[pa-stel; especially British pas-tl]



having a soft, subdued shade.
drawn with pastels: a pastel portrait.

Origin of pastel

1655–65; < French < Italian pastello < Late Latin pastellus, variant of Latin pastillus (see pastille)




the woad plant.
the dye made from it.

Origin of pastel

1570–80; < Middle French < Provençal < Medieval Latin pastellum (neuter) woad (orig. woad paste), for Late Latin pastellus (masculine), diminutive of pasta paste; change of gender by influence of Latin glastum woad Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for pastel

delicate, light, pale, toned

Examples from the Web for pastel

Contemporary Examples of pastel

Historical Examples of pastel

  • This was painted from life in pastel, by William Williams, at Philadelphia in 1794.

  • The tunnel entrance glowed with the pastel radiance from the rocks.

    The World Beyond

    Raymond King Cummings

  • It was all right if you shut your eyes, for Miriam wasn't what you'd call a pastel.

    Shorty McCabe

    Sewell Ford

  • Fields fled beneath them, looking like a crazy-quilt in pastel.

    Breaking Point

    James E. Gunn

  • A pastel that I have just begun—the portrait of the Princesse de Ponteve.

    Strong as Death

    Guy de Maupassant

British Dictionary definitions for pastel



  1. a substance made of ground pigment bound with gum, used for making sticks for drawing
  2. a crayon of this
  3. a drawing done in such crayons
the medium or technique of pastel drawing
a pale delicate colour
a light prose work, esp a poetic one
another name for woad


(of a colour) pale; delicatepastel blue
Derived Formspastelist or pastellist, noun

Word Origin for pastel

C17: via French from Italian pastello, from Late Latin pastellus woad compounded into a paste, diminutive of pasta paste 1
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 pastel

1660s, "crayons, chalk-like pigment used in crayons," from French pastel "crayon," from Italian pastello "a pastel," literally "material reduced to a paste," from Late Latin pastellus "dye from the leaves of the woad plant," diminutive of pasta (see pasta). Meaning "pale or light color" (like that of pastels) first recorded 1899. As an adjective from 1884.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper