1. an underground passage.
  2. a passageway, as for trains or automobiles, through or under an obstruction, as a city, mountain, river, harbor, or the like.
  3. an approximately horizontal gallery or corridor in a mine.
  4. the burrow of an animal.
  5. Dialect. a funnel.
verb (used with object), tun·neled, tun·nel·ing or (especially British) tun·nelled, tun·nel·ling.
  1. to construct a passageway through or under: to tunnel a mountain.
  2. to make or excavate (a tunnel or underground passage): to tunnel a passage under a river.
  3. to move or proceed by or as if by boring a tunnel: The river tunneled its way through the mountain.
  4. to pierce or hollow out, as with tunnels.
verb (used without object), tun·neled, tun·nel·ing or (especially British) tun·nelled, tun·nel·ling.
  1. to make a tunnel or tunnels: to tunnel through the Alps.

Origin of tunnel

1400–50; late Middle English tonel (noun) < Middle French tonele, tonnelle funnel-shaped net, feminine of tonnel cask, diminutive of tonne tun; see -elle
Related formstun·nel·er; especially British, tun·nel·ler, nountun·nel·like, adjectivesub·tun·nel, nounun·tun·neled, adjectiveun·tun·nelled, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for tunnelling

Historical Examples of tunnelling

  • I knew that by tunnelling either way I should gain no advantage.

    The Boy Tar

    Mayne Reid

  • The possibility of tunnelling in a vertical direction was now apparent.

    The Boy Tar

    Mayne Reid

  • It is a low-grade ore, I should say, and tunnelling and shoring would eat it up.


    F. Hopkinson Smith

  • We are tunnelling into the mountains, where are the great deposits of coal.

  • This tunnelling is also called "sapping" and the tunnel itself a sap.

British Dictionary definitions for tunnelling


  1. an underground passageway, esp one for trains or cars that passes under a mountain, river, or a congested urban area
  2. any passage or channel through or under something
  3. a dialect word for funnel
  4. obsolete the flue of a chimney
verb -nels, -nelling or -nelled or US -nels, -neling or -neled
  1. (tr) to make or force (a way) through or under (something)to tunnel a hole in the wall; to tunnel the cliff
  2. (intr; foll by through, under, etc) to make or force a way (through or under something)he tunnelled through the bracken
Derived Formstunneller or US tunneler, noun

Word Origin for tunnel

C15: from Old French tonel cask, from tonne tun, from Medieval Latin tonna barrel, of Celtic origin
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 tunnelling



mid-15c., "funnel-shaped net for catching birds," from Middle French tonnelle "net," or tonel "cask," diminutive of Old French tonne "tun, cask for liquids," possibly from the same source as Old English tunne (see tun).

Sense of "tube, pipe" (1540s) developed in English and led to sense of "underground passage," which is first attested 1765, about five years after the first modern tunnel was built (on the Grand Trunk Canal in England). This sense subsequently has been borrowed into French (1878). The earlier native word for this was mine. Meaning "burrow of an animal" is from 1873. Tunnel vision first recorded 1949. The figurative phrase light at the end of the tunnel is attested from 1922.



"excavate underground," 1795, from tunnel (n.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

tunnelling in Medicine


  1. A passage located through or under a barrier.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with tunnelling


see light at the end of the tunnel.

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