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  1. a folder, cabinet, or other container in which papers, letters, etc., are arranged in convenient order for storage or reference.
  2. a collection of papers, records, etc., arranged in convenient order: to make a file for a new account.
  3. Computers. a collection of related data or program records stored on some input/output or auxiliary storage medium: This program's main purpose is to update the customer master file.
  4. a line of persons or things arranged one behind another (distinguished from rank1def 10).
  5. Military.
    1. a person in front of or behind another in a military formation.
    2. one step on a promotion list.
  6. one of the vertical lines of squares on a chessboard.
  7. a list or roll.
  8. a string or wire on which papers are strung for preservation and reference.
verb (used with object), filed, fil·ing.
  1. to place in a file.
  2. to arrange (papers, records, etc.) in convenient order for storage or reference.
  3. Journalism.
    1. to arrange (copy) in the proper order for transmittal by wire.
    2. to transmit (copy), as by wire or telephone: He filed copy from Madrid all through the war.
verb (used without object), filed, fil·ing.
  1. to march in a file or line, one after another, as soldiers: The parade filed past endlessly.
  2. to make application: to file for a civil-service job.
  1. on file, arranged in order for convenient reference; in a file: The names are on file in the office.

Origin of file1

1425–75; late Middle English filen < Middle French filer to string documents on a thread or wire, Old French: to wind or spin thread < Late Latin fīlāre, verbal derivative of Latin fīlum thread, string
Related formsfile·a·ble, adjectivefil·er, nounnon·fil·er, noun
Can be confusedfile phial


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10. classify, label, catalog, index, list, categorize.


  1. a long, narrow tool of steel or other metal having a series of ridges or points on its surfaces for reducing or smoothing surfaces of metal, wood, etc.
  2. a small, similar tool for trimming and cleaning fingernails; nail file.
  3. British Slang. a cunning, shrewd, or artful person.
verb (used with object), filed, fil·ing.
  1. to reduce, smooth, or remove with or as if with a file.

Origin of file2

before 900; Middle English; Old English fīl, fēol; cognate with German Feile; akin to Greek pikrós sharp
Related formsfile·a·ble, adjectivefil·er, noun


verb (used with object), filed, fil·ing. Archaic.
  1. to defile; corrupt.

Origin of file3

before 1000; Middle English; Old English fȳlan to befoul, defile, derivative of fūl foul


[fi-ley, fee-ley]
noun New Orleans Cookery.
  1. a powder made from the ground leaves of the sassafras tree, used as a thickener and to impart a pungent taste to soups, gumbos, and other dishes.

Origin of filé

1800–10, Americanism; < Louisiana French; literally, twisted, ropy, stringy (perhaps orig. applied to dishes thickened with the powder), past participle of French filer; see file1
Also called filé powder.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for file

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • If you were envied, why should you sharpen envy, and file up its teeth to an edge?

    Clarissa, Volume 2 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

  • A complete list of the changes made is appended at the end of the file.



  • Your browser must support the Unicode character set to use this file.



  • During the night he managed to file the brass of his bedstead.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

  • Several dozen ogres were sitting around the cave in rank and file.

British Dictionary definitions for file


  1. a folder, box, etc, used to keep documents or other items in order
  2. the documents, etc, kept in this way
  3. documents or information about a specific subject, person, etcwe have a file on every known thief
  4. an orderly line or row
  5. a line of people in marching formation, one behind anotherCompare rank 1 (def. 6)
  6. any of the eight vertical rows of squares on a chessboard
  7. computing a named collection of information, in the form of text, programs, graphics, etc, held on a permanent storage device such as a magnetic disk
  8. obsolete a list or catalogue
  9. Canadian a group of problems or responsibilities, esp in government, associated with a particular topicthe environment file
  10. on file recorded or catalogued for reference, as in a file
  1. to place (a document, letter, etc) in a file
  2. (tr) to put on record, esp to place (a legal document) on public or official record; register
  3. (tr) to bring (a suit, esp a divorce suit) in a court of law
  4. (tr) to submit (copy) to a newspaper or news agency
  5. (intr) to march or walk in a file or filesthe ants filed down the hill
Derived Formsfiler, noun

Word Origin

C16 (in the sense: string on which documents are hung): from Old French filer, from Medieval Latin fīlāre; see filament


  1. a hand tool consisting essentially of a steel blade with small cutting teeth on some or all of its faces. It is used for shaping or smoothing metal, wood, etc
  2. rare, British slang a cunning or deceitful person
  1. (tr) to shape or smooth (a surface) with a file
Derived Formsfiler, noun

Word Origin

Old English fīl; related to Old Saxon fīla, Old High German fīhala file, Greek pikros bitter, sharp


  1. (tr) obsolete to pollute or defile

Word Origin

Old English fӯlan; related to Middle Low German vülen; see defile 1, filth, foul
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for file


"to place (papers) in consecutive order for future reference," mid-15c., from Middle French filer "string documents on a wire for preservation or reference," from fil "thread, string" (12c.), from Latin filum "a thread, string," from PIE *gwhis-lom (cf. Armenian jil "sinew, string, line," Lithuanian gysla "vein, sinew," Old Church Slavonic zila "vein"), from root *gwhi- "thread, tendon." The notion is of documents hung up on a line.

File (filacium) is a threed or wyer, whereon writs, or other exhibits in courts, are fastened for the better keeping of them. [Cowel, "The Interpreter," 1607]

Methods have become more sophisticated, but the word has stuck. Related: Filed; filing.


metal tool, Old English feol (Mercian fil), from Proto-Germanic *finkhlo (cf. Old Saxon and Old High German fila, Middle Dutch vile, Dutch vijl, German Feile), probably from PIE *peig- "to cut, mark by incision" (see paint (v.)). The verb in this sense is from early 13c., from Old English filian. Related: Filed; filing.


1520s, "string or wire on which documents are strung," from French file "row," from Middle French filer (see file (v.)). The meaning "arranged collection of papers" is from 1620s; computer sense is from 1954. The military sense "line or row of men" (1590s) is from the French verb in the sense of "spin out (thread); march in file."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

file in Science


  1. A collection of related data or program records stored as a unit with a single name. Files are the basic units that a computer works with in storing and retrieving data.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with file


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.