the act of a person or thing that swells.
the condition of being or becoming swollen.
a swollen part; a protuberance or prominence.
Pathology. an abnormal enlargement or protuberance, as that resulting from edema.

Origin of swelling

before 900; Middle English, Old English; see swell, -ing1
Related formsun·swell·ing, adjective



verb (used without object), swelled, swol·len or swelled, swell·ing.

to grow in bulk, as by the absorption of moisture or the processes of growth.
Pathology. to increase abnormally in size, as by inflation, distention, accumulation of fluids, or the like: Her ankles swelled from standing.
to rise in waves, as the sea.
to well up, as a spring or as tears.
to bulge out, as a sail or the middle of a cask.
to grow in amount, degree, force, etc.
to increase gradually in volume or intensity, as sound: The music swelled.
to arise and grow within one, as a feeling or emotion.
to become puffed up with pride.

verb (used with object), swelled, swol·len or swelled, swell·ing.

to cause to grow in bulk.
to cause to increase gradually in loudness: to swell a musical tone.
to cause (a thing) to bulge out or be protuberant.
to increase in amount, degree, force, etc.
to affect with a strong, expansive emotion.
to puff up with pride.


the act of swelling or the condition of being swollen.
inflation or distention.
a protuberant part.
a wave, especially when long and unbroken, or a series of such waves.
a gradually rising elevation of the land.
an increase in amount, degree, force, etc.
a gradual increase in loudness of sound.
  1. a gradual increase (crescendo) followed by a gradual decrease (diminuendo) in loudness or force of musical sound.
  2. the sign (< >) for indicating this.
  3. a device, as in an organ, by which the loudness of tones may be varied.
a swelling of emotion within one.
  1. a fashionably dressed person; dandy.
  2. a socially prominent person.

adjective Informal.

(of things) stylish; elegant: a swell hotel.
(of persons) fashionably dressed or socially prominent.
first-rate; fine: a swell party.

Origin of swell

before 900; Middle English swellen (v.), Old English swellan; cognate with Dutch zwellen, German schwellen, Old Norse svella; akin to Gothic ufswalleins pride
Related formsre·swell, verb, re·swelled, re·swelled or re·swol·len, re·swell·ing.un·der·swell, verb (used without object), un·der·swelled, un·der·swelled or un·der·swol·len, un·der·swell·ing.un·der·swell, nounun·swelled, adjective

Synonyms for swell

1. distend, expand. 5. protrude. 10. inflate, expand. 17. swelling. 18. bulge. 19. billow. 27, 28. grand.

Antonyms for swell

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

Examples from the Web for swelling

Contemporary Examples of swelling

Historical Examples of swelling

  • And he added, swelling visibly with importance: "We got to protect the city."

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • Charles's house on the left; on the right the swelling forms of the Six Hills.

    Howards End

    E. M. Forster

  • The emotion of the moment was swelling over Roma like a flood.

  • She helped him to keep his feet on the ground and his head from swelling.


    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • His limbs pained although they were swelling to enormous size.

    The Manxman

    Hall Caine

British Dictionary definitions for swelling



the act of expansion or inflation
the state of being or becoming swollen
a swollen or inflated part or area
an abnormal enlargement of a bodily structure or part, esp as the result of injury
Related formsRelated adjective: tumescent


verb swells, swelling, swelled, swollen or swelled

to grow or cause to grow in size, esp as a result of internal pressureCompare contract (def. 1), contract (def. 3)
to expand or cause to expand at a particular point or above the surrounding level; protrude
to grow or cause to grow in size, amount, intensity, or degreethe party is swelling with new recruits
to puff or be puffed up with pride or another emotion
(intr) (of seas or lakes) to rise in waves
(intr) to well up or overflow
(tr) to make (a musical phrase) increase gradually in volume and then diminish


  1. the undulating movement of the surface of the open sea
  2. a succession of waves or a single large wave
a swelling or being swollen; expansion
an increase in quantity or degree; inflation
a bulge; protuberance
a gentle hill
informal a person very fashionably dressed
informal a man of high social or political standing
music a crescendo followed by an immediate diminuendo
Also called: swell organ music
  1. a set of pipes on an organ housed in a box (swell box) fitted with a shutter operated by a pedal, which can be opened or closed to control the volume
  2. the manual on an organ controlling thisCompare choir (def. 4), great (def. 21)


informal stylish or grand
slang excellent; first-class

Word Origin for swell

Old English swellan; related to Old Norse svella, Old Frisian swella, German schwellen
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 swelling



Old English swellan "grow or make bigger" (past tense sweall, past participle swollen), from Proto-Germanic *swelnanan (cf. Old Saxon swellan, Old Norse svella, Old Frisian swella, Middle Dutch swellen, Dutch zwellen, Old High German swellan, German schwellen), of unknown origin.



early 13c., "a morbid swelling," from swell (v.). In reference to a rise of the sea, it is attested from c.1600. The meaning "wealthy, elegant person" is first recorded 1786; hence the adjectival meaning "fashionably dressed or equipped" (1810), both from the notion of "puffed-up, pompous" behavior. The sense of "good, excellent" first occurs 1897, and as a stand-alone expression of satisfaction it is recorded from 1930 in American English.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Medicine definitions for swelling




Something swollen, especially an abnormally swollen body part or area.
A primordial elevation that develops into a fold, ridge, or process.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.