[ al-i-gey-ter ]
/ ˈæl ɪˌgeɪ tər /
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either of two broad-snouted crocodilians of the genus Alligator, of the southeastern U.S. and eastern China.
(loosely) any broad-snouted crocodilian, as a caiman.
Metallurgy. a machine for bringing the balls of iron from a puddling furnace into compact form so that they can be handled.
Jazz. an enthusiastic fan of swing.
verb (used without object)
(of paint, varnish, or the like) to crack and acquire the appearance of alligator hide, as from weathering or improper application to a surface.
Metalworking. (of a rolled metal slab) to split and curl up and down at one end; fishmouth.
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Origin of alligator

1560–70; <Spanish el lagarto the lizard <Vulgar Latin *ille that + *lacartus, for Latin lacertuslizard
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What’s the difference between alligators and crocodiles?

Alligators and crocodiles are both large, lizardlike reptiles known for their large, powerful jaws and sharp teeth, their long tails, and their thick, plated skin.

However, you can tell them apart through some physical differences. Alligators are typically darker and have broader snout. Crocodiles are often lighter in color and have a narrower snout.

When they’re in the water, alligators typically lurk under the surface, with only their eyes visible. In contrast, crocodiles typically hold the top of their head out of the water. When alligators’ jaws are closed, only their upper teeth are visible, but both the upper and lower teeth of crocodiles are visible when their jaws are closed.

Alligators mainly live in the southeastern U.S. and eastern China. Crocodiles live in tropical areas of Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Australia. The only place that wild alligators and crocodiles have been documented as inhabiting the same area is in south Florida.

Taxonomically speaking, alligators and crocodiles are not only different species, they also belong to a different genus (alligators belong to the genus Alligator, while crocodiles belong to the genus Crocodylus). Still, they both belong to the order Crocodylia, which means they can both be called crocodilians.

Here’s an example of alligator and crocodile used correctly in a sentence.

Example: Florida is known for its population of alligators, although a few crocodiles also live in the extreme south.

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between alligators and crocodiles.

Quiz yourself on alligator vs. crocodile!

Should alligator or crocodile be used in the following sentence?

You can tell that it’s a _____ because of its long, narrow snout and the fact that its upper and lower teeth are visible when its mouth is closed.

How to use alligator in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for alligator

/ (ˈælɪˌɡeɪtə) /

a large crocodilian, Alligator mississipiensis, of the southern US, having powerful jaws and sharp teeth and differing from the crocodiles in having a shorter and broader snout: family Alligatoridae (alligators and caymans)
a similar but smaller species, A. sinensis, occurring in China near the Yangtse River
any crocodilian belonging to the family Alligatoridae
any of various tools or machines having adjustable toothed jaws, used for gripping, crushing, or compacting

Word Origin for alligator

C17: from Spanish el lagarto the lizard, from Latin lacerta
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