There are 2 main definitions of shelf in English:


Syllabification: shelf
Pronunciation: /SHelf

noun (plural shelves /SHelvz/)

1A flat length of wood or rigid material, attached to a wall or forming part of a piece of furniture, that provides a surface for the storage or display of objects.
More example sentences
  • The pieces were displayed on shelves, propped against the wall, emphasizing their three-dimensionality.
  • The painters, who had promised me two days notice to remove everything from walls, shelves and large pieces of furniture, instead gave me a few hours.
  • Free-standing shelves provide excellent storage and can be taken with you when you move.
ledge, sill, bracket, rack;
1.1A ledge of rock or protruding strip of land.
More example sentences
  • There were, broadly speaking, three tracts of relevant land: there is the rock shelf, which was tidal…
  • A dusty pile of sheet rock tumbled from one of the high, unsteady shelves and landed beside Barbara.
  • I pull the rope bag out and drop it on the ledge in front of my shins, padding the rock shelf so I can lean into it.
1.2A submarine bank, or a part of the continental shelf.
More example sentences
  • This problem with the sediment trap technique is probably restricted to the continental slope and shelf and will not occur over abyssal depths.
  • Recruitment patterns of these species along the shelf were then used to infer water-mass distributions along the shelf.
  • Zebra sharks are primarily bottom dwellers that live in warm shallow inland waters, of continental and island shelves.


Middle English: from Middle Low German schelf; related to Old English scylfe 'partition', scylf 'crag'.


off the shelf

Not designed or made to order but taken from existing stock or supplies: off-the-shelf software packages
More example sentences
  • This is the software you buy shrink-wrapped off the shelf or download from the Internet onto your computer.
  • You can buy software specific to an industry and specific to one need, off the shelf, without having to buy a whole package.
  • So in all probability, they took the stadium plans off the shelf.

on the shelf

(Of people or things) no longer useful or desirable: an injury that has kept him on the shelf
More example sentences
  • And it is the self-centred ones who tend to get left on the shelf and so are the main frequenters of singles venues.
  • Until the court case settled, this IPO is on the shelf, possibly forever.
  • Keep in mind that plans are not something to write and put on the shelf.



Pronunciation: /-ˌfo͝ol/
noun (plural shelffuls)
More example sentences
  • There was not a shelfful of books on, say, how to give a talk in public, as there is now; there was usually none.
  • This enormous book of 552 pages, closely printed, is almost a shelfful of books collected in one volume.
  • These things tend to discourage purchase - who wants to have a shelfful of dead ideas?


More example sentences
  • Running a trot line seems a fairly sane way to go about snagging a big fish, but in more shallow runs of the river farther downstream where the limestone has eroded under the bank to form shelf-like caves some guys take the sport a step farther.
  • The nose contains shelf-like structures called turbinates, which help trap particles entering the nasal passages.
  • Podial basins are closed cup-like or shelf-like depressions shared by sequential ambulacrals or adjacent ambulacrals and adambulacrals.

Definition of shelf in:

There are 2 main definitions of shelf in English:


Line breaks: shelf

Entry from British & World English dictionary

Australian /NZ informal

noun (plural shelfs)

An informer.


[with object] Back to top  
Inform on (someone): he never shelfed a man in his life


1930s (as a noun): probably from the phrase on the shelf 'out of the way'.

Definition of shelf in: