[ tur-tl ]
/ ˈtɜr tl /
Save This Word!

noun, plural tur·tles, (especially collectively) tur·tle.
any reptile of the order Testudines, comprising aquatic and terrestrial species having the trunk enclosed in a shell consisting of a dorsal carapace and a ventral plastron.
(not used technically) an aquatic turtle as distinguished from a terrestrial one.Compare tortoise (def. 1).
verb (used without object), tur·tled, tur·tling.
to catch turtles, especially as a business.
Smoothly step over to these common grammar mistakes that trip many people up. Good luck!
Question 1 of 7
Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.

Idioms about turtle

    turn turtle,
    1. Nautical. to capsize or turn over completely in foundering.
    2. to overturn; upset: Several of the cars turned turtle in the course of the race.

Origin of turtle

1625–35; alteration (influenced by turtle2) of French tortue<Medieval Latin tortūcatortoise


turtler, noun

Other definitions for turtle (2 of 2)

[ tur-tl ]
/ ˈtɜr tl /

noun Archaic.
a turtledove.

Origin of turtle

before 1000; Middle English, Old English <Latin turtur (imitative)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What’s the difference between a turtle and a tortoise?

The words turtle and tortoise are sometimes used interchangeably, and turtle is the more general term. The word tortoise is sometimes used to distinguish a turtle as being a terrestrial (mostly land-dwelling) one, as opposed to an aquatic turtle (one that spends most of its time in water).

However, this doesn’t mean that a turtle is necessarily aquatic simply because it’s called a turtle. For example, the box turtle is primarily terrestrial (it can also be called the box tortoise).

Turtles and tortoises are both reptiles that belong to the order Testudines. Whether something is called a turtle or a tortoise often depends on its habitat and physical features.

Some aquatic turtles, like snapping turtles, have webbed feet, while others, like sea turtles, have flippers. In contrast, turtles that are called tortoises typically have stubby, round feet, and their shells are often more domed.

Here are a few quick questions to help you determine whether it’s more appropriate to call something a turtle or a tortoise.

Q: Does it spend a lot of time in the water and have webbed feet or flippers?
A: It’s probably called a turtle.

Q: Does it live mostly on land and have a domed shell and round feet?
A: There’s a good chance it’s called a tortoise, but this isn’t always the case.

Q: Is it a teenaged, mutant ninja?
A: It’s a turtle.

Still stumped? Ask a herpetologist.

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between turtles and tortoises.

Quiz yourself on turtle vs. tortoise!

Should turtle or tortoise be used in the following sentence?

The huge, land-dwelling _____ of the Galápagos Islands is known as being one of the longest living animals in the world.

How to use turtle in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for turtle (1 of 2)

/ (ˈtɜːtəl) /

any of various aquatic chelonian reptiles, esp those of the marine family Chelonidae, having a flattened shell enclosing the body and flipper-like limbs adapted for swimmingRelated adjectives: chelonian, testudinal
US and Canadian any of the chelonian reptiles, including the tortoises and terrapins
nautical a zip bag made as part of a spinnaker for holding the sail so that it can be set rapidly
turn turtle to capsize
(intr) to catch or hunt turtles

Derived forms of turtle

turtler, noun

Word Origin for turtle

C17: from French tortue tortoise (influenced by turtle ²)

British Dictionary definitions for turtle (2 of 2)

/ (ˈtɜːtəl) /

an archaic name for turtledove

Word Origin for turtle

Old English turtla, from Latin turtur, of imitative origin; related to German Turteltaube
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

Other Idioms and Phrases with turtle


see turn turtle.

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