[fur-tl or, esp. British, -tahyl]
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  1. bearing, producing, or capable of producing vegetation, crops, etc., abundantly; prolific: fertile soil.
  2. bearing or capable of bearing offspring.
  3. abundantly productive: a fertile imagination.
  4. producing an abundance (usually followed by of or in): a land fertile of wheat.
  5. conducive to productiveness: fertile showers.
  6. Biology.
    1. fertilized, as an egg or ovum; fecundated.
    2. capable of growth or development, as seeds or eggs.
  7. Botany.
    1. capable of producing sexual reproductive structures.
    2. capable of causing fertilization, as an anther with fully developed pollen.
    3. having spore-bearing organs, as a frond.
  8. Physics. (of a nuclide) capable of being transmuted into a fissile nuclide by irradiation with neutrons: Uranium 238 and thorium 232 are fertile nuclides.Compare fissile(def 2).
  9. produced in abundance.

Origin of fertile

1425–75; late Middle English (< Middle French) < Latin fertilis fruitful, akin to ferre to bear1; see -ile
Related formsfer·tile·ly, adverbfer·tile·ness, nounhalf-fer·tile, adjectivehalf-fer·tile·ly, adverbhalf-fer·tile·ness, nounnon·fer·tile, adjectiveo·ver·fer·tile, adjectivepre·fer·tile, adjectiveun·fer·tile, adjective

Synonyms for fertile

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1–3. fecund, teeming. See productive.

Antonyms for fertile

1–3. sterile, barren.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for fertile


  1. capable of producing offspring
    1. (of land) having nutrients capable of sustaining an abundant growth of plants
    2. (of farm animals) capable of breeding stock
  2. biology
    1. capable of undergoing growth and developmentfertile seeds; fertile eggs
    2. (of plants) capable of producing gametes, spores, seeds, or fruits
  3. producing many offspring; prolific
  4. highly productive; rich; abundanta fertile brain
  5. physics (of a substance) able to be transformed into fissile or fissionable material, esp in a nuclear reactor
  6. conducive to productivenessfertile rain
Derived Formsfertilely, adverbfertileness, noun

Word Origin for fertile

C15: from Latin fertilis, from ferre to bear
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 fertile

mid-15c., from Middle French fertil and directly from Latin fertilis "bearing in abundance, fruitful, productive," from ferre "to bear" (see infer). Fertile Crescent (1914) was coined by U.S. archaeologist James H. Breasted (1865-1935).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

fertile in Medicine


  1. Capable of conceiving and bearing young.
  2. Fertilized. Used of an ovum.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

fertile in Science


  1. Capable of producing offspring, seeds, or fruit.
  2. Capable of developing into a complete organism; fertilized.
  3. Capable of supporting plant life; favorable to the growth of crops and plants.
Related formsfertility noun
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.