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  1. the portion of the earth's surface consisting of disintegrated rock and humus.
  2. a particular kind of earth: sandy soil.
  3. the ground as producing vegetation or as cultivated for its crops: fertile soil.
  4. a country, land, or region: an act committed on American soil.
  5. the ground or earth: tilling the soil.
  6. any place or condition providing the opportunity for growth or development: Some believe that poverty provides the soil for crime.

Origin of soil1

1300–50; Middle English soile < Anglo-French soyl < Latin solium seat, confused with solum ground
Related formssoil·less, adjective


verb (used with object)
  1. to make unclean, dirty, or filthy, especially on the surface: to soil one's clothes.
  2. to smirch, smudge, or stain: The ink soiled his hands.
  3. to sully or tarnish, as with disgrace; defile morally: to soil one's good name.
verb (used without object)
  1. to become soiled: White soils easily.
  1. the act or fact of soiling.
  2. the state of being soiled.
  3. a spot, mark, or stain.
  4. dirty or foul matter; filth; sewage.
  5. ordure; manure.

Origin of soil2

1175–1225; Middle English soilen (v.) < Old French souiller, soillier to dirty < Vulgar Latin *suculāre, equivalent to sū(s) pig + -cul(us) -cle1 + -āre infinitive ending


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3. blacken, taint, debase.


verb (used with object)
  1. to feed (confined cattle, horses, etc.) freshly cut green fodder for roughage.

Origin of soil3

First recorded in 1595–1605; origin uncertain
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for soil

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • The people have no right to the soil in the eyes of these political economists.

    The Roof of France

    Matilda Betham-Edwards

  • When our brethren departed, we could not tear our aged roots out of the soil.

    Old News

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • I've known the answer ever since I first turned the soil of this farm.


    Mr. and Mrs. Haldeman-Julius

  • The soil is hard, and the crop after the expenditure of much toil is often very scanty.

    English Villages

    P. H. Ditchfield

  • In fact, Gryphus was beginning to dig the soil with his crooked fingers.

    The Black Tulip

    Alexandre Dumas (Pere)

British Dictionary definitions for soil


  1. the top layer of the land surface of the earth that is composed of disintegrated rock particles, humus, water, and airSee zonal soil, azonal soil, intrazonal soil, horizon (def. 4), horizon (def. 5) Related adjective: telluric
  2. a type of this material having specific characteristicsloamy soil
  3. land, country, or regionone's native soil
  4. the soil life and work on a farm; landhe belonged to the soil, as his forefathers had
  5. any place or thing encouraging growth or development

Word Origin

C14: from Anglo-Norman, from Latin solium a seat, but confused with Latin solum the ground


  1. to make or become dirty or stained
  2. (tr) to pollute with sin or disgrace; sully; defilehe soiled the family honour by his cowardice
  1. the state or result of soiling
  2. refuse, manure, or excrement

Word Origin

C13: from Old French soillier to defile, from soil pigsty, probably from Latin sūs a swine


  1. (tr) to feed (livestock) freshly cut green fodder either to fatten or purge them

Word Origin

C17: perhaps from obsolete vb (C16) soil to manure, from soil ² (n)
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 soil


early 13c., "to defile or pollute with sin," from Old French soillier "to splatter with mud, to foul or make dirty," originally "to wallow" (12c., Modern French souillier), from souil "tub, wild boar's wallow, pigsty," which is from either Latin solium "tub for bathing; seat," or Latin suculus "little pig," from sus "pig." Literal meaning "to make dirty, begrime" is attested from c.1300 in English. Related: Soiled; soiling.


c.1300, originally "land, area, place," from Anglo-French soil "piece of ground, place" (13c.), from an merger or confusion of Old French sol "bottom, ground, soil" (12c., from Latin solum "soil, ground;" see sole (n.1)), Old French soeul, sueil "threshold, area, place" (from Latin solium "seat"), and Old French soil, soille "a miry place," from soillier (see soil (v.)).

Meaning "place of one's nativity" is from c.1400. Meaning "mould, earth, dirt" (especially that which plants grow in) is attested from mid-15c.


"filth, dirt, refuse matter, sewage, liquid likely to contain excrement," c.1600, earlier "miry or muddy place" (early 15c.), from Old French soille "miry place," from soillier (v.) "to make dirty," and in part a native formation from soil (v.). This is the sense in archaic night-soil.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

soil in Science


  1. The loose top layer of the Earth's surface, consisting of rock and mineral particles mixed with decayed organic matter (humus), and capable of retaining water, providing nutrients for plants, and supporting a wide range of biotic communities. Soil is formed by a combination of depositional, chemical, and biological processes and plays an important role in the carbon, nitrogen, and hydrologic cycles. Soil types vary widely from one region to another, depending on the type of bedrock they overlie and the climate in which they form. In wet and humid regions, for example, soils tend to be thicker than they do in dry regions. See more at A horizon B horizon C horizon. See illustration at ABC soil.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

soil in Culture


Material on the surface of the Earth on which plants can grow. (See topsoil.)


Soil is produced by the weathering of rocks.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.