[muhth-er-uh v-purl]
  1. a hard, iridescent substance that forms the inner layer of certain mollusk shells, used for making buttons, beads, etc.; nacre.
  1. of or having the qualities of mother-of-pearl, as being iridescent or pearly: mother-of-pearl buttons.

Origin of mother-of-pearl

1500–10; compare Italian madreperla, obsolete French mère perle Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for mother-of-pearl

Historical Examples of mother-of-pearl

  • One moment he lay there, glowing like mother-of-pearl, a rare fish, fresh from the sea.

  • Once he crossed his eyes at me, meditatively, above the mother-of-pearl rims.


    Joseph Conrad and F.M. Hueffer

  • The slant rays of the sun struck them and turned them mother-of-pearl.

    The Long Roll

    Mary Johnston

  • We saw a number of divers preparing to go off to get pearls, mother-of-pearl, etc.

  • Without, it had the tints of the mother-of-pearl, while its framework was of silver.

    The Angel Children

    Charlotte M. Higgins

British Dictionary definitions for mother-of-pearl


  1. a hard iridescent substance, mostly calcium carbonate, that forms the inner layer of the shells of certain molluscs, such as the oyster. It is used to make buttons, inlay furniture, etcAlso called: nacre Related adjective: nacreous
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

mother-of-pearl in Science


  1. The hard, smooth, pearly layer on the inside of certain seashells, such as abalones and certain oysters. It is used to make buttons and jewelry. Also called nacre
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.