Definition of rainbow in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈrānˌbō/


1An arch of colors formed in the sky in certain circumstances, caused by the refraction and dispersion of the sun’s light by rain or other water droplets in the atmosphere.
Example sentences
  • Their blossoms can be either single, double, or semi-double, and come in nearly every color of the rainbow except blue and green.
  • All of a sudden, the sky cleared, became blue and a perfect rainbow arched over me with one end in the sand.
  • A rainbow arched over the far wing in between showers of rain and bursts of sunshine.
1.1Any display of the colors of the spectrum produced by dispersion of light.
Example sentences
  • The sole job of a spectroscope is to break light into a rainbow of its component colors.
  • Stained glass windows splayed sunlight in multicolored, non-sense rainbows over the rich Persian rugs thrown to either side of the ruby highway.
  • He paused, watching the rainbows of refracted light from it sparkle on the shelves and walls, an expression of almost reverent awe on his face.
1.2A wide range or variety of related and typically colorful things: a rainbow of medals decorated his chest
More example sentences
  • There was a time when the better players had balls with a wide variety of pin positions, allowing a rainbow of reactions.
  • It's home to the more unusual sea apples - cucumbers that sprout a rainbow of filter-feeding arms - as well as colourful toxic sea urchins.
  • He will be back with a rainbow of programmes for this creative crowd.
1.3 [as modifier] Many-colored: a big rainbow packet of felt pens
More example sentences
  • In their diversity and variety, they encompass various coalescing and opposing interests and ideas to give them a many-coloured rainbow splendour.
  • I saw my first puffins, a flock swimming in the sea, small birds with big triangular rainbow beaks that look as if they're held on with elastic, like clown noses.
  • The first time I went to Thailand, I got these rainbow beads.
1.4 short for rainbow trout.



at the end of the rainbow

Used to refer to something much sought after but impossible to attain.
With allusion to the story of a pot of gold supposedly to be found by anyone reaching the end of a rainbow
Example sentences
  • We'll never find happiness by looking for it, any more than we'll find the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow by looking for it.
  • Yet, they continue on with a program they might not enjoy, burnt out and stressed, because they see a light at the end of the rainbow that might not exist, but is still worth attempting to reach.
  • The slip of paper inside the fortune cookie I got to choose on Thursday night read: ‘You will soon find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.’

chase rainbows (or a rainbow)

Pursue an illusory goal.
Example sentences
  • I'd certainly understand if this purported surgery turns out to be some kind of Internet urban legend and I'm chasing rainbows, but I wanted to ask a doctor for whom I have respect.
  • The latest EU attack on chemicals is just chasing rainbows.
  • In these times when so many seem to spend their lives chasing rainbows, we can reflect on the great faith and fortitude of those who went before us.


Old English regnboga (see rain, bow1).

  • bow from Old English:

    The bow of a ship has nothing to do with a person bowing in respect or a support bowing under pressure. The nautical bow (early 17th century) is in fact related to bough (Old English), the limb of a tree. Its immediate source, in the later Middle Ages, was German or Dutch. The phrase a shot across the bows, ‘a warning statement or gesture’, has its origins in the world of naval warfare, where it is one which is not intended to hit, but to make ships stop or alter their course. See also buxom. The archer's bow and the act of bending, both Old English, are related and come from Germanic roots. The archer's bow got its name from the shape, which also appears in Old English rainbow and elbow (Old English). The first part of the latter gives us the old measurement the ell, a variable measure, originally the distance from elbow to fingertip, which comes from the Indo-European root that also gives us ulna (mid 16th century) for the bone that runs from elbow to wrist.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: rain·bow

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.