Origin of mains

1425–75; late Middle English, plural of main, aphetic variant of Middle English demain, demeine demesne


  1. chief in size, extent, or importance; principal; leading: the company's main office; the main features of a plan.
  2. sheer; utmost, as strength or force: to lift a stone by main force.
  3. of or relating to a broad expanse: main sea.
  4. Grammar. syntactically independent; capable of use in isolation.Compare dependent(def 4), independent(def 14), main clause.
  5. Nautical.
    1. of or relating to a mainmast.
    2. noting or pertaining to a sail, yard, boom, etc., or to any rigging belonging to a mainmast.
    3. noting any stay running aft and upward to the head of a mainmast: main topmast stay.
  6. Obsolete.
    1. having or exerting great strength or force; mighty.
    2. having momentous or important results; significant.
  1. a principal pipe or duct in a system used to distribute water, gas, etc.
  2. physical strength, power, or force: to struggle with might and main.
  3. the chief or principal part or point: The main of their investments was lost during the war.
  4. Literary. the open ocean; high sea: the bounding main.
  5. the mainland.
  6. Usually mains. a main course in a meal: The restaurant offers four mains: one chicken, two beef, and one fish.
  1. South Midland U.S. (chiefly Appalachian ). very; exceedingly: The dogs treed a main big coon.
verb (used with or without object)
  1. Slang. mainline.
  1. 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


  1. a cockfighting match.

Origin of main

1560–70; perhaps special use of main1; compare main chance


[meyn; German mahyn]
  1. a river in central and W Germany, flowing W from the Bohemian Forest in N Bavaria into the Rhine at Mainz. 305 miles (490 km) long. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for mains

Contemporary Examples of mains

  • Average price per person, with starters, mains, and ample alcohol will run about 400 rand or roughly $60 per person.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Gal With a Suitcase

    Jolie Hunt

    July 10, 2010

  • Prices range from $12 to 18 for starters and $24 to 32 for mains.

    The Daily Beast logo
    The Easygoing Flair of San Francisco

    Jolie Hunt

    April 10, 2010

Historical Examples of mains

British Dictionary definitions for mains


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


adjective (prenominal)
  1. chief or principal in rank, importance, size, etc
  2. sheer or utmost (esp in the phrase by main force)
  3. nautical of, relating to, or denoting any gear, such as a stay or sail, belonging to the mainmast
  4. obsolete significant or important
  1. a principal pipe, conduit, duct, or line in a system used to distribute water, electricity, etc
  2. (plural)
    1. the main distribution network for water, gas, or electricity
    2. (as modifier)mains voltage
  3. the chief or most important part or consideration
  4. great strength or force (now chiefly in the phrase (with) might and main)
  5. literary the open ocean
  6. archaic short for Spanish Main
  7. archaic short for mainland
  8. in the main or for the main on the whole; for the most part

Word Origin for main

C13: from Old English mægen strength


  1. a throw of the dice in dice games
  2. a cockfighting contest
  3. 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 mains



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 mains


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.