in the main, for the most part; chiefly: In the main, the novel was dull reading.

Origin of main

before 900; (noun) Middle English meyn, mayn strength, power, Old English mægen, cognate with Old Norse megin(n), megn strength; (adj.) Middle English mayn, partly < Old Norse megenn, megn strong, partly independent use of Old English mægen (noun) taken as an adj. in compounds, as in mægen-weorc, literally, work of might

Synonyms for main

Antonyms for main Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for in the main



a river in central and W Germany, flowing west through Würzburg and Frankfurt to the Rhine. Length: about 515 km (320 miles)



adjective (prenominal)

chief or principal in rank, importance, size, etc
sheer or utmost (esp in the phrase by main force)
nautical of, relating to, or denoting any gear, such as a stay or sail, belonging to the mainmast
obsolete significant or important


a principal pipe, conduit, duct, or line in a system used to distribute water, electricity, etc
  1. the main distribution network for water, gas, or electricity
  2. (as modifier)mains voltage
the chief or most important part or consideration
great strength or force (now chiefly in the phrase (with) might and main)
literary the open ocean
archaic short for Spanish Main
archaic short for mainland
in the main or for the main on the whole; for the most part

Word Origin for main

C13: from Old English mægen strength




a throw of the dice in dice games
a cockfighting contest
a match in archery, boxing, etc

Word Origin for main

C16: of unknown origin
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 in the main



Old English mægen (n.) "power, bodily strength, force, efficacy," from Proto-Germanic *maginam "power," suffixed form of PIE root *magh- (1) "be able, have power" (see may (v.)). Original sense preserved in phrase with might and main. Meaning "principal channel in a utility system" is first recorded 1727 in main drain; Used since 1540s for "continuous stretch of land or water." In Spanish Main the word is short for mainland and refers to the coast between Panama and Orinoco.



early 13c., "large, bulky, strong," from Old English mægen- "power, strength, force," used in compounds (e.g. mægensibb "great love," mægenbyrðen "heavy burden;" see main (n.)), probably also from or influenced by Old Norse megenn (adj.) "strong, powerful." Sense of "chief" is c.1400. Main course in the meal sense attested from 1829. Main man "favorite male friend; hero" is from 1967, U.S. black slang.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with in the main

in the main

For the most part, chiefly, as in It was an excellent conference in the main. [First half of 1600s]


In addition to the idioms beginning with main

  • main drag
  • main squeeze

also see:

  • eye to the main chance
  • in the main
  • might and main
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.