[ bal-uhst ]
/ ˈbæl əst /
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See synonyms for: ballast / ballasted / ballasting on Thesaurus.com

verb (used with object)
to furnish with ballast: to ballast a ship.
to give steadiness to; keep steady: parental responsibilities that ballast a person.
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Idioms about ballast

    in ballast, Nautical. carrying only ballast; carrying no cargo.

Origin of ballast

1450–1500; <Middle Low German, perhaps ultimately <Scandinavian; compare Old Danish, Old Swedish barlast, equivalent to barbare1 + last load; see last4


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does ballast mean?

In general, ballast means something that provides stability or weight.

In a specific sense, it’s most commonly used to refer to heavy material used to stabilize a vessel, such as a ship, especially when it’s not carrying cargo. It also refers to the crushed rock used for the foundation of railroad tracks and paved roads. In electronics, ballast refers to a device that maintains the current in a circuit.

Ballast can also be used as a verb meaning to provide a ship with a material for ballast. In a more general sense, it can mean to keep steady or give stability to, including in a metaphorical way. Ballast can also be used metaphorically as a noun, especially in the context of mental, emotional, political, or economic stability.

Example: The ship’s ballast was improperly secured and caused the ship to list in the water.

Where does ballast come from?

The first records of ballast come from the 1400s. It comes from Middle Low German and is related to the Old Swedish word barlast, which literally means “bare load.”

When a ship is fully loaded with cargo, the weight of the cargo helps the ship to be stable in the water. Without cargo, it needs ballast. This can take many forms, such as stones or lead. (Sometimes, ballast is a permanent feature of a ship, such as a ballast tank that holds water.) In smaller vessels, the crew members themselves might suffice as ballast (called live ballast). Ballast is not limited to ships. In hot air balloons, those bags of sand attached to the car (the basket) are ballast.

Have you ever noticed the layer of stones under railroad tracks? They’re there for ballast, to provide the foundation for the track (gravel or crushed rock is also used as ballast in the base layer of a paved road). In a railroad track, the stone ballast helps with drainage and prevents plants from growing inside the tracks, too.

Ballast can also be used in a figurative way to refer to something that provides balance or stability in life or a specific situation, as in It helps to have a hobby to act as ballast during stressful times.

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What are some other forms related to ballast?

  • ballaster (noun)
  • ballastic (adjective)
  • overballast (verb)
  • subballast (noun)

What are some synonyms for ballast?

What are some words that share a root or word element with ballast


What are some words that often get used in discussing ballast?


How is ballast used in real life?

You’ll most often see ballast used in the context of ships and other vessels. Unless it’s used metaphorically, it’s typically discussed in a technical way.



Try using ballast!

Is ballast used correctly in the following sentence?

The ballast keeps the hot air balloon stable so it can be better controlled while in the air.

How to use ballast in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for ballast

/ (ˈbæləst) /

any dense heavy material, such as lead or iron pigs, used to stabilize a vessel, esp one that is not carrying cargo
crushed rock, broken stone, etc, used for the foundation of a road or railway track
coarse aggregate of sandy gravel, used in making concrete
anything that provides stability or weight
electronics a device for maintaining the current in a circuit
verb (tr)
to give stability or weight to

Word Origin for ballast

C16: probably from Low German; related to Old Danish, Old Swedish barlast, literally: bare load (without commercial value), from bar bare, mere + last load, burden
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