Definition of shrapnel in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈʃrapn(ə)l/


[mass noun]
1Fragments of a bomb, shell, or other object thrown out by an explosion: he was killed by flying shrapnel [as modifier]: shrapnel wounds
More example sentences
  • Soft flesh is no match for mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenade fragments and shrapnel thrown out in all directions by roadside bombs.
  • First into battle was Joe, who ran a head-on-head, slightly damaging his shield power from the enemy's explosion throwing shrapnel into it.
  • Bombs not only throw off shrapnel themselves, they create lots of deadly flying debris, including flying glass from broken windows, that can kill and maim.
1.1 historical A shell containing bullets or pieces of metal timed to burst short of impact.
Example sentences
  • A belated shrapnel-shot shrieked and burst, and everything grew still.
  • British cannon bombarded Nxele's men with shrapnel shell and ensured their rout.
  • Shrapnel shell was unsuited to the disablement of aeroplanes.
2 informal Small change: little more than a few pounds and a handful of shrapnel
More example sentences
  • She looked at me oddly and I searched around and found twenty pence in shrapnel, which I swapped over.
  • For the exchange of a handful of shrapnel, grilled free-range chicken with an expert light aïoli, or with a zappy salsa verde, will shoot down these chutes.
  • From the handful of shrapnel we were passed for trips to Yvonne's sweetie shop, through the insistence that backache and blisters were par for the course in summer jobs.


Early 19th century: named after General Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842), the British soldier who invented the shell; the sense 'fragments of a bomb or shell' originated during the First World War.

  • During the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal (1808–14), General Henry Shrapnel invented a shell that contained bullets and a small bursting charge, which, when fired by the time fuse, burst the shell and scattered the bullets in a shower. Those firing the projectile gave it the name Shrapnel shell—the bullets were Shrapnel shot, or simply shrapnel. During the Second World War shrapnel acquired its modern sense, ‘fragments of a bomb, shell, or other object thrown out by an explosion’. The sense ‘coins, loose change’ started life as New Zealand military slang around the time of the First World War.

Words that rhyme with shrapnel


For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: shrap|nel

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