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[lev-uh n] /ˈlɛv ən/
a substance, as yeast or baking powder, that causes fermentation and expansion of dough or batter.
fermented dough reserved for producing fermentation in a new batch of dough.
an element that produces an altering or transforming influence.
verb (used with object)
to add leaven to (dough or batter) and cause to rise.
to permeate with an altering or transforming element.
Origin of leaven
1300-50; Middle English levain < Anglo-French, Old French levain < Vulgar Latin *levāmen, equivalent to Latin levā(re) to raise + -men deverbal noun suffix (probably not continuous with Latin levāmen means of alleviating, solace) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for leaven
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He compares it to little things, to a tiny seed, to a handful of leaven, to a pearl.

    De Profundis Oscar Wilde
  • I could feel the leaven working in his soul, you understand.

    Under Western Eyes Joseph Conrad
  • It is hard to say if there might not have been some leaven of "pique" in these reasonings.

    The Daltons, Volume II (of II) Charles James Lever
  • One can hardly conceive how disagreeable this leaven was to the taste.

    Perils and Captivity Charlotte-Adlade [ne Picard] Dard
  • The leaven of the psychology of independence was getting in its work.

    Blow The Man Down Holman Day
  • Science has already to some extent leavened the world; it will leaven it more and more.

  • They contain the leaven of the faith, life and spirit of Protestantism.

  • They cannot draw together, as in England, and leaven the lump.

    Appearances Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson
  • All of our tasks should be sweetened and glorified with the leaven of good humor.

    The Girl Wanted Nixon Waterman
British Dictionary definitions for leaven


any substance that produces fermentation in dough or batter, such as yeast, and causes it to rise
a piece of such a substance kept to ferment a new batch of dough
an agency or influence that produces a gradual change
verb (transitive)
to cause fermentation in (dough or batter)
to pervade, causing a gradual change, esp with some moderating or enlivening influence
Word Origin
C14: via Old French ultimately from Latin levāmen relief, (hence, raising agent, leaven), from levāre to raise
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
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Word Origin and History for leaven

mid-14c., from Old French levain "leaven, sourdough" (12c.), from Latin levamen "alleviation, mitigation," but used in Vulgar Latin in its literal sense of "a means of lifting, something that raises," from levare "to raise" (see lever). Figurative use from late 14c.


c.1400, from leaven (n.). Related: Leavened; leavening.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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