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noun (usually used with a plural verb)
  1. shear(def 16).
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adjective, sheer·er, sheer·est.
  1. transparently thin; diaphanous, as some fabrics: sheer stockings.
  2. unmixed with anything else: We drilled a hundred feet through sheer rock.
  3. unqualified; utter: sheer nonsense.
  4. extending down or up very steeply; almost completely vertical: a sheer descent of rock.
  5. British Obsolete. bright; shining.
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  1. clear; completely; quite: ran sheer into the thick of battle.
  2. perpendicularly; vertically; down or up very steeply.
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  1. a thin, diaphanous material, as chiffon or voile.
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Origin of sheer1

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


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1. opaque.


verb (used without object)
  1. to deviate from a course, as a ship; swerve.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to cause to sheer.
  2. Shipbuilding. to give sheer to (a hull).
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  1. a deviation or divergence, as of a ship from its course; swerve.
  2. Shipbuilding. the fore-and-aft upward curve of the hull of a vessel at the main deck or bulwarks.
  3. Nautical. the position in which a ship at anchor is placed to keep it clear of the anchor.
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Origin of sheer2

1620–30; special use of sheer1; compare sense development of clear
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


Examples from the Web for sheers

Historical Examples

  • Failing in that, it generally shears off a limb before it sheers away.

    Punchinello, Vol. 1, No. 17, July 23, 1870


  • I should not be far off then; there went but a pair of sheers and a bodkin between us.

  • She has badly overrun her station, and sheers to the left of our leading ship.

    A Fleet in Being

    Rudyard Kipling

  • Drop it when I tell you and let the kedge go after she sheers!

  • For this purpose the smallest chain-cable was used, the rudder being raised from the deck by means of sheers.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

British Dictionary definitions for sheers


  1. perpendicular; very steepa sheer cliff
  2. (of textiles) so fine as to be transparent
  3. (prenominal) absolute; unmitigatedsheer folly
  4. obsolete bright or shining
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  1. steeply or perpendicularly
  2. completely or absolutely
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  1. any transparent fabric used for making garments
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Derived Formssheerly, adverbsheerness, noun

Word Origin

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


verb (foll by off or away ( from ))
  1. to deviate or cause to deviate from a course
  2. (intr) to avoid an unpleasant person, thing, topic, etc
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  1. the upward sweep of the deck or bulwarks of a vessel
  2. nautical the position of a vessel relative to its mooring
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Word Origin

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 sheers



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.

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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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper