• synonyms


  1. the head or leader of an organized body of people; the person highest in authority: the chief of police.
  2. the head or ruler of a tribe or clan: an Indian chief.
  3. (initial capital letter) U.S. Army. a title of some advisers to the Chief of Staff, who do not, in most instances, command the troop units of their arms or services: Chief of Engineers; Chief Signal Officer.
  4. Informal. boss or leader: We'll have to talk to the chief about this.
  5. Heraldry.
    1. the upper area of an escutcheon.
    2. an ordinary occupying this area.
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  1. highest in rank or authority: the chief priest; the chief administrator.
  2. most important; principal: his chief merit; the chief difficulty.
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  1. Archaic. chiefly; principally.
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  1. in chief,
    1. in the chief position; highest in rank (used in combination): editor in chief; commander in chief.
    2. Heraldry.in the upper part of an escutcheon.
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Origin of chief

1250–1300; Middle English < Anglo-French chief, chef, Old French chef < Vulgar Latin *capum, re-formation of Latin caput head
Related formschief·less, adjectivechief·ship, nounsub·chief, nounun·der·chief, noun
Can be confusedchef chief


Synonym study

7. See capital1.


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for sub-chief

Historical Examples

  • Even a sub-chief of the Dakotas shall not live to be their tool.

    Under Fire

    Charles King

  • A youth, but to manhood grown, and wearing the insignia of a sub-chief.

  • The second assistant to a second assistant of a sub-chief of a sub-division may have entered.

  • He was sub-chief of Morelia, and is often mentioned in the Truth charges.

  • In council of the secret clan the war-prophet and the sub-chief voiced for war.

    The Way of an Indian

    Frederic Remington

British Dictionary definitions for sub-chief


  1. the head, leader, or most important individual in a group or body of people
  2. another word for chieftain (def. 2)
  3. heraldry the upper third of a shield
  4. in chief primarily; especially
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  1. (prenominal)
    1. most important; principal
    2. highest in rank or authority
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  1. archaic principally
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Word Origin

C13: from Old French, from Latin caput head
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 sub-chief



c.1300, "highest in rank or power; most important or prominent; supreme, best," from Old French chief "chief, principal, first" (10c., Modern French chef), from Vulgar Latin *capum (also source of Spanish and Portuguese cabo, Italian capo, Provençal cap), from Latin caput "head," also "leader, guide, chief person; summit; capital city" (see capitulum).

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c.1300, "head, leader, captain; the principal or most important part of anything;" from Old French chief "leader, ruler, head" of something, "capital city" (10c., Modern French chef), from Vulgar Latin *capum, from Latin caput "head," also "leader, chief person; summit; capital city" (see capitulum). Meaning "head of a clan" is from 1570s; later extended to American Indian tribes. Commander-in-chief attested from 1660s.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper