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Origin of pedal

1605–15; (<French pédale) <Latin pedālis of the feet. See ped-2, -al1


pedal , peddle, petal
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What does pedal mean?

A pedal is a foot-operated lever that controls some kind of mechanism. The most common kinds of pedals are those on a bicycle, the brake pedal and gas pedal (accelerator) in a car, and the pedals used in musical instruments like pianos and organs.

Pedal can also be a verb meaning to operate a pedal, as in You’d better pedal faster! In American English, the past tense is spelled pedaled and the continuous tense is spelled pedaling. In British English, as with many other words, the l is doubled: pedalled and pedalling.

Example: When I was a kid, I liked to pedal my bike as fast as I could and then take my feet off the pedals and watch them keep spinning.

Where does pedal come from?

The first records of pedal come from the 1600s. It comes from the Latin pedālis, meaning “of the feet,” from pēs, meaning “foot.” The root pēs and its variants ped- and pedi- give us a lot of words related to feet, such as pedestrian (someone who travels by foot) and pedicure.

There are a lot of different kinds of pedals, but they all have at least one thing in common—they’re made to be operated with the foot.

Most pedals are one of two types. Some are levers that are used to turn a wheel. The pedals on a bicycle power the chain wheel, which then turns the wheels.

Other types of pedals are more like switches: when pressed with the foot, they control another mechanism. The gas pedal in a car is called the gas pedal because it controls the amount of fuel that goes to the engine—the more fuel, the faster the car will go. In a piano, the pedals are used to sustain a tone or create a muted effect. In organs, they’re used to control deep bass tones. Foot-operated pedals can be hooked up to electric guitars to allow the player to change the quality of the sound. Sewing machines use a pedal to control how rapidly the needle moves up and down.

Pedal should not be confused with the verb peddle (meaning “to go from place to place to sell goods”), which is pronounced exactly the same, or the noun petal (as in a flower petal), which has almost the same pronunciation.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to pedal?

  • pedaled (past tense verb, American English spelling)
  • pedalled (past tense verb, British English spelling)
  • pedaling (continuous tense verb, American English spelling)
  • pedalling (continuous tense verb, British English spelling)

What are some words that share a root or word element with pedal

What are some words that often get used in discussing pedal?

What are some words pedal may be commonly confused with?

How is pedal used in real life?

Pedal is a common word and a common thing—there are all kinds of pedals that we use to operate things with our feet.



Try using pedal!

Is pedal used correctly in the following sentence?

When you’re coasting downhill, you should keep your foot on the brake pedal.

Example sentences from the Web for pedal

British Dictionary definitions for pedal (1 of 2)

/ (ˈpɛdəl) /


  1. any foot-operated lever or other device, esp one of the two levers that drive the chain wheel of a bicycle, the foot brake, clutch control, or accelerator of a car, one of the levers on an organ controlling deep bass notes, or one of the levers on a piano used to create a muted effect or sustain tone
  2. (as modifier)a pedal cycle; a pianist's pedal technique

verb -als, -alling or -alled or US -als, -aling or -aled

to propel (a bicycle, boat, etc) by operating the pedals
(intr) to operate the pedals of an organ, piano, etc, esp in a certain way
to work (pedals of any kind)

Word Origin for pedal

C17: from Latin pedālis; see pedal ²

British Dictionary definitions for pedal (2 of 2)

/ (ˈpiːdəl) /


of or relating to the foot or feet

Word Origin for pedal

C17: from Latin pedālis, from pēs foot
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

Medical definitions for pedal

[ pĕdl, pēdl ]


Of or relating to a foot or footlike part.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with pedal


see soft pedal.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
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