Definition of penetrate in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈpenəˌtrāt/


[with object]
1Succeed in forcing a way into or through (a thing): the shrapnel had penetrated his head and chest [no object]: tunnels that penetrate deep into the earth’s core
More example sentences
  • That was the last thing I remembered before a familiar voice penetrated my unconsciousness.
  • The 16-year-old had a lock-knife thrust into him with such force it penetrated his chest and hit a lung.
  • An important role in destroying an enemy force that has penetrated the defense is played by the ambush party.
pierce, puncture, make a hole in, perforate, stab, prick, gore, spike
1.1(Of a man) insert the penis into the vagina or anus of (a sexual partner).
1.2Infiltrate (an enemy group or rival organization) in order to spy on it: they feared that their council had been penetrated by informers
More example sentences
  • New Orleans was perhaps distinctive in the extreme savagery of its ghettos, and the inability of civic organizations to penetrate poor areas.
  • All of the aid in the world cannot penetrate political systems which are rife with corruption and nepotism.
  • They could be exploits that would allow military intelligence to penetrate military systems.
infiltrate, slip into, sneak into, insinuate oneself into
1.3(Of a company) begin to sell its products in (a particular market or area): Honda has succeeded in penetrating Western motorcycle markets
More example sentences
  • Determine how this initiative is going to help your firm make more money, sell more products, penetrate new markets, or increase shareholder wealth.
  • In the first quarter of this year, the order placement from China increased to around 120,000 tons partly because the company stressed penetrating the Chinese market.
  • Many low-grade products are penetrating the Thai market and were popular among local people because of lower prices.
1.4Succeed in understanding or gaining insight into (something complex or mysterious): a magician who seemed to have penetrated the mysteries of nature
More example sentences
  • Those of us who have tried to penetrate the often baffling complexities of modern music have often had cause to be grateful to him for unravelling its mysteries.
  • I felt I had finally penetrated William's menacing mask and gained some understanding of the workings of his mind.
  • The key often symbolizes a mystery about to be penetrated or a stage on our pathway to discovery and enlightenment.
understand, comprehend, apprehend, fathom, grasp, perceive, discern, get to the bottom of, solve, resolve, make sense of, interpret, puzzle out, work out, unravel, decipher, make head(s) or tail(s) of
informal crack, get, figure out
1.5 [no object] Be fully understood or realized by someone: as his words penetrated, she saw a mental picture of him with Dawn
More example sentences
  • The cold anger Geoff felt was pushed aside by concern as her words penetrated.
  • Mel echoed, letting the words slowly penetrate.
  • She's pretty, he thinks unexpectedly, but the thought is lost as her words penetrate.
register, sink in, be understood, be comprehended, become clear, fall into place
informal click


Mid 16th century: from Latin penetrat- 'placed or gone into', from the verb penetrare; related to penitus 'inner'.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: pen·e·trate

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