Definition of coal in English:



  • 1[mass noun] A combustible black or dark brown rock consisting chiefly of carbonized plant matter, found mainly in underground seams and used as fuel.

    ‘two bags of coal’
    [as modifier] ‘a coal fire’
    • ‘Bituminous coal is found in seams of varying thicknesses.’
    • ‘Thus, an industrially valuable coal seam requires special conditions to accumulate.’
    • ‘Burning brown coal, using new technologies, is effective and environmentally acceptable.’
    • ‘And then there is the mystery of coal prices going up in global markets.’
    • ‘The breathing of coal and rock dust causes black lung, the common name given to the lung diseases pneumoconiosis and silicosis.’
    • ‘Every now and then the two firemen would shovel coal in to the boilers.’
    • ‘The plant burns lignite coal from the Maritsa Iztok mining complex and produces a large amount of sulphur dioxide.’
    • ‘I would often dream of steering that train or even shovelling coal into its boilers.’
    • ‘A monument to mark Ingleton's coal mining heritage was officially unveiled this week.’
    • ‘Nine coal miners have been rescued following more than three days trapped underground.’
    • ‘Wind energy simply cannot employ as many people as the coal industry currently does.’
    • ‘Notice that the lower coal seam has vertical trees jutting out of it.’
    • ‘New owners exploited coal reserves more actively and sought markets within and beyond their localities.’
    • ‘This increase was in line with a growing demand for coal, especially as coal was used for fuel for steam vessels.’
    • ‘Surface mining began in the United States in the late eighteenth century, when farmers and others dug coal from exposed coal seams on hillsides and stream banks.’
    • ‘Coal bed methane is a type of natural gas found in underground coal seams.’
    • ‘Other members of the committee wanted to build nothing more than a horse-drawn railway to bring cheap coal to York.’
    • ‘And it offers tax credits for alternative fuels, including wind power and clean coal.’
    • ‘I went to a bad state school in a coal mining town in Australia.’
    • ‘China has introduced a tax on high-sulphur coals, and in Beijing established 40 ‘coal-free zones’.’
    • ‘How many people burn coal on open fires?’
    firewood, wood, kindling, logs
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1British [count noun]A piece of coal.
      ‘men were loading coals into a wagon’
      • ‘They were seated at the long table, and serving men were heaping coals upon the fire, and carrying bronze ewers about.’
      • ‘Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves.’
      • ‘Abraham bade Yitsak carry the wood for the sacrifice, and he himself carried a knife and the coals for starting the fire.’
      • ‘The house was so named by its owner, whose granddaughter left the interest of her meagre savings of £50 to be spent on giving coals to the poor.’
    2. 1.2[count noun]A red-hot piece of coal or other material in a fire.
      ‘the glowing coals’
      • ‘She saw the burning hot coals and wondered what torture they were going to submit her to.’
      • ‘Finally, his neck stiff from looking up, the Professor returned to studying the glowing coals of the fire.’
      • ‘Brush with a little olive oil and barbecue over medium hot coals for about four minutes on each side until well-browned, firm and hot all the way through.’
      • ‘Throw some fresh thyme into the coals and proceed to cook the fish, turning periodically, or between sips of your chosen tipple.’
      • ‘After crossing the smoking bed of glowing coals, the fire walkers put their feet into a small side pit filled with milk.’
      • ‘Place the skewers over medium-hot coals (or on a hot griddle, indoors) and cook for about three to four minutes, turning regularly.’
      • ‘Faces of demons were cut into the vegetables, then a glowing coal was placed inside.’
      • ‘A dying fire burned nearby, its coals still glowing crimson.’
      • ‘The coals should be glowing hot; the griddle should be at a medium-high heat.’
      • ‘The fire was never lit in time, the chicken was black on the outside and raw on the inside, and the rain stayed away until just before the first prawn was thrown on the coals.’
      • ‘Alternatively, mackerel or cod steaks can be wrapped in tinfoil with cumin and lime juice and given a quick blast on the coals.’
      • ‘Fifteen years ago I would have walked there over hot coals for the gig.’
      • ‘When the sun sinks over the western horizon, he claimed, these slopes glow fiery crimson like the coals of a roaring furnace.’
      • ‘Walking on hot coals is not easy and Kashmiri coals are among the hottest.’
      • ‘Red-hot coals provide uniform heat for quite some time and can be easily rekindled whenever needed.’
      • ‘Mike lit the barbecue on a low gas setting, allowed the coals to heat up and then cooked the ribs slowly.’
      • ‘If you are going to barbecue the beef, allow about 40 minutes for the coals to reach the right temperature.’
      • ‘Why is it possible for bare feet to touch red-hot coals without getting burned?’
      • ‘If barbecuing, allow 40 minutes for the coals to heat up.’
      • ‘Hundreds looked on in amazement as more than 50 people defied their instincts and walked barefoot over hot coals.’


  • 1 Provide with a supply of coal.

    ‘the coaling and watering of the engine’
    • ‘Details range from swimming instruction for boy seaman recruits at HMS Ganges to how Naval vessels were coaled.’
    • ‘It has been variously a careening (hull-cleaning) bay, a pirate haven, a Danish freeport, slave-market, a gun-running centre, steamship coaling station, US Naval Base and latterly a major cruise ship port.’
    • ‘It was shown in 1960 at Lambton shop track, with contractor's employee about to coal her up.’
    • ‘After coupling to the coach, No. 823 was coaled manually and then had to reverse down the shed road to be oiled and greased for the return journey.’
    • ‘Each time it merely turned an engine around or coaled and watered it, such as when a yard engine came in for a crew change, the roundhouse was credited with a half-dispatch.’
    • ‘The system of 27 Pyle-O-Lite floodlights were to be located on 3-120 foot galvanized steel towers as well as on top of both West Toronto and Lambton coaling plants.’
    • ‘The United States wanted Japan to provide coaling stations for American ships in the new age of steamships.’
    • ‘Likewise coal is often listed as a cargo as ships tried to deliver it to coaling stations all over the empire.’
    1. 1.1[no object]Mine or extract coal.
      ‘we have now finished coaling at the site’
      • ‘Nowadays coaling mining is merely a distant faded memory in most minds and of course the young cannot remember anything of the industry that once dominated the area.’


  • coals to newcastle

    • Something supplied to a place where it is already plentiful.

      • ‘It takes a certain kind of cheek for a Russian opera company to bring Carmen to Paris - the operatic equivalent of coals to Newcastle.’
      • ‘Although it might sound a bit like selling coals to Newcastle, exporting daffodils to Holland is exactly what bulb growers in Britain are now doing.’
      • ‘Thanks to the poor harvest in France (it was just too hot over there) he actually exported some Wight garlic to a French company - truly an example of selling coals to Newcastle.’
      • ‘Carrying beer to Bierfest was on a par with carrying coals to Newcastle or water to the Thames.’
      • ‘It smacks of taking coals to Newcastle but the Forestry Commission hopes it is on to a money spinner by sending wood to Scandinavia.’
  • haul someone over the coals

    • Reprimand someone severely.

      ‘bank chiefs are to be hauled over the coals by the Chancellor’
      • ‘I would hope Bertie has hauled him over the coals and, if he hasn't, it shouldn't be too late even now for him to do so.’
      • ‘We got hauled over the coals by management for it - even though all the evidence showed us to be in the right.’
      • ‘The bank was hauled over the coals last year for mortgage redemption penalties which left homeowners facing bills of tens of thousands of pounds.’
      • ‘Yesterday the Assistant Speaker spent a lot of time in the House hauling me over the coals for apparently using unparliamentary language.’
      • ‘If a player steps out of line then he gets hauled over the coals by the FA.’
      • ‘Having been hauled over the coals by both the media and the Treasury Select Committee for its disastrous investment policy, he is now determined to rebuild the firm's reputation.’


Old English col (in the senses ‘glowing ember’ and ‘charred remnant’), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch kool and German Kohle. The sense ‘combustible mineral used as fuel’ dates from Middle English.