economical (often followed by in or of).
lenient or merciful.
scanty; limited.

Origin of sparing

Middle English word dating back to 1325–75; see origin at spare, -ing2
Related formsspar·ing·ly, adverbspar·ing·ness, nounnon·spar·ing, adjectiveo·ver·spar·ing, adjectiveo·ver·spar·ing·ly, adverbo·ver·spar·ing·ness, noun

Synonyms for sparing



verb (used with object), spared, spar·ing.

to refrain from harming or destroying; leave uninjured; forbear to punish, hurt, or destroy: to spare one's enemy.
to deal gently or leniently with; show consideration for: His harsh criticism spared no one.
to save from strain, discomfort, embarrassment, or the like, or from a particular cause of it: to spare him the bother; to spare her needless embarrassment.
to refrain from, forbear, omit, or withhold, as action or speech: Spare us the gory details.
to refrain from employing, as some instrument or recourse: to spare the rod.
to set aside for a particular purpose: to spare land for a garden.
to give or lend, as from a supply, especially without inconvenience or loss: Can you spare a cup of sugar? Can you spare me a dollar till payday?
to dispense with or do without: We can't spare a single worker during the rush hour.
to use economically or frugally; refrain from using up or wasting: A walnut sundae, and don't spare the whipped cream!
to have remaining as excess or surplus: We can make the curtains and have a yard to spare.

verb (used without object), spared, spar·ing.

to use economy; be frugal.
to refrain from inflicting injury or punishment; exercise lenience or mercy.
Obsolete. to refrain from action; forbear.

adjective, spar·er, spar·est.

kept in reserve, as for possible use: a spare part.
being in excess of present need; free for other use: spare time.
frugally restricted or meager, as a manner of living or a diet: a spare regime.
lean or thin, as a person.
scanty or scant, as in amount or fullness.
economical, moderate, or temperate, as persons; sparing.


a spare thing, part, etc., as an extra tire for emergency use.
Ceramics. an area at the top of a plaster mold for holding excess slip.
  1. the knocking down of all the pins with two bowls.
  2. a score so made.Compare strike(def 69).

Origin of spare

before 900; (v.) Middle English sparen, Old English sparian; cognate with Dutch, German sparen, Old Norse spara; (noun and adj.) Middle English; compare Old English spær sparing, frugal (cognate with Old High German spar, Old Norse sparr
Related formsspare·a·ble, adjectivespare·ly, adverbspare·ness, nounspar·er, nounun·spared, adjective

Synonyms for spare

6. reserve. 14, 15. extra. 17. See thin. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for sparing

Contemporary Examples of sparing

Historical Examples of sparing

  • "Well, I'm not sparing you the 'Be—'," said Donald, busy with the fastenings of the lunch basket.

    Her Father's Daughter

    Gene Stratton-Porter

  • Many of our most energetic and useful workers have been but sparing readers.


    Samuel Smiles

  • But it doesn't present itself to me as a ground for sparing the older generation.

    The Coryston Family

    Mrs. Humphry Ward

  • But after a quarrel, when the laundress had bullied her, the old woman was not sparing in her allusions.


    Emile Zola

  • Was this his clemency—this sparing of my life that he might submit it to an eternal shame?

    The Shame of Motley

    Raphael Sabatini

British Dictionary definitions for sparing



(sometimes foll by with or of) economical or frugal (with)
scanty; meagre
merciful or lenient
Derived Formssparingly, adverbsparingness, noun



(tr) to refrain from killing, punishing, harming, or injuring
(tr) to release or relieve, as from pain, suffering, etc
(tr) to refrain from usingspare the rod, spoil the child
(tr) to be able to afford or giveI can't spare the time
(usually passive) (esp of Providence) to allow to surviveI'll see you again next year if we are spared
(intr) rare to act or live frugally
(intr) rare to show mercy
not spare oneself to exert oneself to the full
to spare more than is requiredtwo minutes to spare


(often immediately postpositive) in excess of what is needed; additionalare there any seats spare?
able to be used when neededa spare part
(of a person) thin and lean
scanty or meagre
(postpositive) British slang upset, angry, or distracted (esp in the phrase go spare)


a duplicate kept as a replacement in case of damage or loss
a spare tyre
tenpin bowling
  1. the act of knocking down all the pins with the two bowls of a single frame
  2. the score thus madeCompare strike (def. 40)
Derived Formssparely, adverbspareness, nounsparer, noun

Word Origin for spare

Old English sparian to refrain from injuring; related to Old Norse spara, Old High German sparōn
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 sparing



Old English sparian "to refrain from harming, to allow to go free," from the source of Old English spær "sparing, frugal," from Proto-Germanic *sparaz (cf. Old Frisian sparia, Old Norse spara, Old High German sparon "to spare"). Meaning "to dispense from one's own stock" is recorded from early 13c. Related: Spared; sparing.



"kept in reserve, not used," late 14c., from spare (v.). Old English had spær "spare, frugal." In reference to time, from mid-15c.; sense of "flimsy, thin" is recorded from 1540s. Spare part is attested from 1888.



"extra thing or part," 1640s, from spare (v.). Middle English noun sense was "mercy, leniency" (early 14c.). Bowling sense of "a knocking down of all pins in two bowls" is attested from 1849, American English.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with sparing


In addition to the idioms beginning with spare

  • spare the rod and spoil the child
  • spare tire

also see:

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