Definition of shell in English:

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Pronunciation: /SHel/


1The hard protective outer case of a mollusk or crustacean: cowrie shells the technique of carving shell
More example sentences
  • Mollusc shells are made primarily of calcium carbonate, with traces of strontium and other elements.
  • The fossiliferous horizons occur in greenish to greyish siltstones and brown to black fissile shales associated with mollusc shells.
  • They are cousins of seashells, but instead of having a protective shell, most of them are poisonous.
carapace, exterior;
Zoology  exoskeleton
1.1The thin outer covering of an animal’s egg, which is hard and fragile in that of a bird but leathery in that of a reptile.
Example sentences
  • As the birds accumulated the toxins in their fat reserves, the shells in their clutches thinned and broke easily, or never hatched.
  • The female will lay only 4 to 10 eggs, which have leathery shells.
  • DDT does not directly kill birds but rather thins the shells of their eggs.
1.2The outer case of a nut kernel or seed.
Example sentences
  • They must be taken from the vines while the outer shell and the seeds are very tender; otherwise they are not good.
  • Some of you may wonder how locals manage to work the edible kernel from its black shell within seconds, while holding a conversation.
  • Crack a handful of whole new season's walnuts, remove the kernels from the shells and halve them and quarter.
pod, husk, hull, casing, case, covering, integument, shuck
1.3The carapace of a tortoise, turtle, or terrapin.
Example sentences
  • Turtle shells are constructed with a layer of epidermal scutes overlying a layer of dermal bone.
  • The newest types of tags are attached to things like shark fins and sea turtle shells.
  • Their teeth, which cut in both directions, are like razor blades, perfectly evolved for cutting through turtle shells and bone.
1.4The wing cases of a beetle.
Example sentences
  • I peer into a stand of smoking hot woks, thinking I still have room for more, then suddenly I make out the crystallised wings and shells of dragonflies and beetles.
  • For over 30 years he has been studying the shells of beetles that have been preserved for thousands, even millions of years.
  • There were large piles of insect parts being piled up outside the nest, beetle shells, a bee head, dead ants.
1.5The integument of an insect pupa or chrysalis.
Example sentences
  • When maggots have completed their development they convert their last larval skin into a puparium, a hardened shell within which the pupa develops.
  • White cobwebs hung from one corner of the shop, the occupant long since dead, molt shells from various insects scattered across the floor.
  • But she apologised for an omission by the assistant director who failed to disclose the discovery of pupa shells in public pools.
1.6 (one's shell) Used with reference to a state of shyness or introversion: she’ll soon come out of her shell with the right encouragement
More example sentences
  • She's going to break out of her shell to figure out who she really is.
2Something resembling or likened to a shell because of its shape or its function as an outer case: pasta shells baked pastry shells filled with cheese
More example sentences
  • Prepare the pastry shell to bake blind - line with a piece of greaseproof or parchment paper and fill with beans.
  • Cut out a piece of greaseproof or parchment paper to put into the pastry shell and fill with beans (any old beans, rice or pasta).
  • Fred runs and gets some pasta shells and cheese to feed his drivers from the officers' tent where the major has already begun to tend to the wounded.
2.1The walls of an unfinished or gutted building or other structure: the hotel was a shell, the roof having collapsed completely
More example sentences
  • The building is a mere shell - cement-block walls, tin roof, benches inside, bare floor.
  • The buildings are shells with walls covered in mildew and grass growing through the floors as high as the ceilings.
  • The building was a shell with the roof having fallen in and walls caving in.
2.2An outer form without substance: he was a shell of the man he had been previously
More example sentences
  • It is a nursery of humanity that cares for blending values with education, moulds character with learning and supplies substance to the shell of symbols.
  • He felt like an empty shell, without substance or energy.
  • It is a living, dynamic process which must be worked at by you yourself - or it ceases to be democracy, even if the shell and form remains.
2.3A light racing boat used in the sport of crew.
Example sentences
  • The glow from the rising sun reflects off the sleek rowing shells as they glide on the Mississippi River.
  • The classic built-for-speed vessel is the racing shell because its human cargo is also its engine.
  • As I row in my racing shell, I flash back to Muller's words.
2.4The metal framework of a vehicle body.
Example sentences
  • As they closed a hatch, a dozen of men appeared on the platform, but their blasters could not do any harm to the metal shell of the vehicle.
  • We passed several more smoking shells of vehicles destroyed by the resistance - more fuel tankers, more blasted APCs.
  • Even when the shell of a vehicle already exists, as it did in this case, the vehicle-design schedule traditionally spans about three years.
framework, frame, chassis, skeleton;
hull, exterior
2.5An inner or roughly made coffin.
2.6The hand guard of a sword.
2.7 Physics Each of a set of orbitals around the nucleus of an atom, occupied or able to be occupied by electrons of similar energies.
Example sentences
  • Around each atomic nucleus, electrons occupy energy levels termed shells.
  • The higher the atomic number, the more shells and electrons an atom will have.
  • At this time, the maximum number of electron orbitals or electron shells for any element is seven.
3An explosive artillery projectile or bomb: the sound of the shell passing over, followed by the explosion [as modifier]: shell holes
More example sentences
  • Now we once again need to protect our dugouts and shelters, especially at command and control facilities, from direct hits of artillery shells and air bombs.
  • It could also come suddenly and violently from the tooth-and-nail struggle for survival, or from German bombs and artillery shells.
  • They provide the explosive force delivered by hand grenades, bombs, and artillery shells.
projectile, bomb, explosive;
bullet, cartridge
3.1A hollow metal or paper case used as a container for fireworks, explosives, or cartridges.
Example sentences
  • Exploding shells - initially hollow metal spheres filled with gunpowder - were first introduced in the second half of the 16th century.
  • Some shells contain explosives designed to crackle in the sky, or whistles that explode outward with the stars.
  • Its shells contain fuel-air explosives that on detonation form a ball of fire, creating a powerful blast effect.
3.2North American A cartridge.
Example sentences
  • On the other hand, I have heard good-old-boys call rifle and handgun rounds shells.
  • He shouted as he darted around and blasted several rounds of hot shells into the darkness, but suddenly, Saints took this chance and began firing.
  • We carried semi-automatic rifles and shotguns with hollow point shells designed to pierce a boarder's hull right below the water line.
4 Computing short for shell program.
Example sentences
  • All UNIX / Linux shells support output redirection using the same syntax.
  • On the write-in side, a collection of text editors and shells claimed most of the votes.
  • To be truly productive with Linux, you need to thoroughly master the shells and the command line.


1 [with object] Bombard with shells: the guns started shelling their positions
More example sentences
  • Before being relived by the 94th Infantry later that day, the 5th Ranger Battalion was shelled one more time with some casualties taken.
  • We have as much right to shell the enemy army's central headquarters as to shell its frontline positions.
  • But they knew our gun positions and they shelled us as they drew nearer.
bombard, fire on, shoot at, attack, bomb, blitz, strafe
2 [with object] Remove the shell or pod from (a nut or seed): they were shelling peas (as adjective shelled) shelled Brazil nuts
More example sentences
  • Substitute shelled pistachios for nuts in any recipe you fancy.
  • Green nuts are shelled, boiled to mellow the flavour, and sun dried.
  • I have witnessed expats shelling seeds with ease so, although I can't speak from experience, I know that it can be done.
hull, pod, husk, shuck
3 [no object] Gather seashells: there was nothing to do except swim or go shelling on the beaches

Phrasal verbs

shell something out (or shell out)

informal Pay a specified amount of money, especially an amount that is resented as being excessive: it doesn’t make sense to shell out $8.50 for an elevator ride
More example sentences
  • My power problem got me thinking that I need to be one of those guys who makes the money, instead of shelling it out all the time.



Example sentences
  • Take time for the little things in life: Scour the reef for tiny iridescent nudibranchs, the shell-less underwater snail cousins that are prolific in Hawaii.
  • See, if cakes can be flourless, prawns can be shell-less!
  • It is a small and monophyletic taxon of marine, shell-less molluscs.


Pronunciation: /ˈSHelē/
Example sentences
  • The early Cambrian fossil record is characterized by unique skeletal assemblages that include the spongelike archaeocyathans and a number of mostly problematic small skeletal elements, known collectively as small shelly fossils.
  • In addition to typical Ediacaran taxa, such as the cosmopolitan Pteridinium, the shelly fossil Cloudina first appears slightly below the earliest Ediacaran fossils, extends throughout the Ediacaran range, and into the Cambrian.
  • Certainly the Cambrian record is deeply biased in favour of shelly fossils, as revealed by the exceptionally preserved Burgess Shale and Chengjiang biotas, where the vast majority of taxa and individuals were non-biomineralizing.


Old English scell (noun), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch schel 'scale, shell', also to scale1. The verb dates from the mid 16th century in sense 2 of the verb.

  • The Old English scell is Germanic in origin, related to Dutch schel ‘scale, shell’ and English scale. Use of the word as a term for an explosive projectile dates from the mid 17th century, suggested by the metal protective casing for the powder. Shell shock dates from the First World War. The notion of a shell as a place to which to withdraw (go into one's shell) dates from the early 19th century.

Words that rhyme with shell

Adele, Aix-la-Chapelle, aquarelle, artel, au naturel, bagatelle, béchamel, befell, bell, belle, boatel, Brunel, Cadell, carousel, cartel, cell, Chanel, chanterelle, clientele, Clonmel, compel, Cornell, crime passionnel, dell, demoiselle, dispel, dwell, el, ell, Estelle, excel, expel, farewell, fell, Fidel, fontanelle, foretell, Gabrielle, gazelle, gel, Giselle, hell, hotel, impel, knell, lapel, mademoiselle, maître d'hôtel, Manuel, marcel, matériel, mesdemoiselles, Michel, Michelle, Miguel, misspell, morel, moschatel, Moselle, motel, muscatel, nacelle, Nell, Nobel, Noel, organelle, outsell, Parnell, pell-mell, personnel, propel, quell, quenelle, rappel, Raquel, Ravel, rebel, repel, Rochelle, Sahel, sardelle, sell, show-and-tell, smell, Snell, spell, spinel, swell, tell, undersell, vielle, villanelle, well, yell

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: shell

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