Definition of gnaw in English:



  • 1Bite at or nibble something persistently.

    ‘watching a dog gnaw at a big bone’
    • ‘I slowly gnawed at my food and eventually gave up eating.’
    • ‘He gnawed at the bit and I allowed him to pick up a slow gallop.’
    • ‘Both girls ceased their jitters and tried to stand at ease, gnawing away at their lips.’
    • ‘Then of course there were the rats that gnawed at the cables.’
    • ‘As I gnawed at the greasy meat the lettuce and mayo slid out of the bun, plopping into the paper cone.’
    • ‘They may have eaten a Victoria plum, though I doubt they'll have gnawed on a Russet.’
    • ‘Never the same place twice. Once when he seemed almost awake, I asked him if he was worried about having his face gnawed on by the rat, but there was no answer, just a sort of grunt.’
    • ‘I absentmindedly gnawed on some fries and chicken fingers while Patrick munched happily on his salad.’
    • ‘I looked at him dourly and gnawed on my nail nervously.’
    • ‘The gaunt-faced man smiled to himself; he gnawed on a toothpick as the rolling country north of the river opened up before him.’
    • ‘A little squirrel lost its tail, had its fur burnt off and went blind, but gnawed at the tree's branches until the heavenly globe could rise again.’
    • ‘A serpent and its children perpetually gnawed at its roots.’
    • ‘Who hasn't chewed on gummy bears or gnawed on licorice candy?’
    • ‘She gnawed on the branch, her teeth slicing cleanly through the wood.’
    • ‘They didn't completely consume it, but they gnawed on it enough to kill it.’
    • ‘He glanced over, she gnawed on her pencil reading the page.’
    • ‘As the song changed Trey sighed and turned down the music, he gnawed on his lip for a while before asking timidly, ‘Pixie?’’
    • ‘Now she takes you on a harrowing true life journey from childhood neglect so bad she gnawed at dog bones for nourishment.’
    • ‘It's not like there was anything special to see anyway, just a sophomore with mayonnaise dripping down the side of her mouth as she gnawed on a piece of lettuce.’
    • ‘I gnawed at my lip again; who, just who though, had wielded the knife?’
    chew, bite, nibble, munch, crunch, champ, chomp, masticate
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1with object and adverbial Bite at or nibble (something) so as to wear it away.
      ‘the grubs tunnel into the wood and gnaw it away’
      • ‘Ants covered the plants and gnawed the tiny seeds out of the string-like pods.’
      • ‘I eyed a buxom coral trout with blue spots on a pink background - they make good eating - and listened to the parrotfish gnawing the coral.’
      • ‘She gnaws a steak with her mouth open, picks her teeth with her fingernails, laughs with a porcine snort and drinks beer out of the bottle.’
      • ‘By the time we settled into our beachside abode, I was in great danger of gnawing my own arm off with hunger.’
      • ‘Kellie, 14, bought herself a ring, and she says wearing it keeps her from gnawing her nails.’
      • ‘The larvae of Japanese beetles, they've gnawed the roots until nothing remains to nourish the stems and leaves.’
      • ‘I drove forward to the entrance and gnawed my fingernails until a man parallel to me on the left honked and waved at me to go, forfeiting his turn through the intersection.’
      • ‘There is the possible exception of panda bears, which are cute and cuddly and would probably rather gnaw your skull than breed.’
      • ‘They eat the foliage and shoot tips from a wide range of plants and also kill young trees and shrubs by gnawing the bark from the base of the stems.’
      • ‘She didn't gnaw the flowers, I didn't put the hose down the burrow.’
      • ‘As a rule, newscasts close with a brief on some animal with extraordinary skills - that day's feature was a parrot that gnaws sugar cane and nibbles at melon seeds.’
      • ‘Close to her we discover one of the lords of creation gnawing a bare bone, which an equally ravenous bull-dog endeavours to snatch from his mouth.’
      • ‘You know, he says, that the disease is out there, creeping ever closer, and you can do nothing about it but hope and pray and gnaw your nails that by some miracle it will pass you by.’
      • ‘Generally it is a husband whose wife is forcing the diet on him and whips the luscious meal away from him cruelly, and he is forced to watch the rest of the family eat it while he gnaws a celery stick.’
      • ‘The creature frantically gnaws a bone, while another dog, only partly visible, presumably does the same.’
      • ‘Better fall to my death when the trunk is gnawed off by the rats than be killed by the lion.’
      • ‘In a particularly carnivorous touch, they put the bone on top of the sandwich, which means you can gnaw the rest of the meat off it.’
      • ‘The lucky recipient would then chew upon the remaining flesh of the fruit before it went completely and unappetisingly brown from contact with the air, like a dog gnawing a bone dropped from the master's table.’
      • ‘He sat there for a moment, gnawing his bottom lip in concentration as his eyes went skyward.’
      • ‘I swear, if he tries to pet me, I will gnaw his fingers off.’
      erode, wear away, wear down, eat away, eat away at, chip away, chip away at, bite into, corrode, consume, devour
      View synonyms
  • 2Cause persistent distress or anxiety.

    ‘the doubts continued to gnaw at me’
    • ‘But it's a challenge he does not intend to repeat because of the hours of training which have to be devoted to building up stamina - although he did admit on Tuesday that the thought of beating his time was beginning to gnaw at him.’
    • ‘It takes root, festers, begins to gnaw at my soul.’
    • ‘They are in fact truths, and the truth will continue to gnaw at Tony's soul until he owns up to it.’
    • ‘It has already begun to gnaw at the foundations of Caribbean societies and economies with the tragic loss of human potential and productivity.’
    • ‘He missed her terribly, and the worry of not knowing her fate gnawed at his mind constantly.’
    • ‘I feel the discontent crawl up and gnaw at my insides.’
    • ‘And in the meantime, the continued refusal to acknowledge that things just aren't working out begins to gnaw at you.’
    • ‘The thought of being so isolated was starting to sink in; tiny bites of homesickness already gnawed at me, and I'd only been away from home for about three weeks.’
    • ‘Doubts about his work and writing gnawed at him.’
    • ‘On the one hand, fear and worry gnawed at his gut.’
    • ‘The yearlong separation from family has gnawed at the conscience of troops who've served there since the 1950s.’
    • ‘In this densely populated city there are bound to be rare cases of octogenarians abandoned by their children, cases that gnaw at the consciences of upright people.’
    • ‘It hurt, this feeling of helplessness that gnawed at his insides.’
    • ‘At the same time, feared gnawed at her every night.’
    • ‘Seems as if Paul made a heavy move on Clarice a few times in the past, only to be put down so severely that the humiliation gnawed on him to the point that he's relegated Clarice to his permanent doghouse.’
    • ‘What the revolutionaries did not foresee was that these changes would soon gnaw at the very heart of their conservative base.’
    • ‘There are several phrases, tossed about casually in everyday conversation, which gnaw at the part of my brain that processes logic, driving me to anger and frustration.’
    • ‘He had never known words could hurt this much, that they could gnaw at him, cause so much pain.’
    • ‘But the very use of lawsuit tactics is going to gnaw at me for some time.’
    • ‘We will once more stand against the uncivilised cowards who gnaw at the soul of our democracies.’
    prey on someone's mind, nag, plague, torment, torture, trouble, distress, worry, haunt, oppress, weigh heavily on someone's mind, be a weight on someone's mind, burden, hang over, harry, bother, exercise, fret
    persistent, nagging, niggling, lingering, constant, continual, unrelenting, unabating
    View synonyms


Old English gnagen, of Germanic origin; related to German nagen, ultimately imitative.