilled against this project for some weeks now - which is partly why no other work has been coming my way.
  • Visions of him are off limits in your daydreams, his name is never again to be penciled in your notebook, and his school picture must promptly be removed from the inside of your locker.
write, write down, jot down, scribble, note, take down
draw, trace, sketch

Phrasal verbs

pencil something in

1Fill in an area or shape with pencil strokes: a lot of the outlines had been penciled in
More example sentences
  • He cut with dark stripes into the white of the ruff in the chin area, and then penciled them in lightly.
  • They don't have to be huge trees to give shade as the sun gets lower in the afternoon, and the southwest and west sides might need it the most, but experiment with where shadows fall and pencil in some trees.
2Arrange, forecast, or note down something provisionally or tentatively: May 15 was penciled in as the date for the meeting
More example sentences
  • More recently, plans to remove the ubiquitous protruding metal pipes have been pencilled in on a very, very urgent to-do list.
  • It has been hanging over us for about three weeks since the date was pencilled in.
  • But, saying that, it has been pencilled in for a while now and you have got to try and get on with it the best you can.
2.1 (pencil someone in) Make a provisional or tentative arrangement with or for someone: he was penciled in for surgery at the end of the month
More example sentences
  • Then he was pencilled in - despite the fact that the Scottish Executive has no remit on international development.
  • The Poet Laureate has been pencilled in to headline a major North Yorkshire literary festival.
  • He is pencilled in as the next man to try.



Example sentences
  • Cartoonists, sequential artists, pencillers - call 'em what you like, they all need help if they're going to do their job well.
  • When artwork is returned from a comic book, the penciller gets two thirds of the pages, the inker the remaining third.
  • I just read an interview with a pretty successful comic book penciller where he says that for years he worked to break into comics and be successful in comics.


Middle English (denoting a fine paintbrush): from Old French pincel, from a diminutive of Latin peniculus 'brush', diminutive of penis 'tail'. The verb was originally (early 16th century) in the sense 'paint with a fine brush'.

  • Although it looks as if pencil should come from pen, the words are unrelated. A pencil once meant a fine paintbrush—Johnson's dictionary defines it as ‘a small brush of hair which painters dip in their colours’. It comes from Old French pincel, from Latin penicillum ‘paintbrush’, from penis ‘tail’, from the tuft of hair at the end of some tails. The Latin penis was also used for the male organ, a use that passed into English in the late 17th century. Penicillum was also the source of the name of the drug penicillin (mid 20th century) named from the brush-like shapes of the spore containers.

Words that rhyme with pencil

intercensal, stencil

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: pen·cil

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