Definition of chief in English:

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Pronunciation: /tʃiːf/


1A leader or ruler of a people or clan: the chief of the village [as title]: Chief Banawi
More example sentences
  • And very few of them are presided over by local aristocrats or clan chiefs.
  • And even in Gaelic tales, the island earned fame for being the penal colony where clan chiefs put their enemies in exile.
  • Some clan chiefs hedged their bets and sent sons off to fight on opposing sides.
leader, chieftain, head, headman, ruler, overlord, master, commander, suzerain, seigneur, liege, liege lord, potentate;
among American Indians sachem
head, leading, principal, premier, highest, foremost, supreme, grand, superior, arch-;
directing, governing
informal number-one
1.1The head of an organization: a union chief the chief of police
More example sentences
  • Mickey's evidence comes from a bureau chief of one of the news organizations.
  • The discussions between the unions and council chiefs are deadlocked because the employers say they cannot afford to increase their offer.
  • Police chiefs say the federal government must first secure the country's borders.
head, principal, chief executive, executive, president, chair, chairman, chairwoman, chairperson, governor, director, administrator, manager, manageress, superintendent, foreman, forewoman, controller, overseer;
boss, employer, proprietor;
North American  chief executive officer, CEO
informal boss man, kingpin, top dog, big cheese, bigwig, skipper
British informal gaffer, guv'nor
North American informal numero uno, Mister Big, honcho, head honcho, padrone, sachem, big white chief, big kahuna, big wheel, high muckamuck
informal, derogatory fat cat
1.2An informal form of address to a man, especially one of superior rank or status: it’s quite simple, chief
More example sentences
  • Ah, it's just the main troops, Timmy, nothing to worry about, chief!
  • Maybe at one time, chief, but the carpet cops have taken over.
  • There's a button on the left of your keyboard somewhere with the words ‘Caps Lock’ printed on it, chief.
2 Heraldry An ordinary consisting of a broad horizontal band across the top of the shield.
2.1The upper third of the field.


1Most important: the chief reason for the spending cuts chief among her concerns is working alone at night
More example sentences
  • The chief concern among skeptics is that young people are not mature or intelligent enough to vote properly.
  • Among the chief concerns is the bank's investment portfolio, which now makes up more than half of its assets.
  • Among the chief tactics of the fallen principalities and powers is the incitement of fear.
main, principal, most important, uppermost, primary, prime, first, cardinal, central, key, focal, vital, crucial, essential, pivotal, supreme, predominant, pre-eminent, paramount, overriding, leading, major, ruling, dominant, highest;
informal number-one
1.1Having or denoting the highest rank: the chief economist of a leading bank
More example sentences
  • With him he had one of his chief advisers and commanders.
  • He stayed with the brigade, rising through the ranks to chief fire officer, until it was disbanded when the works closed in 1982.
  • He quickly moved through the ranks to become chief engineer by the outbreak of WWII.



chief cook and bottle-washer

informal A person who performs a variety of important but routine tasks.
Example sentences
  • In addition, every article thus far has banged on about the so-called great folk music revival, of which he, as chief cook and bottle-washer of the Fence Collective, is a key player.
  • An old woman in a small Ontario town looks back on her life as chief cook and bottle-washer for a well heeled Anglo family.
  • He is the chief cook and bottle-washer for Avalon Audio Services in Phoenix, and is currently pondering the idea of techno remixes of West Texas Swing music.

in chief

Heraldry At the top; in the upper part. See also -in-chief.
Example sentences
  • His margin of victory can be taken as evidence that the majority of Americans have confidence in him as the commander in chief.
  • Being the commander in chief of the Greek armies, Agamemnon's thousand-ship fleet is en route to Troy.
  • Which begs the question: When did the president become theologian in chief?

too many chiefs and not enough Indians

Used to describe a situation where there are too many people giving orders and not enough people to carry them out.
Example sentences
  • I blame the managers - there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
  • ‘There are too many chiefs and not enough Indians,’ she said.
  • Some demand arbitrary reductions in management staff, believing there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians.



Pronunciation: /ˈtʃiːfdəm/
Example sentences
  • How do we expect development to take place in such chiefdoms?
  • Within the area of his chiefdom, which extends far beyond the village, live 6,800 people.
  • The area was divided into independent chiefdoms.


Middle English: from Old French chief, chef, based on Latin caput 'head'.

  • capital from Middle English:

    The first meaning of capital was ‘to do with the head or the top of something’. From this evolved such modern meanings as ‘the large form of a letter’ and ‘the chief city or town in a country’. The word goes back to Latin caput ‘head’. Capital in the financial sense was originally the capital stock of a company or trader, their main or original funds. The use as an adjective meaning ‘excellent’, now old-fashioned, dates from the mid 18th century. The capital of a column comes via French from Latin capitellum ‘a little head’. To capitulate (mid 16th century) is to admit that you are defeated and surrender. When it first entered the language it meant ‘to parley or draw up terms’, having come via French from medieval Latin capitulare ‘to draw up under headings’. Like capital, its ultimate root is Latin caput ‘head’, source also of cap, chapter, chief (Middle English), and captain (Late Middle English), both the ‘head’ of a group of people, and decapitate (early 17th century).

Words that rhyme with chief

aperitif, beef, belief, brief, enfeoff, fief, grief, interleaf, leaf, Leif, lief, Mazar-e-Sharif, misbelief, motif, naif, O'Keeffe, reef, seif, Sharif, sheaf, shereef, sportif, Tenerife, thief

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: chief

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