adjective, deaf·er, deaf·est.
  1. partially or wholly lacking or deprived of the sense of hearing; unable to hear.
  2. refusing to listen, heed, or be persuaded; unreasonable or unyielding: deaf to all advice.
  3. (initial capital letter) of or relating to the Deaf or their cultural community: Deaf customs and values.
noun (used with a plural verb)
  1. deaf persons collectively (usually preceded by the): social services for the deaf.
  2. (initial capital letter) deaf persons who identify themselves as members of a community composed of deaf persons and others who share in their culture (usually preceded by the).

Origin of deaf

before 900; Middle English deef, Old English dēaf; cognate with Middle Low German dōf, Dutch doof, Old High German toub
Related formsdeaf·ly, adverbdeaf·ness, nounhalf-deaf, adjectivenon·deaf, adjectivenon·deaf·ly, adverbnon·deaf·ness, nounqua·si-deaf, adjectivequa·si-deaf·ly, adverbsem·i·deaf, adjectivesem·i·deaf·ness, nounun·deaf, adjective

Pronunciation note

Deaf is usually pronounced [def] /dɛf/, with the vowel of left. In uneducated speech the dialectal pronunciation [deef] /dif/, to rhyme with leaf, is still heard occasionally, but it is increasingly rare.

Usage note

See dumb. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for deafness

Contemporary Examples of deafness

Historical Examples of deafness

  • After all, Silence is only man's confession of his deafness.

    Ballads of a Bohemian

    Robert W. Service

  • But except for the felicitous pretense of deafness I had not tried to pretend anything.

    The Secret Sharer

    Joseph Conrad

  • The malady of the Treasury benches is deafness, with a touch of blindness.

    The Fortunes Of Glencore

    Charles James Lever

  • No matter what the degree of deafness may be do not neglect to see a physician about it.

    Boy Scouts Handbook

    Boy Scouts of America

  • His voice was heavy and his deafness was reflected in the strained tone.

    Nan of Music Mountain

    Frank H. Spearman

British Dictionary definitions for deafness


    1. partially or totally unable to hear
    2. (as collective noun; preceded by the)the deaf See also tone-deaf
  1. refusing to heeddeaf to the cries of the hungry
Derived Formsdeafly, adverbdeafness, noun

Word Origin for deaf

Old English dēaf; related to Old Norse daufr


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 deafness

late 14c., from deaf + -ness.



Old English deaf "deaf," also "empty, barren," specialized from Proto-Germanic *daubaz (cf. Old Saxon dof, Old Norse daufr, Old Frisian daf, Dutch doof "deaf," German taub, Gothic daufs "deaf, insensate"), from PIE dheubh-, which was used to form words meaning "confusion, stupefaction, dizziness" (cf. Greek typhlos "blind).

The word was pronounced to rhyme with reef until 18c. Deaf-mute is from 1837, after French sourd-muet. Deaf-mutes were sought after in 18c.-19c. Britain as fortune-tellers. Deaf as an adder (Old English) is from Psalms lviii:5.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

deafness in Medicine


  1. The lack or loss of the ability to hear.


  1. Partially or completely lacking in the sense of hearing.
  2. Deaf Of or relating to the Deaf or their culture.
  1. Deaf people considered as a group.
  2. Deaf The community of deaf people who use American Sign Language as a primary means of communication.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

deafness in Science


  1. The lack or severe impairment of the ability to hear. Deafness is usually genetic or congenital as a result of prenatal viral infection, birth trauma, or other causes. Acquired deafness is caused mostly by drug toxicity, trauma, and certain diseases. Cochlear implants are used to treat some forms of deafness.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with deafness


In addition to the idiom beginning with deaf

  • deaf as a post

also see:

  • fall on deaf ears
  • stone deaf
  • turn a deaf ear
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.