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  1. a place where a sea, river, or other body of water is shallow.
  2. a sandbank or sand bar in the bed of a body of water, especially one that is exposed above the surface of the water at low tide.
  1. of little depth, as water; shallow.
verb (used without object)
  1. to become shallow or more shallow.
verb (used with object)
  1. to cause to become shallow.
  2. Nautical. to sail so as to lessen the depth of (the water under a vessel).

Origin of shoal1

before 900; (adj.) Middle English (Scots) shald, Old English sceald shallow; (noun and v.) derivative of the adj.


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1. shallow, rapid, riffle. 2. reef.


  1. any large number of persons or things.
  2. a school of fish.
verb (used without object)
  1. to collect in a shoal; throng.

Origin of shoal2

1570–80; earlier shole, probably < Middle Dutch, Middle Low German schōle, with sound-substitution of sh- for Low German skh-; cf. school2
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for shoal

Historical Examples

  • Shoal water, deep water, it seemed all the same to our fortunes.

    The Forest

    Stewart Edward White

  • She waded forward to where the shoal ended and the deeper part began.

    The Woman-Haters

    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • I'd ruther have 'em high-water than shoal in the middle of the channel.

    The Rise of Roscoe Paine

    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • I pushed with all my might and, slowly and jerkily, the dingy slid off the shoal.

    The Rise of Roscoe Paine

    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • We were being driven by the wind away from the shoal, but not fast enough.

    The Rise of Roscoe Paine

    Joseph C. Lincoln

British Dictionary definitions for shoal


  1. a stretch of shallow water
  2. a sandbank or rocky area in a stretch of water, esp one that is visible at low water
  1. to make or become shallow
  2. (intr) nautical to sail into shallower water
adjective Also: shoaly
  1. a less common word for shallow
  2. nautical (of the draught of a vessel) drawing little water
Derived Formsshoaliness, noun

Word Origin

Old English sceald shallow


  1. a large group of certain aquatic animals, esp fish
  2. a large group of people or things
  1. (intr) to collect together in such a group

Word Origin

Old English scolu; related to Middle Low German, Middle Dutch schōle school ²
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 shoal


"place of shallow water," c.1300, from Old English schealde (adj.), from sceald "shallow," from Proto-Germanic *skala- (cf. Swedish skäll "thin;" Low German schol, Frisian skol "not deep"), of uncertain origin. The terminal -d was dropped 16c.


"large number" (especially of fish), 1570s, apparently identical with Old English scolu "band, troop, crowd of fish" (see school (n.2)); but perhaps rather a 16c. adoption of cognate Middle Dutch schole.


"assemble in a multitude," c.1600, from shoal (n.2). Related: Shoaled; shoaling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

shoal in Science


  1. A submerged mound or ridge of sediment in a body of shallow water.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.