[ inch ]
/ ɪntʃ /


a unit of length, 1/12 (0.0833) foot, equivalent to 2.54 centimeters.
a very small amount of anything; narrow margin: to win by an inch; to avert disaster by an inch.

verb (used with or without object)

to move by inches or small degrees: We inched our way along the road.

Nearby words

  1. incessancy,
  2. incessant,
  3. incest,
  4. incestuous,
  5. incestuously,
  6. inch along,
  7. inch by inch,
  8. inch of mercury,
  9. inch plant,
  10. inch-pound


Origin of inch

before 1000; Middle English; Old English ynce < Latin uncia twelfth part, inch, ounce. See ounce1 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for by inches


/ (ɪntʃ) /



to move or be moved very slowly or in very small stepsthe car inched forward
(tr foll by out) to defeat (someone) by a very small margin

Word Origin for inch

Old English ynce, from Latin uncia twelfth part; see ounce 1


/ (ɪntʃ) /


Scot and Irish a small island

Word Origin for inch

C15: from Gaelic innis island; compare Welsh ynys

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 by inches
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Science definitions for by inches


[ ĭnch ]

A unit of length in the US Customary System equal to 112 of a foot (2.54 centimeters). See Table at measurement.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with by inches

by inches

Also, inch by inch. Gradually, bit by bit, as in We found ourselves in rush hour traffic, moving by inches. Shakespeare used this term in Coriolanus (5:4): “They'll give him death by inches.” Despite the increasing use of metric measurements, it survives, often as an exaggeration of the actual circumstance. The phrase to inch along, first recorded in 1812, means “to move bit by bit,” as in There was a long line at the theater, just inching along.


In addition to the idioms beginning with inch

  • inch along
  • inch by inch

also see:

  • by inches
  • every inch
  • give an inch
  • within an ace (inch) of
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.