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pencil Line breaks: pen¦cil
Pronunciation: /ˈpɛns(ə)l/

Definition of pencil in English:


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 cylindrical case: have a pencil and paper ready [as modifier]: a pencil drawing
More example sentences
  • He received some money from a federal welfare program and tried selling pencils.
  • Hardware and software is still more expensive than paper and pencils.
  • He would give me some paper and a pencil and I would imitate him, making marks on paper.
1.1 [mass noun] Graphite 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: 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 pencil torch
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.
2 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, pencilling, pencilled; US pencils, penciling, penciled)

[with object] Back to top  
Write, draw, or colour with a pencil: a previous owner has pencilled their name inside the cover (as adjective pencilled) a pencilled 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.
scribble, rough out, write roughly, scrawl, pen, compose, draft;
formulate, draw up, dash off, put in writing, put down on paper, commit to paper, put in black and white
draw, trace, plot, chart, sketch, outline


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.

Phrasal verbs

pencil something in

Arrange, forecast, or note down something provisionally: May 15 was pencilled 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.
arrange provisionally, make as a provisional arrangement, arrange subject to confirmation, forecast tentatively

pencil someone in

Make a provisional arrangement with or for someone: he was pencilled 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.

Words that rhyme with pencil

intercensal, stencil

Definition of pencil in:

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