Definition of wolf in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /wo͝olf/

noun (plural wolves /wo͝olvz/)

1A wild carnivorous mammal of the dog family, living and hunting in packs. It is native to both Eurasia and North America, but has been widely exterminated.
  • Canis lupus, family Canidae; it is the chief ancestor of the domestic dog.
Example sentences
  • Among wild dogs and wolves, the cooperative hunting pack includes both males and females, and they provision both pups and a nursing mother.
  • Did you know that the last British wolf was shot in Scotland in the Fifteenth Century and that the last wolf living wild in England was trapped and killed nearly a thousand years ago?
  • Wild dogs, especially the big wild dogs, are famously family oriented, and wolves are no exception.
1.1Used in names of mammals similar or related to the wolf, e.g., maned wolf, Tasmanian wolf.
Example sentences
  • The African wild dog, Lycaon pictus, also called the painted wolf or the Cape hunting dog is the victim mainly of human persecution.
  • Only about 500 Ethiopian wolves remain in the wild, and the species has been ravaged by rabies epidemics at least twice in the recent past.
2Used in similes and metaphors to refer to a rapacious, ferocious, or voracious person or thing.
Example sentences
  • Instead, rather intriguingly, it has become a grim battle of the superpowers, both engaged in a hard fight to keep the media wolves from their door.
  • Again Ridge instantly screamed out breathless tales of a terrorist wolf, while the media slobbered at the door.
  • Who do you feed to the media wolves?
2.1 informal A man who habitually seduces women.
Example sentences
  • Note that the wolf waits until he gets her into bed before pouncing.
3A harsh or out-of-tune effect produced when playing particular notes or intervals on a musical instrument, caused either by the instrument’s construction or by divergence from equal temperament.
Example sentences
  • The one sure way of avoiding wolf notes but still keeping 3rds and 5ths almost pure was by increasing the number of notes in the octave.


[with object]
Devour (food) greedily: he wolfed down his breakfast
More example sentences
  • He wolfed food the down, and then drank from the bowl of water that he had.
  • It was perfect to dip naan bread in, and the pilau rice was wolfed down by Matt who seemed to enthuse about how special the chef's special was with every mouthful.
  • If I'd have been a real man, I would have bought one of the six pound pie beasts, I would not have wolfed my snack in private.
devour, gobble (up), guzzle, gulp down, bolt (down)
informal put away, demolish, shovel in/down, scoff (down), scarf (up)



cry wolf

Call for help when it is not needed, with the effect that one is not believed when one really does need help.
With allusion to Aesop's fable of the shepherd boy who deluded people with false cries of “Wolf!”
Example sentences
  • The saying ‘If you cry wolf too many times, eventually no-one will believe you’ springs to mind.
  • If our weather forecasters cry wolf again, we're just not going to believe them next time are we?
  • It's like the little boy that cried wolf, but you have to believe that sooner or later it will happen again.

hold (or have) a wolf by the ears

Be in a precarious position.
Example sentences
  • I think Thomas Jefferson hit the nail on the head when he likened slavery to holding a wolf by the ears: ‘… we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.’
  • A mind can more easily hold a wolf by the ears than steady itself in spiritual experience.
  • When you're holding a wolf by the ears, it's a dangerous situation and there is no way to escape without injury.

keep the wolf from the door

Have enough money to avert hunger or starvation (used hyperbolically): I work part-time to pay the mortgage and keep the wolf from the door
More example sentences
  • Having made enough money to keep the wolf from the door I am concerned with making the world a better place, like many other people.
  • I was brought up to believe it is rather vulgar to talk about money, but I do make a very good living - nowhere near the top professionals today, but enough certainly to keep the wolf from the door.
  • It was that kind of week for me but mustn't grumble, at least we got some each way money to keep the wolf from the door.

throw someone to the wolves

Leave someone to be roughly treated or criticized without trying to help or defend them.
Example sentences
  • Meanwhile, outraged victims attack innocent priests for attempting to defend themselves against their bishop's eagerness to throw them to the wolves in order to save their own sorry butts.
  • Basically, throwing Rummy to the wolves may slow the haemorrhage, but it may not stop it.
  • So my theory is that someone higher than Sanchez is throwing him to the wolves.

a wolf in sheep's clothing

A person or thing that appears friendly or harmless but is really hostile.
With biblical allusion to Matt. 7:15
Example sentences
  • But the third and potentially worst problem of all is that Dorothea is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and we divers appear to be exceedingly gullible!
  • Although few would have suspected that Page was actually a wolf in sheep's clothing, the presenter is set to stop his fee payments this month in protest at what he claims is a BBC bias against rural Britain.
  • Vancouverites have quickly cottoned on to the fact they'd been fooled into electing a wolf in sheep's clothing in their rush to promote the former cop to the top political office in the City.



Pronunciation: /-ˌlīk/
Example sentences
  • Game rangers set traps to snare the wolf-like animals.
  • There flourished a very wolf-like breed, the stout husky, reined in as it is to provide human transport by hauling sledges across frozen tundra.
  • It's a big new mammal: a wolf-like creature of massive proportions with a bone-crunching jaw a metre long.


Old English wulf, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch wolf and German Wolf, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin lupus and Greek lukos. The verb dates from the mid 19th century.

  • The Indo-European root of wolf also gave rise to Greek lukos and Latin lupus, the source of lupine (mid 17th century), ‘like a wolf’. The Greek word gave us lycanthropy (mid 16th century), the mythical transformation of a person into a wolf or werewolf (Old English): the were- part of werewolf is probably from wer, the Old English word for ‘man’ or ‘person’, just as the second half of the Greek comes from anthropos ‘man’ ( see world).

    The story of the shepherd boy who thought it would be funny to cause a panic by falsely crying ‘wolf!’ is one of the fables of Aesop, the Greek storyteller of the 6th century bc. To keep the wolf from the door is to have enough money to avoid starvation: the phrase has been used since the 15th century. To throw someone to the wolves, or leave them to be roughly treated, is surprisingly recent though, being recorded only from the 1920s. The image here is of travellers on a sledge who are set upon by a pack of wolves, and decide to throw out one of their number to lighten the load and allow themselves to make their escape. A wolf in sheep's clothing is a person or thing that appears friendly or harmless but is really hostile. This comes from the Sermon on the Mount, as recounted in the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says: ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's cloth, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.’

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: wolf

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.