a British nobleman of a rank below that of marquis and above that of viscount: called count for a time after the Norman conquest. The wife of an earl is a countess.
(in Anglo-Saxon England) a governor of one of the great divisions of England, including East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria, and Wessex.

Origin of earl

before 900; Middle English erl, Old English eorl; cognate with Old Saxon erl man, Old Norse jarl chieftain


or Earle



a male given name: from the old English word meaning “noble.”
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for earl

Contemporary Examples of earl

Historical Examples of earl

  • The latest proprietor of those times was James, Earl of Derby.

    The Grand Old Man

    Richard B. Cook

  • "My aunt will treat the affair like the sensible woman she is," replied the earl.

    Weighed and Wanting

    George MacDonald

  • "Nor for the honor of Scotland either," cried the Earl of Angus.

    The White Company

    Arthur Conan Doyle

  • I like him; I should like him even if he were not an Earl—and his name a career.

  • I didn't think it necessary to correct him as to my refusal of the Earl.

British Dictionary definitions for earl



(in the British Isles) a nobleman ranking below a marquess and above a viscountFemale equivalent: countess
(in Anglo-Saxon England) a royal governor of any of the large divisions of the kingdom, such as Wessex

Word Origin for earl

Old English eorl; related to Old Norse jarl chieftain, Old Saxon erl man
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 earl

Old English eorl "brave man, warrior, leader, chief" (contrasted with ceorl "churl"), from Proto-Germanic *erlo-z, of uncertain origin.

In Anglo-Saxon poetry, "a warrior, a brave man;" in later Old English, "nobleman," especially a Danish under-king (equivalent of cognate Old Norse jarl), then one of the viceroys under the Danish dynasty in England. After 1066 adopted as the equivalent of Latin comes (see count (n.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper