[as-fawlt or, esp. British, -falt]


any of various dark-colored, solid, bituminous substances, native in various areas of the earth and composed mainly of hydrocarbon mixtures.
a similar substance that is the by-product of petroleum-cracking operations.
a mixture of such substances with gravel, crushed rock, or the like, used for paving.

verb (used with object)

to cover or pave with asphalt.


of, relating to, or containing asphalt: asphalt tile.

Origin of asphalt

1275–1325; earlier asphaltos, -um < Latin < Greek ásphaltos, -on, akin to asphalízein to make firm, to secure; replacing Middle English aspaltounGreek ásphalton
Related formsas·phal·tic, adjectiveas·phalt·like, adjectiveun·as·phalt·ed, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for asphalt

blacktop, bitumen

Examples from the Web for asphalt

Contemporary Examples of asphalt

Historical Examples of asphalt

  • Steep hillsides are paved with cobblestones instead of asphalt.

    Common Science

    Carleton W. Washburne

  • In this way, the asphalt is held in position, and is an absolute prevention of dampness.

    Rural Hygiene

    Henry N. Ogden

  • As for where this asphalt come from, I don't know, and nobody knows.

    Plotting in Pirate Seas

    Francis Rolt-Wheeler

  • A recent rain had made the clay as slippery as asphalt in a drizzle.

  • A mixture of sand and asphalt will creep on slopes of 1½ to 1, but asphalt concrete will not.

    Concrete Construction

    Halbert P. Gillette

British Dictionary definitions for asphalt



any of several black semisolid substances composed of bitumen and inert mineral matter. They occur naturally in parts of America and as a residue from petroleum distillation: used as a waterproofing material and in paints, dielectrics, and fungicides
a mixture of this substance with gravel, used in road-surfacing and roofing materials
(modifier) containing or surfaced with asphalt


(tr) to cover with asphalt
Derived Formsasphaltic, adjective

Word Origin for asphalt

C14: from Late Latin aspaltus, from Greek asphaltos, probably from a- 1 + sphallein to cause to fall; referring to its use as a binding agent
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 asphalt

early 14c., "hard, resinous mineral pitch found originally in Biblical lands," from Late Latin asphaltum, from Greek asphaltos "asphalt, bitumen," probably from a non-Greek source, possibly Semitic [Klein, citing Lewy, 1895]. Another theory holds it to be from Greek a- "not" + *sphaltos "able to be thrown down," taken as verbal adjective of sphallein "to throw down," in reference to a use of the material in building.

Meaning "paving composition" dates from 1847 and its popular use in this sense established the modern form of the English word, mostly displacing asphaltum, asphaltos. As a verb meaning "to cover with asphalt," from 1872.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

asphalt in Science



A thick, sticky, dark-brown mixture of petroleum tars used in paving, roofing, and waterproofing. Asphalt is produced as a byproduct in refining petroleum or is found in natural beds.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.