noun (used with a plural verb)

Informal. bell-bottom(def 2).

Origin of bells

1965–70; by shortening of the full phrase, as in shorts from short pants




a hollow instrument of cast metal, typically cup-shaped with a flaring mouth, suspended from the vertex and rung by the strokes of a clapper, hammer, or the like.
the stroke or sound of such an instrument: We rose at the bell.
anything in the form of a bell.
the large end of a funnel, or the end of a pipe, tube, or any musical wind instrument, when its edge is turned out and enlarged.
Architecture. the underlying part of a foliated capital.
  1. any of the half-hour units of nautical time rung on the bell of a ship.
  2. each individual ring of the bell, counted with others to reckon the time: It is now four bells.
  3. a signal on the telegraph of a large power vessel, made between the navigating officers and the engineer.
Zoology. umbrella(def 2).
Botany. the bell-shaped corolla of a flower.
Metallurgy. a conical lid that seals the top of a blast furnace and lowers to admit a charge.

verb (used with object)

to cause to swell or expand like a bell (often followed by out): Belling out the tubes will permit a freer passage of air.
to put a bell on.

verb (used without object)

to take or have the form of a bell.
Botany. to produce bells; be in bell (said of hops when the seed vessels are forming).

Origin of bell

before 1000; Middle English, Old English belle; cognate with Dutch bel; derivative of bell2
Related formsbell-less, adjective



verb (used with or without object)

to bellow like a stag in rutting time.
to bay, as a hunting dog.


the cry of a rutting stag or hunting dog.

Origin of bell

1275–1325; Middle English bellen, Old English bellan to roar; cognate with Old High German bellan (German bellen to bark), Middle Dutch bellen, belen, Old Norse belja; akin to Lithuanian bal̃sas voice, Sanskrit bhaṣ- bark, bhāṣ- speak. See bellow, belch




Ac·ton [ak-tuh n] /ˈæk tən/, pen name of Anne Brontë.
Alexander Graham,1847–1922, U.S. scientist, born in Scotland: inventor of the telephone.
(Arthur) Clive (Howard),1881–1964, English critic of literature and art.
Cur·rer [kur-er] /ˈkɜr ər/, pen name of Charlotte Brontë.
Ellis, pen name of Emily Brontë.
James ThomasCool Papa, 1903–91, U.S. baseball player, a Negro Leagues outfielder noted for his speed.
John,1797–1869, U.S. political leader: Speaker of the House 1834–35.
a city in SW California, near Los Angeles. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for bells

Contemporary Examples of bells

Historical Examples of bells

  • It was the work of only a few seconds to unscrew the bells, which he placed on the desk.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • When the bells announced midnight, Sidney roused with a start.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • Once, when he was a man, he heard some bells chiming musically.

  • But quickly after, I began to think, 'How if one of the bells should fall?'

  • As if in dramatic accord with his words, the bells jangled loudly at the gate.

    Tiverton Tales

    Alice Brown

British Dictionary definitions for bells




a hollow, usually metal, cup-shaped instrument that emits a musical ringing sound when struck, often by a clapper hanging inside it
the sound made by such an instrument or device, as for showing the hours or marking the beginning or end of a period of time
an electrical device that rings or buzzes as a signal
the bowl-shaped termination of the tube of certain musical wind instruments, such as the trumpet or oboe
any musical percussion instrument emitting a ringing tone, such as a glockenspiel, one of a set of hand bells, etcCompare chime 1 (def. 3)
nautical a signal rung on a ship's bell to count the number of half-hour intervals during each of six four-hour watches reckoned from midnight. Thus, one bell may signify 12.30, 4.30, or 8.30 a.m. or p.m
biology a structure resembling a bell in shape, such as the corolla of certain flowers or the body of a jellyfish
British slang a telephone call (esp in the phrase give someone a bell)
beat seven bells out of or knock seven bells out of British informal to give a severe beating to
bell, book, and candle
  1. instruments used formerly in excommunications and other ecclesiastical acts
  2. informalthe solemn ritual ratification of such acts
ring a bell to sound familiar; recall to the mind something previously experienced, esp indistinctly
sound as a bell in perfect condition
the bells the ringing of bells, in a church or other public building, at midnight on December 31st, symbolizing the beginning of a new year


to be or cause to be shaped like a bell
(tr) to attach a bell or bells to
bell the cat to undertake a dangerous mission

Word Origin for bell

Old English belle; related to Old Norse bjalla, Middle Low German bell; see bell ²




a bellowing or baying cry, esp that of a hound or a male deer in rut


to utter (such a cry)

Word Origin for bell

Old English bellan; related to Old Norse belja to bellow, Old High German bellan to roar, Sanskrit bhāsate he talks; see bellow



Acton, Currer (ˈkʌrə), and Ellis . pen names of the sisters Anne, Charlotte, and Emily BrontëSee Brontë
Alexander Graham . 1847–1922, US scientist, born in Scotland, who invented the telephone (1876)
Sir Francis Henry Dillon . 1851–1936, New Zealand statesman; prime minister of New Zealand (1925)
Gertrude (Margaret Lowthian). 1868–1926, British traveller, writer, and diplomat; secretary to the British High Commissioner in Baghdad (1917–26)
Joshua. born 1967, US violinist
Dame (Susan) Jocelyn, married name Jocelyn Burnell, born 1943, British radio astronomer, who discovered the first pulsar
Vanessa, original name Vanessa Stephen . 1879–1961, British painter; a member of the Bloomsbury group, sister of Virginia Woolf and wife of the art critic Clive Bell (1881–1964)
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 bells



"attach a bell," late 14c., from bell (n.). Related: Belled; belling. Allusions to the story of the mice that bell the cat (so they can hear him coming) date to 1520s.



Old English belle, common North Sea Germanic (cf. Middle Dutch belle, Middle Low German belle) but not found elsewhere in Germanic (except as a borrowing), from PIE root *bhel- (4) "to sound, roar." Statistical bell curve was coined 1870s in French. Of glasses in the shape of a bell from 1640s. Bell pepper is from 1707, so called for its shape. Bell, book, and candle is a reference to a form of excommunication. To ring a bell "awaken a memory" (1934) is perhaps a reference to Pavlovian experiments.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

bells in Medicine


[bĕl]Sir Charles 1774-1842

British anatomist and surgeon who published detailed anatomies of the nervous system and the brain. He was the first to distinguish between sensory and motor nerves. Bell's Law and Bell's palsy are named for him.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

bells in Science


[bĕl]Alexander Graham 1847-1922

Scottish-born American scientist and inventor whose lifelong interest in the education of deaf people led him to conceive the idea of transmitting speech by electric waves. In 1876 his experiments with a telegraph resulted in his invention of the telephone. He later produced the first successful sound recorder, an early hearing aid, and many other devices.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with bells


In addition to the idiom beginning with bell

  • bell the cat, who will

also see:

  • clear as a bell
  • ring a bell
  • saved by the bell
  • sound as a bell
  • with bells on
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.