Definition of cardinal in English:



  • 1A leading dignitary of the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinals are nominated by the Pope, and form the Sacred College which elects succeeding popes (now invariably from among their own number)

    ‘his appointment as cardinal’
    as title ‘the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster’
    • ‘When a medieval pope died, elaborate ceremonies transferred his power to the cardinals who would elect the next pope.’
    • ‘Then, as now, the laity did not elect the cardinals or play even a limited role in their selection.’
    • ‘The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church are sealed into the Sistine Chapel for a very secret ballot.’
    • ‘On his first full day as a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, an 82-year-old Jesuit priest was doing a little exploring.’
    • ‘The Roman Catholic Church still awards episcopal rings to bishops, and papal rings to popes and cardinals.’
    • ‘Until 1059 Popes were elected not by cardinals but by the clergy and laity of the diocese of Rome.’
    • ‘He is among the 117 cardinals who make up the conclave that will elect the next pope.’
    • ‘History suggests that colleges of cardinals appointed by one pope do not elect a carbon copy as his successor.’
    • ‘Certainly the pope and the church's cardinals and bishops must correct the mistakes of the past.’
    • ‘A Roman Catholic cardinal prominent in the Counter-Reformation, he was a celebrated spiritual director, and a theologian deeply concerned with the Incarnation.’
    • ‘Most modern conclaves have lasted only a few days, but if cardinals have failed to elect a Pope after about two weeks of balloting, they can opt for a simple majority.’
    • ‘Continuing in Latin, the cardinal said the new pope had taken the name Benedict XVI.’
    • ‘Were the differences among the American cardinals or between the Americans and curial officials?’
    • ‘Black smoke from the roof of the Sistine Chapel signalled that cardinals had failed to elect a new pope in the first ballot of their secret conclave yesterday.’
    • ‘In the weeks before the trip to Rome, I had tried but failed to arrange a meeting with the cardinal who headed the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace.’
    • ‘Probably the oldest College is that which meets in Rome to elect a new pope, consisting of the cardinals of the Church.’
    • ‘White smoke above Rome signalled that the cardinals had elected a new Pope.’
    • ‘In 1378, a disagreement among the cardinals resulted in the election of two rival popes.’
    • ‘For example, the possibility of a North American cardinal being elected pope is just almost nil.’
    • ‘The result is that all but ten of the 135 electing cardinals were nominated by the man himself.’
    1. 1.1mass noun A deep scarlet colour like that of a cardinal's cassock.
      • ‘From a soft blush rose to cardinal to deep wine, red lipsticks put lips in the spotlight.’
      • ‘Harmer sells a range of contemporary pendant lighting, including the Icon glass dome light shades, in colours from petrol blue to cardinal red, priced £109.’
      • ‘Cardinal remained the school color until the 1940's.’
      • ‘During the early 1980s a trend in new homes was to have a colour suite in either brown, green, cardinal red, etc.’
  • 2A New World songbird of the bunting family, having a stout bill and typically a conspicuous crest. The male is partly or mostly red in colour.

    Family Emberizidae, subfamily Cardinalinae (the cardinal grosbeak subfamily): four genera and several species

    • ‘As we were leaving, we stopped to admire the cardinals at the bird feeder by the visitor's center.’
    • ‘Mynah birds and cardinals serenade beach goers and picnickers alike.’
    • ‘Butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, cardinals, bluejays and more visited our gardens.’
    • ‘We saw lots of catbirds, blackbirds, mockingbirds, cardinals, crows, and grackles.’
    • ‘Can you imagine that 50 years ago there were no cardinals in Massachusetts?’
    • ‘The rest of them, save the one single cardinal that keeps evading my lens, I'm not sure what they are.’
    • ‘Finches, grosbeaks, titmice, nuthatches, sparrows, and cardinals will beat a path to your door.’
    • ‘Birds such as goldfinches, orioles, and cardinals owe their colorful plumages to carotenoids.’
    • ‘Female cardinals also have crests, but their coloring is more subdued.’
    • ‘I guess this is a good time to spot young cardinals, so keep your eyes open.’
    • ‘As we had learned from those first brave chickadees, the cardinal, the robin family, and now the sparrow, communion with another life can change your perspective on the world.’
    • ‘Tube feeders come in many sizes and attract jays, cardinals, finches, chickadees, titmice and others.’
    • ‘Hester and Fanny have filled our old bird feeder and have had so much fun watching the robins and the cardinals come and eat the seeds that they put inside.’
    • ‘It turns out that multiple paternity is very common, even among beloved backyard birds like the cardinal and robin.’
    • ‘I heard the peeping of a young, hungry cardinal, and I heard the soft cry of a nuthatch.’
    • ‘He went on, in his East Texas drawl, to tell me about his four feeders and eight male cardinals and the other visitors, including one he was especially proud of.’
    • ‘Birds that overwinter in the northeastern U.S., like the red cardinal, are also the first to herald the onset of spring.’
    • ‘Chickadees, cardinals, doves, and robins came and went, and a grackle made a racket in the woods.’
    • ‘I don't want to see more goldfinches, chickadees, herons or cardinals.’
    • ‘Use a feeder that holds sunflower seeds to draw cardinals, towhees and blue jays.’


  • attributive Of the greatest importance; fundamental.

    ‘two cardinal points must be borne in mind’
    • ‘He said that public support was cardinal in the successful implementation of the privatisation process, an issue that eluded the Zambian process when privatisation was initiated.’
    • ‘And there are two cardinal rules: no pulling on the reins and no kicking in the sides.’
    • ‘She said administrators were mandated to serve the public and it was cardinal that they developed sport to higher heights as it was not Government's responsibility to do that.’
    • ‘Firstly, it is cardinal to recognise that men have stood on a higher rung on the country's economic ladder ever since the country attained independence in 1964.’
    • ‘With different types of abuse affecting women and children, finding effective ways to protect them is cardinal to fighting violence against women and children.’
    • ‘First, it is a profound betrayal of the cardinal principle of intellectual endeavour, which is freedom of speech and debate.’
    • ‘Second, utilities, being cardinal, already incorporate attitudes to risk.’
    • ‘This I regard as being a point of cardinal importance in the present case.’
    • ‘He said camping was cardinal for athletes' preparations and that it would be an advantage if the budget was approved soon so that adequate preparations were effected.’
    • ‘From all of our experiences, three cardinal rules for young people seeking to work in the developing world seem to have emerged.’
    • ‘He said discipline was cardinal, adding that civil servants should desist from activities like drinking beer during working hours and involving themselves in partisan politics.’
    • ‘Hospital cleaning - although an issue of cardinal importance - is a subject to which only a proportion of the public relate.’
    • ‘The need for a viable transport sector in any economy is cardinal.’
    • ‘Now I live by certain cardinal rules one of which is other people will get you in trouble so don't listen to them.’
    • ‘She said Zambia had recognised that the full participation of women and men in the development process was cardinal to achieving sustainable development.’
    • ‘Although the Ten Commandments are of cardinal importance, all the commandments were given by God and are essential to Judaism.’
    • ‘But at least they understood one cardinal fact of the modern world, as our educated liberals do not: that leniency for the criminal is punishment of the innocent.’
    • ‘One of the cardinal principles John Hume held was that northern nationalists should not take sides in southern politics.’
    • ‘Respect for the dead that used to be of cardinal importance in society is rarely noticeable during funeral ceremonies these days.’
    • ‘The value that will move Joe Customer to reach for his wallet lies in two cardinal rules: check the relevance, and work to keep Joe Customer's interest.’
    fundamental, basic, main, chief, primary, prime, principal, premier, first, leading, capital, paramount, pre-eminent
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Old English, from Latin cardinalis, from cardo, cardin- ‘hinge’. cardinal (sense 1 of the noun) has arisen through the notion of the important function of such priests as ‘pivots’ of church life.