Definition of earl in English:



  • A British nobleman ranking above a viscount and below a marquess.

    • ‘The dukes and earls have been sent packing from the House of Lords.’
    • ‘They all sat in a row, ranged according to their rank - kings and princes and dukes and earls and counts and barons and knights.’
    • ‘The earl talked to officers as he toured the British Transport Police and London Underground control rooms.’
    • ‘The likes of the earl of Stamford and the Prince of Wales are known to have owned examples of these candelabra.’
    • ‘Attendants of an earl, viscount or baron wore six rows of curls on state wigs and five on house wigs.’
    • ‘The Queen Mother, daughter of a Scottish earl, was very fond of Scotland and the feeling was returned.’
    • ‘Seven of Edward's ten earls possessed Marcher estates, including the powerful Mortimer, Fitzalan, Bohun and de Clare families.’
    • ‘The earls and viscounts had claimed their expulsion would amount to a severance from the English past.’
    • ‘Membership was limited to 600 and included five dukes, five marquesses and 20 earls, and the clientele would bet thousands at the tables.’
    • ‘The men who got these parcels of land would have been barons, earls and dukes.’
    • ‘The earl and countess were then shown around the extended flats.’
    • ‘An alliance was struck between the marcher lords and the earl of Lancaster.’
    • ‘Godiva was the wife of Leofric, earl of Mercia, one of the three great earls of 11th-century England.’
    • ‘Contemporary collectors included the earls of Arundel and Somerset and the Duke of Buckingham.’
    • ‘Two hundred and fifty years ago it was numbered tickets to Westminster Hall that were in demand: two Jacobite earls and a lord were on trial there.’
    • ‘None of the dogs belonging to either the duke and duchess or the earl and countess ever barked.’
    • ‘The aristocrats in Mr Cameron's blood line include numerous dukes and earls, including the Herbert Earls of Carnarvon.’
    • ‘The earl was one of the absentee English landowners who owned most of the property in Ireland.’
    • ‘Among those attending that year were the Duke and Duchess of Ancaster, the Duke and Duchess of Gordon, and all manner of countesses, earls, colonels and honorables.’
    • ‘Here he successfully pursues his suit, is married in spite of the efforts of the earl and the lord mayor to prevent it, and is pardoned by the king.’
    noble, nobleman, peer, aristocrat, patrician, grandee
    View synonyms


Old English eorl, of Germanic origin. The word earl originally denoted a man of noble rank, as opposed to a churl, also specifically a hereditary nobleman next above the rank of thane. It was later an equivalent of jarl and, under Canute and his successors, applied to the governor of divisions of England such as Wessex. In the late Old English period, as the Saxon court came under Norman influence, the word was applied to any nobleman bearing the continental title of count (see count).