Definition of swab in English:

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Pronunciation: /swɒb/


1An absorbent pad or piece of material used in surgery and medicine for cleaning wounds, applying medication, or taking specimens.
Example sentences
  • During the exam, your doctor may apply a cotton-tipped swab to the area to see if it is painful.
  • The nurse used sterile cotton wool swabs to obtain swab specimens of the wound.
  • An alcohol swab cleans the valve connection before each procedure.
1.1A specimen of a secretion taken with a swab for examination: he had taken throat swabs
More example sentences
  • All the three throat swabs were from patients with upper respiratory tract infections while the eye specimen was from a patient with conjunctivitis.
  • The doctor or nurse that you see will probably take a swab (sample of cells) from the area to check for the infection that's causing the warts.
  • A piece of hair, a nail clipping, or a swab from a glass of beer could all be used to provide information without the person concerned ever knowing.
2A mop or other absorbent device for cleaning or mopping up a floor or other surface.
3 archaic A contemptible person: ‘Avast, ye swabs,’ she shouted
3.1US another term for swabbie.
Example sentences
  • Punishment is meted out in full view of others as the offending navy swabs are beaten with a rod on their buttocks.

verb (swabs, swabbing, swabbed)

[with object]
1Clean (a wound or surface) with a swab: the crew were swabbing down the decks swab a patch of skin with alcohol
More example sentences
  • In the Clark case, technicians swabbed every surface, knowing the smallest trace amount could nab a killer.
  • The largest five lesions were swabbed with one swab by gently rubbing the wound surface.
  • She swabbed the inside of Sean's elbow, and stuck the needle in.
1.1 [with adverbial] Absorb or clear (moisture) with a swab: the blood was swabbed away
More example sentences
  • He was lifted to his feet by the caller, who was also the referee, walked to the fresh air at the back of the tent, and given some water, and had his blood swabbed away.
  • In the Internet café, the manager sat with a giant tub of antiseptic wipes at her elbow, ready to swab down mouse and keyboard after each use.
  • The weapon of torture was the chemical Oleoresin Capsicum, known as pepper spray, swabbed into their eyes with a Q-tip.


Mid 17th century (in the sense 'mop for cleaning the decks'): back-formation from swabber 'sailor detailed to swab decks', from early modern Dutch zwabber, from a Germanic base meaning 'splash' or 'sway'.

  • A swab was initially a ‘mop for cleaning the decks’. It was formed from swabber ‘a sailor detailed to swab decks’: this derives from early modern Dutch zwabber, from a Germanic base meaning ‘splash’ or ‘sway’. The medical sense dates from the mid 19th century.

Words that rhyme with swab

blob, bob, cob, dob, fob, glob, gob, hob, job, lob, mob, nob, rob, slob, snob, sob, squab, stob, throb, yob

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: swab

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