[ bawl ]
See synonyms for ball on
  1. a spherical or approximately spherical body or shape; sphere: He rolled the piece of paper into a ball.

  2. a round or roundish body, of various sizes and materials, either hollow or solid, for use in games, as baseball, football, tennis, or golf.

  1. a game played with a ball, especially baseball: The boys are out playing ball.

  2. Baseball. a pitched ball, not swung at by the batter, that does not pass over home plate between the batter's shoulders and knees.

  3. Military.

    • a solid, usually spherical projectile for a cannon, rifle, pistol, etc., as distinguished from a shell.

    • projectiles, especially bullets, collectively.

  4. any part of a thing, especially of the human body, that is rounded or protuberant: the ball of the thumb.

  5. a round mass of food, as of chopped meat, dough, or candy.

  6. Usually balls. Slang: Vulgar. a testicle.

  7. balls, Slang: Vulgar.

    • boldness; courage; brashness: She had the balls to ignore her critics and stand up for what was right.

    • nonsense (often used as an interjection).

  8. Horticulture. a compact mass of soil covering the roots of an uprooted tree or other plant.

  9. Literary. a planetary or celestial body, especially the earth.

  10. Mathematics. (in a metric space) the set of points whose distance from the zero element is less than, or less than or equal to, a specified number.

verb (used with object)
  1. to make into a ball (sometimes followed by up): The children were balling up snow to make a snowman.

  2. to wind into balls: to ball cotton.

  1. Slang: Vulgar. to have sexual intercourse with.

verb (used without object)
  1. to form or gather into a ball: When the spun sugar balls, the candy has cooked sufficiently.

  2. to play basketball: There’s no doubt the kid can ball, but the recruiters are also aware that he’s barely passing his math and science classes.

  1. Slang: Vulgar. to have sexual intercourse.

Verb Phrases
  1. ball up, Slang. to make or become utterly confused;muddle: The records had been all balled up by inefficient file clerks.

Idioms about ball

  1. ball the jack, Slang.

    • to act with speed.

    • to stake everything on one attempt.

  2. carry the ball, to assume the responsibility; bear the burden: You can always count on him to carry the ball in an emergency.

  1. drop the ball, to make a mistake or miss an opportunity at a critical moment.

  2. keep the ball rolling, to continue or give renewed vigor to an activity already under way: When their interest lagged, he tried to keep the ball rolling.

  3. on the ball,

    • alert and efficient or effective: If you don't get on the ball, you'll be fired.

    • indicating intelligence or ability: The tests show your students don't have much on the ball. The new manager has a lot on the ball.

  4. play ball,

    • to begin or continue playing a game.

    • to start or continue any action.

    • to work together; cooperate: union leaders suspected of playing ball with racketeers.

  5. run with the ball, to assume responsibility or work enthusiastically: If management approves the concept, we'll run with the ball.

  6. start the ball rolling, to put into operation; begin: The recreation director started the ball rolling by having all the participants introduce themselves.

Origin of ball

First recorded in 1175–1225; Middle English bal, balle, probably from Old English beall (unattested), from Germanic ballaz (unattested); compare Old Norse bǫllr, Old High German bal, ballo, balla, German Ball, Dutch bal; perhaps akin to Latin follis “leather bag, bellows”; see ballocks

Other words from ball

  • ball·er, noun

Words that may be confused with ball

Other definitions for ball (2 of 3)

[ bawl ]

  1. a large, usually lavish, formal party featuring social dancing and sometimes given for a particular purpose, as to introduce debutantes or benefit a charitable organization.

  2. Informal. a thoroughly good time: Have a ball on your vacation!

Origin of ball

First recorded in 1600–10; from French bal, noun derivative of baler (now baller ) “to dance,” from Late Latin ballāre, from Greek (Magna Graecia) ballízein “to dance”

Words that may be confused with ball

Other definitions for Ball (3 of 3)

[ bawl ]

  1. George W(ild·man) [wahyld-muhn], /ˈwaɪld mən/, 1909–1994, U.S. lawyer, investment banker, and government official.

  2. John, died 1381, English priest: one of the leaders of Wat Tyler's peasants' revolt in 1381.

  1. Lucille, 1911–89, U.S. actress. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use ball in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for ball (1 of 3)


/ (bɔːl) /

  1. a spherical or nearly spherical body or mass: a ball of wool

  2. a round or roundish body, either solid or hollow, of a size and composition suitable for any of various games: football, golf, billiards, etc

  1. a ball propelled in a particular way in a sport: a high ball

  2. any of various rudimentary games with a ball: to play ball

  3. cricket a single delivery of the ball by the bowler to the batsman

  4. baseball a single delivery of the ball by a pitcher outside certain limits and not swung at by the batter

    • a solid nonexplosive projectile for a firearm: Compare shell (def. 6)

    • such projectiles collectively

  5. any more or less rounded part or protuberance: the ball of the foot

  6. slang a testicle: See balls

  7. vet science another word for bolus

  8. horticulture the hard mass of roots and earth removed with the rest of the plant during transplanting

  9. ball of muscle Australian a very strong, fit, or forceful person

  10. have the ball at one's feet to have the chance of doing something

  11. keep the ball rolling to maintain the progress of a project, plan, etc

  12. on the ball informal alert; informed

  13. play ball informal to cooperate

  14. set the ball rolling or start the ball rolling to open or initiate (an action, discussion, movement, etc)

  15. the ball is in your court you are obliged to make the next move

  1. (tr) to make, form, wind, etc, into a ball or balls: to ball wool

  2. (intr) to gather into a ball or balls

  1. taboo, slang, mainly US to copulate (with)

Origin of ball

C13: from Old Norse böllr; related to Old High German balla, Italian palla French balle

usage For ball

Sense 9 of this word was formerly considered to be taboo, and it was labelled as such in previous editions of Collins English Dictionary . However, it has now become acceptable in speech, although some older or more conservative people may object to its use

British Dictionary definitions for ball (2 of 3)


/ (bɔːl) /

  1. a social function for dancing, esp one that is lavish or formal

  2. informal a very enjoyable time (esp in the phrase have a ball)

Origin of ball

C17: from French bal (n), from Old French baller (vb), from Late Latin ballāre to dance, from Greek ballizein

British Dictionary definitions for Ball (3 of 3)


/ (bɔːl) /

  1. John . died 1381, English priest: executed as one of the leaders of the Peasants' Revolt (1381)

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

Other Idioms and Phrases with ball


In addition to the idioms beginning with ball

  • ball and chain
  • ball of fire
  • ball up

also see:

  • behind the eight ball
  • break one's balls
  • by the balls
  • carry the ball
  • crystal ball
  • drop the ball
  • eyeball to eyeball
  • get the ball rolling
  • have a ball
  • have one's eye on the ball
  • have someone by the balls
  • on the ball
  • play ball
  • put in mothballs
  • snowball's chance in hell
  • that's how the ball bounces
  • whole ball of wax

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.