Definition of devil in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈdevəl/


1 (usually the Devil) (In Christian and Jewish belief) the chief evil spirit; Satan.
Example sentences
  • Did you find it any easier to avoid the Devil, to avoid evil when you were a monk?
  • Hinduism is the only religion, whose God does not have any enemy, like the Devil or the Satan.
  • If a person believes themselves to be possessed by the Christian Devil, perform a Catholic exorcism.
Satan, Beelzebub, Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness, the Evil One
informal Old Nick
1.1An evil spirit; a demon.
Example sentences
  • The whole devil/evil spirit/demons/possession thing fascinates me, it always has.
  • The devils and evil spirits of the next day were perhaps more psychosomatic and drawn from the excesses of the night before than derived from a Celtic past.
  • The Bedouin traditionally hang amulets on the body of adults to prevent the evil eye, devils, impure spirits and other illnesses from attacking the bearer of the amulet.
evil spirit, demon, fiend, bogie
informal spook
1.2A very wicked or cruel person: they prefer voting for devils rather than for decent men
More example sentences
  • ‘This will be the job of all the sons of this homeland… until we can rest assured that our country is free of devils and wicked people,’ Nayef said.
  • I seek refuge in Thee from the wicked devils both male and female.
  • He prefers to think of the devil as that pimply-faced bully who used to beat him up and steal his lunch money in sixth grade.
brute, beast, monster, fiend;
villain, sadist, barbarian, ogre
1.3A mischievously clever or self-willed person: the cunning old devil is up to something
rascal, rogue, imp, fiend, monkey, wretch
informal monster, horror, scamp, tyke, varmint
1.4 [with adjective] informal A person with specified characteristics: the poor devil a lucky devil
More example sentences
  • To do this, some poor devil was up all night with the Letraset making desk signs bearing the slogan ‘The Buck Stops Here.’
  • They are the real patriots, not the poor devils who are riding this bear market down.
  • Thus, the first order of the new Pax Americana is to bring those we deem as heathens to democracy, to modernize the poor devils, and while we're at it teach them the beauties of a more materialistic culture.
wretch, unfortunate, creature, soul, person, fellow
informal thing, beggar
1.5 (the devil) Fighting spirit; wildness: he was dangerous when the devil was in him
More example sentences
  • She was full of the devil, as my mother would say.
  • Edward's strength was not a match for this Savoyard, and the devil was in him to make him think of tilting against one of such superior force.
  • Her name in Hakka dialect meant ‘Sweet Little Sister’ but I could already tell she had the devil in her.
1.6 (the devil) A thing that is very difficult or awkward to do or deal with: it’s going to be the very devil to disentangle
More example sentences
  • Intermittent problems are the devil to fix, because they so often don't happen when the mechanic looks for them.
  • That exhibit was the devil to put together, I can tell you.
2 (the devil) Expressing surprise or annoyance in various questions or exclamations: “Where the devil is he?”
More example sentences
  • There was a knock at the door and Lori nearly fell off her bed when she heard it, ‘Lori what the devil is wrong with you?’
  • "Speaking of Inspector Gadget, where the devil is he?
3An instrument or machine, especially one fitted with sharp teeth or spikes, used for tearing or other destructive work.
Example sentences
  • General Mitchel, of counsel for the defendant, produced a model which was intended to represent a machine used in Great Britain for cleaning cotton, denominated the "Teazer or Devil."
  • The rag-tearer or 'devil' had been equipped with teeth instead of the original blades, so that it was capable of tearing up the better qualities of cloth.
4 informal, dated A junior assistant of a lawyer or other professional. See also printer's devil.
Example sentences
  • While under the master's guidance, which is generally for a year, the newly qualified barrister is known as a devil.
  • Assisted by a "devil," an aspiring barrister in his or her first year of practice, they work alone, the often flamboyant superstars of the Irish legal system.

verb (devils, deviling, deviled ; British devils, devilling, devilled)

1 [no object] informal, dated Act as a junior assistant for a lawyer or other professional.
Example sentences
  • As I'd never (to my knowledge) supped with the devil, I was thrilled to find myself in the company of a junior barrister who's devilling at the moment.
  • There was Kyle Leyden, a young barrister about to embark on the two-year apprenticeship known as devilling.
  • Even after the devilling year, Irish barristers are not guaranteed any income, and many drop out of the profession because of the pressure of growing bank loans.
2 [with object] North American Harass or worry (someone): he was deviled by a new-found fear
More example sentences
  • As I searched the mass of people below me for Josef's gipsy curls & defiant red scarf, the Reverend's words deviled my ears despite the barrier of the window-glass.
  • People will devil their own children, spouses, parents, co-workers and neighbors.



between the devil and the deep (blue) sea

Caught in a dilemma.
Alluding to two equally dangerous alternatives
Example sentences
  • Once again the affable Scot, who had already suspended the institutions twice in four months, was on the cusp of another deadline and between the devil and the deep blue sea.
  • If the law also states that people can come onto the premises and create a situation where it's not an orderly house then we're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
  • Lyn Sharpe, acting headteacher at John of Gaunt, admitted she is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea after closing the gate last year for health and safety reasons.

devil a ——

archaic Not even one or any: the devil a man of you stirred himself over it

the devil can quote scripture for his purpose

proverb People may conceal unworthy motives by reciting words that sound morally authoritative.
With allusion to Jesus' Temptation in Matt. 4
Example sentences
  • Finally you get the Devil quoting scriptures for his own purposes when he turns the story of Jacob.
  • This utterly unbelievable and untrue account of the birth of this nation gives new meaning to the saying "the devil can quote scripture for his purpose too.

the devil finds work for idle hands to do

proverb Someone who doesn’t have enough work to do is liable to cause or get into trouble.
Example sentences
  • If it is true that the devil finds work for idle hands to do, the No. i U. S. Mephistopheles is currently a mild little Philadelphian named Charles Darrow.
  • We can't lower the workweek because the devil finds work for idle hands to do.

the devil looks after his own

proverb Success or good fortune often seem to come to those who least deserve it.
Example sentences
  • Even though they started off in last place, it looks like the devil looks after his own, because by the end of the first episode they were contenders for first.
  • But the devil looks after his own, it is said, and all eventually reached home safely.
  • They say the devil looks after his own - and boy, am I grateful for small mercies!

a devil of a ——

informal Used to emphasize great size or degree: we are in a devil of a mess here
More example sentences
  • ‘It gave me a devil of a lot of trouble’, said Morris, ‘to get that thing into verse’.
  • We are sure that such things must exist, but have a devil of a time pinning them down - as detailed rules, they are not generally understood at all.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt, in a private brief interview, had confided that "affairs are in a devil of a mess."

the devil is in the details

The details of a matter are its most problematic aspect.
Example sentences
  • While welcoming the support, the fishing industry's president says the devil's in the detail, but $10 million is not enough.
  • But the devil's in the detail - Sky has won four new live packages, which include live games on Saturday lunchtime and Saturday afternoons.
  • This sounds like we could be going in the right direction at last, but, as ever, the devil's in the detail.

the devil's own ——

informal Used to emphasize the difficulty or seriousness of something: he was in the devil’s own hurry
More example sentences
  • We had the devil's own job getting ‘England’ past the censors, lest it be considered racist.’
  • Langer was 7-under through 16 holes, heading for that 65, when he came up against the devil's own invention, 17, the Road Hole, with its stone wall and macadam pathway and high rough.
  • Rule #5: css is the devil's own scripting language.

(the) devil take the hindmost

proverb Everyone should (or does) look after their own interests rather than considering those of others: full speed ahead and the devil take the hindmost
With allusion to a chase by the Devil, in which the slowest will be caught
More example sentences
  • But they didn't bring it back to pull the other people up and so it's like the devil take the hindmost.
  • Why not simply announce the campaign, raise all the money you can and the devil take the hindmost?
  • Certainly, the traditional response has been for every country to try to maximize its own immediate well-being, and the devil take the hindmost.

the devil to pay

Serious trouble to be dealt with: there was the devil to pay when we got home
More example sentences
  • There will be the devil to pay when Alorin finds out.
  • Thus a crisis or emergency could be described as ‘the devil to pay and no pitch hot.’
  • It's time to fish or cut bait, mate, or there'll be the devil to pay.

give the devil his due

proverb Acknowledge the good qualities of even a bad or undeserving person.
Example sentences
  • To give the devil his due, the Pentagon's web site is absolutely crammed with official propaganda, which does make it easier to track the evolution of official lies.
  • Interesting, well in this business sometimes you have to give the devil his due, I suppose.
  • Given that I think Kerry is utterly appalling on such questions, I figure I'll give the devil his due.

go to the devil

1Said in angry rejection or condemnation of someone.
Example sentences
  • "Go to the devil," said McCormack.
  • Then the luggage steward said: "Oh, go to the devil!"
2Fall into moral depravity: he must go to the devil in his own way
More example sentences
  • On the theory that purgatory is, if nothing else, better than hell, I suppose I should be grateful the United States hasn't gone to the devil just quite yet.
  • Go hack in the sugar cane fields, brew up those rotten geraniums, even go to the devil with your dad, but latch on to life if you don't want to die a dumb grifter with your mouth wide open catching flies.
  • ‘He must fight or go to the devil,’ demonstrators shouted as they marched out of Cairo's mosque.

like the devil

With great speed or energy: he drove like the devil
More example sentences
  • They all knew Bo was hard on her brakes, and drove like the devil.
  • He actually was a chef on a dive boat when he was younger, and dude can cook like the devil - hence the 20 extra pounds that have clung to my backside like Grim Death since the day we started living together.
  • What I say is I tried like the devil to take him out.

play the devil with

Have a damaging or disruptive effect on: this brandy plays the devil with one’s emotions!
More example sentences
  • If it had not been for this unlucky hurt on my foot, I would have played the devil with them myself.
  • The danger is dogmatic thought; it plays the devil with religion, and science is not immune from it.
  • Climbing with full load in these conditions played the devil with fuel consumption.

speak (or talk) of the devil

Said when a person appears just after being mentioned.
From the superstition that the devil will appear if his name is spoken
Example sentences
  • He, Joe, and Ivan, speak of the devil, appeared in the main hall.
  • ‘Ah, talk of the devil,’ she announced when she had consumed her snack, nodding towards the van, where Dylan was looking around like he had absolutely no idea where he was.
  • And speak of the devil, there's Pat, and that dimwit Brock.


Old English dēofol (related to Dutch duivel and German Teufel), via late Latin from Greek diabolos 'accuser, slanderer' (used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew śāṭān 'Satan'), from diaballein 'to slander', from dia 'across' + ballein 'to throw'.

  • The English word devil goes back to Greek diabolos ‘accuser, slanderer’, the source also of diabolic (Late Middle English), and similar words. In the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Hebrew Bible written in the 3rd and 2nd centuries bc, diabolos translated the Hebrew word for ‘Satan’. The devil permeates popular wisdom. The devil finds work for idle hands appears first in English in the Divine Songs of the 18th-century hymn writer Isaac Watts, but goes back to the letters of St Jerome (c.342–420). Why should the devil have all the best tunes? is a question that has been attributed to the Victorian evangelist Rowland Hill, who encouraged the singing of hymns to popular melodies. The words speak or talk of the devil are often uttered when a person appears just after being mentioned. The expression dates back to the mid 17th century and comes from the superstition that if you speak the devil's name aloud he will suddenly appear.

    The expression the devil to pay, ‘serious trouble to be expected’, is often said to have a nautical origin. The seam near a ship's keel was sometimes known as ‘the devil’, and because of its position was very difficult to ‘pay’, or seal with pitch or tar. There is not much evidence for this theory, though, and it is more probable that the phrase was a reference to a pact made with Satan, like that of Faust's, and to the inevitable payment to be made to him in the end. Shakespeare used the proverb needs must when the Devil drives, ‘sometimes you have to do something that you would rather not’, in All's Well that Ends Well, but he did not invent it: it is first found in a medieval work called The Assembly of the Gods. Needs must here means ‘one needs must’, or in today's language ‘one must’ or ‘you must’. To play devil's advocate is ‘to express an opinion that you do not really hold in order to encourage debate’. The devil's advocate was an official appointed by the Roman Catholic Church to challenge a proposal to make a dead person into a saint. His job was to present everything known about the proposed saint, including any negative aspects, in order to make sure the case was examined from all sides. The position was first established by Pope Sixtus V in 1587. It still exists, but the official is now known as the Promoter of the Faith. See also angel, demon, deuce, every, fall

Words that rhyme with devil

bedevil, bevel, dishevel, kevel, level, revel, split-level

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: dev·il

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