[ vahr-nish ]
See synonyms for: varnishvarnishedvarnishing on

  1. a preparation consisting of resinous matter, as copal or lac, dissolved in an oil (oil varnish ) or in alcohol (spirit varnish ) or other volatile liquid. When applied to the surface of wood, metal, etc., it dries and leaves a hard, more or less glossy, usually transparent coating.

  2. the sap of certain trees, used for the same purpose (natural varnish ).

  1. any of various other preparations similarly used, as one having India rubber, pyroxylin, or asphalt as its chief constituent.

  2. a coating or surface of varnish.

  3. something resembling or suggesting a coat of varnish; gloss.

  4. superficial polish or external show, especially to conceal some defect or inadequacy: The play has a varnish of witty dialogue.

  5. British. nail polish.

verb (used with object)
  1. to apply varnish to; coat or cover with varnish.

  2. to give a glossy appearance to.

  1. to give an improved appearance to; adorn.

  2. to give a superficially pleasing appearance to, especially in order to deceive: to varnish the truth.

Origin of varnish

1300–50; Middle English varnisch<Middle French vernis, verniz<Medieval Latin vernicium sandarac <Medieval Greek bernī́kē, syncopated variant of Greek Berenī́kē, city in Cyrenaica

Other words for varnish

Other words from varnish

  • var·nish·er, noun
  • var·nish·y, adjective
  • re·var·nish, verb (used with object)
  • well-varnished, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use varnish in a sentence

  • Don' you think I'm blind and can't tell when you boys dig a broom into a varnished buggy!

    A Hoosier Chronicle | Meredith Nicholson
  • It is quite difficult to keep from making finger marks on freshly varnished boards used as bases on electric devices.

British Dictionary definitions for varnish


/ (ˈvɑːnɪʃ) /

  1. Also called: oil varnish a preparation consisting of a solvent, a drying oil, and usually resin, rubber, bitumen, etc, for application to a surface where it polymerizes to yield a hard glossy, usually transparent, coating

  2. a similar preparation consisting of a substance, such as shellac or cellulose ester, dissolved in a volatile solvent, such as alcohol. It hardens to a film on evaporation of the solvent: See also spirit varnish

  1. Also called: natural varnish the sap of certain trees used to produce such a coating

  2. a smooth surface, coated with or as with varnish

  3. an artificial, superficial, or deceptively pleasing manner, covering, etc; veneer

  4. mainly British another word for nail polish

  1. to cover with varnish

  2. to give a smooth surface to, as if by painting with varnish

  1. to impart a more attractive appearance to

  2. to make superficially attractive

Origin of varnish

C14: from Old French vernis, from Medieval Latin veronix sandarac, resin, from Medieval Greek berenikē, perhaps from Greek Berenikē, city in Cyrenaica, Libya where varnishes were used

Derived forms of varnish

  • varnisher, noun

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