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  1. any of various instruments for writing or drawing with ink or a similar substance.
  2. a detachable metal penpoint, filled by dipping or with a quill; nib.
  3. such a penpoint with its penholder.
  4. fountain pen.
  5. ball-point pen.
  6. the pen as the instrument of writing or authorship: The pen is mightier than the sword.
  7. a person's style or quality of writing: He writes with a witty, incisive pen.
  8. a writer: I leave this story to abler pens.
  9. the profession of writing: a master of the pen.
  10. Computers. stylus(def 3).
  11. Ornithology.
    1. a quill.
    2. a pinfeather.
  12. something resembling or suggesting a feather or quill.
  13. Zoology. an internal, corneous or chitinous, feather-shaped structure in certain cephalopods, as the squid.
verb (used with object), penned, pen·ning.
  1. to write with or as with a pen; put down in writing: to pen an essay.
  2. to draw with or as with a pen: to pen a sketch.

Origin of pen1

1250–1300; Middle English penne < Old French penne pen, feather < Late Latin penna, Latin: feather
Related formspen·like, adjectivepen·ner, noun


  1. a small enclosure for domestic animals.
  2. animals so enclosed: We have a pen of twenty sheep.
  3. an enclosure used for confinement or safekeeping: We have built several pens to hold our harvest of corn.
  4. playpen.
  5. bull pen.
  6. a dock having a protective concrete structure overhead, used to service and repair submarines.
verb (used with object), penned or pent, pen·ning.
  1. to confine in or as in a pen.

Origin of pen2

before 1000; (noun) Middle English penne, Old English penn (in compounds); perhaps akin to pin; (v.) Middle English pennen, derivative of the noun


noun Slang.
  1. penitentiary(def 1).

Origin of pen3

An Americanism dating back to 1880–85; shortened form


  1. a female swan.

Origin of pen4

First recorded in 1540–50; origin uncertain


or pen.

  1. peninsula.


  1. variant of pene- before a vowel: penannular.


  1. International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for pen


  1. an implement for writing or drawing using ink, formerly consisting of a sharpened and split quill, and now of a metal nib attached to a holderSee also ballpoint, fountain pen
  2. the writing end of such an implement; nib
  3. style of writing
  4. the pen
    1. writing as an occupation
    2. the written wordthe pen is mightier than the sword
  5. the long horny internal shell of a squid
verb pens, penning or penned
  1. (tr) to write or compose

Word Origin

Old English pinne, from Late Latin penna (quill) pen, from Latin: feather


  1. an enclosure in which domestic animals are keptsheep pen
  2. any place of confinement
  3. a dock for servicing submarines, esp one having a bombproof roof
verb pens, penning, penned or pent
  1. (tr) to enclose or keep in a pen

Word Origin

Old English penn, perhaps related to pin


  1. US and Canadian informal short for penitentiary (def. 1)


  1. a female swan

Word Origin

C16: of unknown origin


n acronym for
  1. International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists


abbreviation for
  1. Peninsula
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 pen


"writing implement," late 13c., from Old French pene "quill pen; feather" (12c.) and directly from Latin penna "a feather, plume," in plural "a wing," in Late Latin, "a pen for writing," from Old Latin petna, pesna, from PIE *pet-na-, suffixed form of root *pet- "to rush; to fly" (see petition (n.)).

Latin penna and pinna "a feather, plume;" in plural "a wing;" also "a pinnacle; battlement" (see pin (n.)) are treated as identical in Watkins, etc., but regarded as separate (but confused) Latin words by Tucker and others, who derive pinna from PIE *spei- "sharp point" (cf. spike (n.1)) and see the "feather/wing" sense as secondary.

In later French, this word means only "long feather of a bird," while the equivalent of English plume is used for "writing implement," the senses of the two words thus are reversed from the situation in English. Pen-and-ink (adj.) is attested from 1670s. Pen name is recorded from mid-19c.


"enclosure for animals," Old English penn, penne, "enclosure, pen, fold," of uncertain origin, perhaps related to Old English pinn "pin, peg" (see pin (n.)) on notion of a bolted gate or else "structure made of pointed stakes."


late 15c., from pen (n.). Related: Penned; penning.


"to enclose in a pen," c.1200, from Old English *pennian, from the source of pen (n.2). Related: Penned; penning.


slang, "prison," 1884, shortening of penitentiary; earlier use (1845) probably is a figurative extension of pen (n.2).


Brythonic for "head;" common in place names in Cornwall and Wales (e.g. Penzance, see also Pendragon).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with pen


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