Definition of barrel in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈbar(ə)l/


1A cylindrical container bulging out in the middle, traditionally made of wooden staves with metal hoops round them: the wine is then matured in old barrels
More example sentences
  • Transfer to a wooden barrel or similar container and leave to cool down to a temperature of around 16 degrees Celsius.
  • Use what you have - rocks, broken-up concrete, logs, old metal barrels or even sawhorses.
  • There were cobwebs and old wooden crates and barrels scattered carelessly about; evidently, this place had once been used for storage.
cask, keg, butt, vat, tun, tub, drum, tank, firkin, hogshead, kilderkin, pin, pipe, barrique;
Spanish solera
historical puncheon, tierce
1.1A barrel together with its contents: a barrel of beer
More example sentences
  • Clooney struts around grizzled, looking like he had just bathed in a barrel of trout entrails.
  • The rule of thumb is that every $10 per barrel increase in the price of a barrel of oil shaves half a percentage point off of GDP growth.
  • When the euro and the dollar were at about parity, and oil was selling for $40 a barrel, it took €40 to buy a barrel of oil.
1.2A measure of capacity used for oil and beer, usually equal to 36 imperial gallons for beer and 35 imperial gallons or 42 US gallons (roughly 159 litres) for oil: the well was producing 10,000 barrels a day
More example sentences
  • Annual capacity would be 200,000 tonnes, equivalent to 1.7 million barrels or 1.97 million hectolitres of beer.
  • The tanker Jessica - carrying some 7700 barrels of fuel - ran aground on Tuesday.
  • By 1911 the Moturoa oilfield had three wells producing around 110 barrels of oil a week.
2A cylindrical tube forming part of an object such as a gun or a pen: a gun barrel
More example sentences
  • They are the Mom and Dad and kids walking to work or school while looking for a gun barrel pointed at them from a white van.
  • On the shallow side of the bridge we found the C gun turret, its barrel pointed slightly down towards the deck.
  • The Rakais warrior brought the heavy barrel of the rail gun to bear on the armor not more than a hundred meters from his position and pressed a small switch on the weapon's handle.
3The belly and loins of a four-legged animal such as a horse: a Welsh mountain pony with a barrel like a butt of wine
More example sentences
  • When it slides off the wither down to mid back, the girth is no longer at the barrel of the horse.
  • Some of us took that moment to stuff Pop-Tarts left from breakfast into the barrel of the wooden horse's belly.
  • His long legs stretched well past her barrel which hampered her a bit, but Myrick was an well done rider and did his best to make her journey smooth.

verb (barrels, barrelling, barrelled; North American barrels, barreling, barreled)

1 [no object, with adverbial of direction] informal, chiefly North American Drive or move in a way that is so fast as to almost be out of control: they shot him and then barreled away in the truck
More example sentences
  • The idea would have been appealing, had we not been traveling at 65 mph on the highway, with tractor-trailers barreling along beside us.
  • They were barreling along much like monkeys, swinging their legs forward then their arms, hissing and screeching the entire time.
  • The driver lost control and barrelled off the road narrowly missing one of the other jeeps as he did.
2 [with object] Put into a barrel or barrels: when the young spirit is barrelled, it absorbs some of this flavour
More example sentences
  • Barreling your beer is much less messy and time-consuming than using bottles.
  • The natural pressure will build up during the secondary fermentation, caused by the addition of priming sugar and barreling the beer before the yeast has died.
  • All waste oil is barreled for pick up by a waste oil burning company.



a barrel of laughs

[with negative] informal A source of amusement or pleasure: life is not exactly a barrel of laughs at the moment
More example sentences
  • Can she really believe that Julius Caesar is a barrel of laughs?
  • An event that has raised more than £2,000 for breast cancer was a barrel of laughs on Saturday.
  • Chuck (played with masterful restraint by Peter Sarsgaard) is a paternal authority figure and not a barrel of laughs.

over a barrel

informal In a helpless position; at someone’s mercy: I like doing business with a man who knows he’s over a barrel
More example sentences
  • Opec, the powerful consortium of the world's oil-producing countries, meets in Vienna today, and they have us over a barrel as the oil price hits $35.
  • ‘I felt I was being held over a barrel - I did not have time to find anywhere else, so it was that or nothing,’ said Wilkins, her rent now £2,003 a month.
  • The award also upped his asking price, supposes Broadbent, ‘although, if you're intent upon doing good work, producers know they have you over a barrel.’

with both barrels

informal With unrestrained force or emotion: cut to the quick, he let go with both barrels
More example sentences
  • Don Henley lets the music industry have it with both barrels in a Washington Post editorial: When I started in the music business, music was important and vital to our culture.
  • By this time both Patsy and Desmond were dead, but the oldest of their grieving children, Cassandra, let fly with both barrels at Rantzen's ‘cruel and vicious account’.
  • Dan McNutt, underwhelmed by the grovelling that has occurred recently regarding certain sports ‘heroes’, lets fly with both barrels again.


Middle English: from Old French baril, from medieval Latin barriclus 'small cask'.

  • This word goes back to Latin barillus ‘small cask’. Before refrigerators made domestic life easier, the barrel used for storage was a more familiar object. Various phrases refer back to those earlier days. To have someone over a barrel is to have them in a helpless position, at one's mercy. People rescued from drowning would be laid face down over a barrel to help the water drain out of their lungs, and it is possible that the idea of helplessness developed into one of coercion, although the phrase could derive from the idea of someone forced to lie over a barrel to be flogged. If you scrape the barrel (or the bottom of the barrel) you are reduced to using things or people of the poorest quality because there is nothing else available. Neither of these is recorded until the early 20th century.

Words that rhyme with barrel

apparel, carol, Carole, carrel, Carroll, Darrell, Darryl, Farrell

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: bar¦rel

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