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. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for sheerly

Contemporary Examples of sheerly

  • Sheerly by chance, some of those scrofulous churls will have some minor position of power in one institution or another.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Who Represents?

    Megan McArdle

    February 19, 2013

  • That came when he chose to review the restaurant I used to work at sheerly because I called him a douche bag.

    The Daily Beast logo
    America's Bad Boy Chef

    Jacob Bernstein

    June 13, 2010

Historical Examples of sheerly

  • Sheerly suicidal, yes, but he was desperate now, and there seemed no other way.

    Slaves of Mercury

    Nat Schachner

  • Thessaly is inspiring, but his influence is sheerly intellectual.

  • Alwynne, eating her wing of chicken, was merely and sheerly shy.

    Regiment of Women

    Clemence Dane

  • Thor grew interested in the sheerly human aspects of the subject.

  • The weariest and the most wistful faces were sheerly transfigured by it.

    If Winter Comes

    A.S.M. Hutchinson

British Dictionary definitions for sheerly




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 sheerly



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