Definition of ensign in English:



  • 1A flag or standard, especially a military or naval one indicating nationality.

    • ‘It worked for Lester Pearson, the Canadian Prime Minister who replaced the imperial ensign with the maple leaf flag in 1965.’
    • ‘An ensign was the national flag flown (technically ‘worn’) by a warship.’
    • ‘Everyone turned and saluted the ensign flying over the parade ground.’
    • ‘The current ensign wasn't adopted as a fully fledged flag until 1981, when the Queen visited and personally gave her assent.’
    • ‘The French now used plain white flags, including ensigns, white being the royal colour.’
    • ‘I cannot say enough about what the national ensign means to me.’
    • ‘Believing the emblem to be a national ensign, he could deduce that the two worlds in the star system had formed one nation.’
    • ‘The colours of the Australian ensigns became a further reason discouraging their use.’
    • ‘And as we recovered and responded, our national ensign was everywhere.’
    • ‘They trace the word to the piratical practice of flying a flag or ensign other than one's own in order to deceive a passing ship or unwitting harbormaster about a vessel's true identity.’
    • ‘The submariners' wives initially made a tapestry depicting the British and Russian ensigns entwined and a naval prayer, and sent it to Russia as gift of condolence - it now hangs in the Russian Military Museum in Moscow.’
    • ‘It looks familiar, like our own Scottish flag, until you realise that it is a reverse image: the Russian naval ensign is a blue saltire on a white field.’
    • ‘A formation of three Indian Air Force MI - 8 helicopters, which flew past with the national tricolour and ensigns of the IAF, paved the way for some stunning display of flying skills.’
    • ‘They sat under the flags of all allied nations that fought in the struggle and the half-masted Australian flag and ensigns of the Services, but all eyes were focused on the 1500 veterans of the hell that was the war in the Pacific.’
    • ‘A resolution that will be discussed at the party's convention this weekend calls on the province to drop the British ensign from its flag.’
    • ‘And get that Guild flag down and hoist the black ensign!’
    • ‘At the annual general meeting at the club's lodge at Thredbo on May 17, members raised the ensign on the new flag pole installed at the lodge.’
    • ‘However, he has struck a deal with the management and now his ensign, the black flag sporting the skull and crossbones, will be hung out each night.’
    • ‘The Blue Ensign is not the ensign of the Royal Naval Reserve as such, as is sometimes stated.’
    • ‘Other items on display included the white naval ensign which was flown on the last day on Malta before independence was declared.’
    flag, standard, jack, banner, pennant, pennon, streamer, banderole
    gonfalon, guidon, labarum
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1archaic A sign or emblem of a particular thing.
      ‘all the ensigns of our greatness’
  • 2historical A standard-bearer.

    • ‘The colours marched off the parade, an illustration where historically they would have been lodged for safe keeping in the colour ensign's quarters for the night and the evening watch mounted.’
  • 3The lowest rank of commissioned officer in the US and some other navies, above chief warrant officer and below lieutenant.

    [as title] ‘a copy of Ensign Smith's report’
    • ‘It had become a bit of a joke for any ensign or petty officer new to rank and ship with him.’
    • ‘Think about a fairly new petty officer or ensign dealing with a new system.’
    • ‘He had lost two fingers on his left hand as an ensign on the armored cruiser.’
    • ‘Will it be from the captains, majors, or commanders who entered military service five or ten years ago, or from the lieutenants or ensigns who joined last year?’
    • ‘She entered the Navy as an ensign and was quickly assigned clerical duties, something commonly done at that time.’
    • ‘All Sailors will be given a clear career roadmap, outlining how they progress from seaman to master chief, or from ensign to admiral.’
    • ‘He graduated last year from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and is currently ranked as an ensign, having served aboard the USS Gettysburg.’
    • ‘The graduates officially became second lieutenants and ensigns.’
    • ‘From day one as an ensign, I was told military flying was a dangerous business.’
    • ‘In 1944 and 1945, he served as an ensign in the U.S. Navy.’
    • ‘Seeing the disappointment in their eyes, the president remembered when he, a young Navy ensign, and his wife-to-be announced their intentions to marry and met with the problem of parental interference.’
    • ‘His academic career was interrupted by World War II; he served as an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve and was in the third wave to land on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.’
    • ‘The ensign at tactical reported ducking as the panel behind him exploded.’
    • ‘He was commissioned as an ensign and put back on a ship, the USS Tripoli.’
    • ‘He entered the University of Chicago in 1943 and served in the U.S. Navy as an ensign during 1944-46.’
    • ‘Twenty years ago, I was an ensign on a patrol ship at the Tamall Ship Yard.’
    • ‘Marcus was surprised when the ensign led him to a briefing room, and not the Admiral's office.’
    • ‘In 1906, Fletcher graduated from the US Naval Academy and he gained a commission as an ensign.’
    • ‘My first full time job was as an ensign in the US Navy Reserve on active duty when I graduated from University.’
    • ‘ROTC is an elective course of study, taken in conjunction with any academic major that, upon graduation, leads to a reserve commission as a second lieutenant in the army, air force, or Marine Corps or an ensign in the navy.’
    1. 3.1historical The lowest rank of commissioned infantry officer in the British army.
      • ‘Just to make things complicated, their ensign - the lowest commissioned rank in the British army - was a lieutenant-general, one of the highest in the world of real soldiers.’
      • ‘The young ensign is sailing home from India in 1805 when his ship is seized by a French warship and he ends up off Cadiz, Spain.’
      • ‘The poems were never published, but they circulated widely and, as one officer said at the time, ‘there was scarcely a more or less literate ensign in the army who did not know them by heart.’’
      • ‘Born in Ireland, presumably in Dublin, he became an ensign in the Northumberland Fusiliers in 1745.’
      • ‘In 1863, as the civil war still raged in America, an Englishman called James Tredennick signed on as an ensign of the 57th Foot in Queen Victoria's army.’


Late Middle English: from Old French enseigne, from Latin insignia signs of office (see insignia). Compare with ancient.