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  1. the foremost or front division of an army, a fleet, or any group leading an advance or in position to lead an advance.
  2. those who are in the forefront of a movement or the like.
  3. the forefront in any movement, course of progress, or the like.

Origin of van1

First recorded in 1600–10; short for vanguard


  1. a covered vehicle, usually a large truck or trailer, used for moving furniture, goods, animals, etc.
  2. a smaller boxlike vehicle that resembles a panel truck, often has double doors both at the rear and along the curb side, and that can be used as a truck, fitted with rows of seats, or equipped with living quarters for traveling and camping.
  3. British.
    1. a railway baggage car.
    2. a covered, boxlike railway car, as one used to carry freight.
    3. a small, horse-drawn wagon or a small truck, as one used by tradespeople to carry light goods.
  4. Also called van conversion. a conventional van whose cargo area has been equipped with living facilities, extra windows, and often increased headroom.
verb (used with object), vanned, van·ning.
  1. to transport or carry (freight, passengers, etc.) in a van.
verb (used without object), vanned, van·ning.
  1. to travel in a van.

Origin of van2

First recorded in 1820–30; short for caravan


[van; Dutch vahn]
preposition (often initial capital letter)
  1. from; of (used in Dutch personal names, originally to indicate place of origin).

Origin of van3

From Dutch


  1. a wing.

Origin of van4

1400–50;late Middle English, variant of fan1


[van; for 1, 2 also Turkish vahn]
  1. Lake, a salt lake in E Turkey. 1454 sq. mi. (3766 sq. km).
  2. a town on this lake.
  3. a male given name.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for van

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • Tell Mrs. Van Geist if she can't come down, I'll run up to her.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • Mrs. Van Geist fixed her niece with a sudden look of suspicion.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • A lovely girl, my dear Mrs. Van Dam,' she said; 'a privilege to know her.

  • I'm pretty sure that Mrs. Van Dam dislikes to see us together.

  • We all laughed hysterically, and then Mrs. Van Dam and John went away.

British Dictionary definitions for van


  1. short for caravan (def. 1)
  2. a covered motor vehicle for transporting goods, etc, by road
  3. British a closed railway wagon in which the guard travels, for transporting goods, mail, etc
  4. British See delivery van


  1. short for vanguard


noun tennis, mainly British
  1. short for advantage (def. 3) Usual US and Canadian word: ad


  1. any device for winnowing corn
  2. an archaic or poetic word for wing

Word Origin

C17: variant of fan 1


  1. a city in E Turkey, on Lake Van. Pop: 377 000 (2005 est)
  2. Lake Van a salt lake in E Turkey, at an altitude of 1650 m (5400 ft): fed by melting snow and glaciers. Area: 3737 sq km (1433 sq miles)
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 van


"front part of an army or other advancing group," c.1600, shortening of vanguard.


"covered truck or wagon," 1829, shortening of caravan.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper