adjective, sheer·er, sheer·est.


clear; completely; quite: ran sheer into the thick of battle.
perpendicularly; vertically; down or up very steeply.


a thin, diaphanous material, as chiffon or voile.

Origin of sheer

1175–1225; Middle English scere, shere, schere free, clear, bright, thin; probably < Old Norse skǣrr; change of sk- > s(c)h- perhaps by influence of the related Old English scīr (E dial. shire clear, pure, thin); cognate with German schier, Old Norse skīr, Gothic skeirs clear; see shine1
Related formssheer·ly, adverbsheer·ness, noun
Can be confusedshear sheer

Synonyms for sheer

Antonyms for sheer

1. opaque.



verb (used without object)

to deviate from a course, as a ship; swerve.

verb (used with object)

to cause to sheer.
Shipbuilding. to give sheer to (a hull).


a deviation or divergence, as of a ship from its course; swerve.
Shipbuilding. the fore-and-aft upward curve of the hull of a vessel at the main deck or bulwarks.
Nautical. the position in which a ship at anchor is placed to keep it clear of the anchor.

Origin of sheer

1620–30; special use of sheer1; compare sense development of clear Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for sheer

Contemporary Examples of sheer

Historical Examples of sheer

  • To all the generations before our own matter was a sheer and positive density.

  • On them it is forced from without, by sheer pressure of circumstance.

  • Mary stood silent for a moment from sheer amazement over the change.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • It was as if she found in sheer activity and fatigue a remedy for her uneasiness.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • I laughed out of sheer inanity; every pulse in my body was throbbing.

British Dictionary definitions for sheer




perpendicular; very steepa sheer cliff
(of textiles) so fine as to be transparent
(prenominal) absolute; unmitigatedsheer folly
obsolete bright or shining


steeply or perpendicularly
completely or absolutely


any transparent fabric used for making garments
Derived Formssheerly, adverbsheerness, noun

Word Origin for sheer

Old English scīr; related to Old Norse skīrr bright, Gothic skeirs clear, Middle High German schīr



verb (foll by off or away ( from ))

to deviate or cause to deviate from a course
(intr) to avoid an unpleasant person, thing, topic, etc


the upward sweep of the deck or bulwarks of a vessel
nautical the position of a vessel relative to its mooring

Word Origin for sheer

C17: perhaps variant of shear
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 sheer

c.1200, "exempt, free from guilt" (e.g. Sheer Thursday, the Thursday of Holy Week); later schiere "thin, sparse" (c.1400), from Old English scir "bright, clear, gleaming; translucent; pure, unmixed," and influenced by Old Norse cognate scær "bright, clean, pure," both from Proto-Germanic *skeran- (cf. Old Saxon skiri, Old Frisian skire, German schier, Gothic skeirs "clean, pure"), from PIE root *(s)ker- (1) "to cut" (see shear (v.)).

Sense of "absolute, utter" (sheer nonsense) developed 1580s, probably from the notion of "unmixed;" that of "very steep" (a sheer cliff) is first recorded 1800, probably from notion of "continued without halting." Meaning "diaphanous" is from 1560s. As an adverb from c.1600.


1620s, "deviate from course" (of a ship), of obscure origin, perhaps from Dutch scheren "to move aside, withdraw, depart," originally "to separate" (see shear (v.)). Related: Sheered; shearing. As a noun from 1660s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper