Definition of barrel in English:


Line breaks: bar¦rel
Pronunciation: /ˈbar(ə)l


  • 1A cylindrical container bulging out in the middle, traditionally made of wooden staves with metal hoops round them: the wine is then matured in old barrels
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    • Transfer to a wooden barrel or similar container and leave to cool down to a temperature of around 16 degrees Celsius.
    • Use what you have - rocks, broken-up concrete, logs, old metal barrels or even sawhorses.
    • There were cobwebs and old wooden crates and barrels scattered carelessly about; evidently, this place had once been used for storage.
    cask, keg, butt, vat, tun, tub, drum, tank, firkin, hogshead, kilderkin, pin, pipe, barrique; Spanish solera
    historical puncheon, tierce
  • 1.1A barrel together with its contents: a barrel of beer
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    • Clooney struts around grizzled, looking like he had just bathed in a barrel of trout entrails.
    • The rule of thumb is that every $10 per barrel increase in the price of a barrel of oil shaves half a percentage point off of GDP growth.
    • When the euro and the dollar were at about parity, and oil was selling for $40 a barrel, it took €40 to buy a barrel of oil.
  • 1.2A measure of capacity used for oil and beer, usually equal to 36 imperial gallons for beer and 35 imperial gallons or 42 US gallons (roughly 159 litres) for oil: the well was producing 10,000 barrels a day
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    • Annual capacity would be 200,000 tonnes, equivalent to 1.7 million barrels or 1.97 million hectolitres of beer.
    • The tanker Jessica - carrying some 7700 barrels of fuel - ran aground on Tuesday.
    • By 1911 the Moturoa oilfield had three wells producing around 110 barrels of oil a week.
  • 2A cylindrical tube forming part of an object such as a gun or a pen: a gun barrel
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    • They are the Mom and Dad and kids walking to work or school while looking for a gun barrel pointed at them from a white van.
    • On the shallow side of the bridge we found the C gun turret, its barrel pointed slightly down towards the deck.
    • The Rakais warrior brought the heavy barrel of the rail gun to bear on the armor not more than a hundred meters from his position and pressed a small switch on the weapon's handle.
  • 3The belly and loins of a four-legged animal such as a horse: a Welsh mountain pony with a barrel like a butt of wine
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    • When it slides off the wither down to mid back, the girth is no longer at the barrel of the horse.
    • Some of us took that moment to stuff Pop-Tarts left from breakfast into the barrel of the wooden horse's belly.
    • His long legs stretched well past her barrel which hampered her a bit, but Myrick was an well done rider and did his best to make her journey smooth.

verb (barrels, barrelling, barrelled; North American barrels, barreling, barreled)

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  • 1 [no object, with adverbial of direction] informal , chiefly North American Drive or move in a way that is so fast as to almost be out of control: they shot him and then barreled away in the truck
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    • The idea would have been appealing, had we not been traveling at 65 mph on the highway, with tractor-trailers barreling along beside us.
    • They were barreling along much like monkeys, swinging their legs forward then their arms, hissing and screeching the entire time.
    • The driver lost control and barrelled off the road narrowly missing one of the other jeeps as he did.
  • 2 [with object] Put into a barrel or barrels: when the young spirit is barrelled, it absorbs some of this flavour
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    • Barreling your beer is much less messy and time-consuming than using bottles.
    • The natural pressure will build up during the secondary fermentation, caused by the addition of priming sugar and barreling the beer before the yeast has died.
    • All waste oil is barreled for pick up by a waste oil burning company.


a barrel of laughs

[with negative] informal A source of amusement or pleasure: life is not exactly a barrel of laughs at the moment
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  • Can she really believe that Julius Caesar is a barrel of laughs?
  • An event that has raised more than £2,000 for breast cancer was a barrel of laughs on Saturday.
  • Chuck (played with masterful restraint by Peter Sarsgaard) is a paternal authority figure and not a barrel of laughs.

over a barrel

informal In a helpless position; at someone’s mercy: I like doing business with a man who knows he’s over a barrel
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  • Opec, the powerful consortium of the world's oil-producing countries, meets in Vienna today, and they have us over a barrel as the oil price hits $35.
  • ‘I felt I was being held over a barrel - I did not have time to find anywhere else, so it was that or nothing,’ said Wilkins, her rent now £2,003 a month.
  • The award also upped his asking price, supposes Broadbent, ‘although, if you're intent upon doing good work, producers know they have you over a barrel.’

with both barrels

informal With unrestrained force or emotion: cut to the quick, he let go with both barrels
More example sentences
  • Don Henley lets the music industry have it with both barrels in a Washington Post editorial: When I started in the music business, music was important and vital to our culture.
  • By this time both Patsy and Desmond were dead, but the oldest of their grieving children, Cassandra, let fly with both barrels at Rantzen's ‘cruel and vicious account’.
  • Dan McNutt, underwhelmed by the grovelling that has occurred recently regarding certain sports ‘heroes’, lets fly with both barrels again.


Middle English: from Old French baril, from medieval Latin barriclus 'small cask'.

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