Definition of tunnel in English:



  • 1An artificial underground passage, especially one built through a hill or under a building, road, or river.

    ‘a road tunnel through the Pyrenees’
    ‘the Mersey tunnel’
    [as modifier] ‘the tunnel mouth’
    • ‘The Faroese also boast some spectacular road tunnels, but they're not so excited about these feats of engineering that they feel obliged to name them after people.’
    • ‘The winning consortium is likely also to take over the running of the Dartford tunnel and road bridge that carries the M25 over the Thames east of London.’
    • ‘Whilst Alpine road and rail tunnels and the Channel tunnel have made travel between some of Europe's nations easier, physical and cultural barriers remain.’
    • ‘A tunnel closed and the road was down to two lanes.’
    • ‘New roads and tunnels have been built and public transport modernised.’
    • ‘Local villagers cut a tunnel road through the mountain and named it Guoliang Cave.’
    • ‘As I went into the tunnel at Finchley Road I switched off all the interior lights.’
    • ‘Norway is home to the longest and the deepest road tunnels in the world.’
    • ‘We have a toll road here that goes through a tunnel under the river.’
    • ‘Authorities abroad are increasingly opting for road tunnels.’
    • ‘Detective Constable Ian Thornton and PC Kim Wandless tracked Wood down to a tunnel under King's Road and he was arrested.’
    • ‘They are building a road tunnel through the area.’
    • ‘A tunnel has been built leading to the new underground ‘bat hotel’, which has tiered accommodation from which bats can hang.’
    • ‘Drivers must now call the police immediately if their vehicles break down on elevated roads, tunnels and bridges across the Huangpu River.’
    • ‘He conceded, however, that the toll might cause people to avoid the tunnel and use local roads instead.’
    • ‘There are deep gashes in the roads; some are still blocked by landslides and a major road tunnel to the town has collapsed.’
    • ‘A bank of trees here or a cycleway there makes no odds if you're building two major new roads and a massive tunnel.’
    • ‘A Swindon engineering company is taking a lead role in the design of a road tunnel beneath 5,000-year-old Stonehenge.’
    • ‘The Limerick South Ring Road, including the tunnel, will allow traffic to bypass Limerick city by linking the Docks Road with the Ennis Road.’
    • ‘I hope the tunnels and more roads will change the situation so I can have a car soon.’
    underground passage, subterranean passage
    underpass, subway, hole, burrow
    shaft, gallery
    mine, sap
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1An underground passage dug by a burrowing animal.
      • ‘They line the burrow tunnel with pebbles and shell fragments.’
      • ‘Small mounds are created when moles burrow deep or tunnel under solid objects such as tree roots or sidewalks.’
      • ‘It burrows a tunnel far into a sandy bank on the riverside and dwells therein, safe from cold, wind, rain and creatures that would devour it.’
      • ‘Burrow tunnels were examined each day; in 1999, younger nestlings left the supplements uneaten.’
      • ‘Their burrows were normally underground, in long tunnels.’
      • ‘Animal tunnels incorporated into the design will also allow local wildlife to cross.’
      • ‘Many fungi are found in soil and often fostered by small ground animals and their feces-filled tunnels.’
      • ‘It is not known if all the burrow nesting species excavate the tunnels or if some use tunnels dug by rodents or other animals.’
    2. 1.2A passage in a sports stadium by which players enter or leave the field.
      ‘he jogged off the field and into the tunnel’
      • ‘Wenger claimed he didn't see the scuffles between opposing players and coaches in the stadium tunnel after the match.’
      • ‘That incident briefly flared up again as the players entered the tunnel after the game.’
      • ‘By half-time it is clear that Everton are second best, and Moyes disappears down the tunnel before his players, his face an intense mixture of frustration and fury.’
      • ‘A television camera followed the Wales team from their changing room to the players' tunnel at the Millennium Stadium.’
      • ‘One of the Turkey players stood in the tunnel and, gesturing to me, ran his fingers across his throat as if he wanted to cut it.’
      • ‘In Frankfurt the players are in the tunnel.’
      • ‘Both sets of mascots click-clack out of the tunnel holding their players by the hands and then line up.’
      • ‘At 3: 25, Lynch leads the rest of the defensive backs out of the tunnel and onto the field for pre-game warm-ups.’
  • 2

    short for wind tunnel
  • 3A long, half-cylindrical enclosure used to protect plants, made of clear plastic stretched over hoops.

    ‘cover plants in rows with a cloche tunnel’
    • ‘They can also be put into fruit cages after the fruit has been gathered and into greenhouses and tunnels in autumn to give the place a good going over before it is prepared for spring.’
    • ‘Rows of bright green Swiss Chard lined the plastic tunnels.’
    • ‘Today Palomino grapes are frequently dried to raisins under plastic tunnels, pressed, and fortified before fermentation to make a mistela.’
    • ‘The protecting tunnel is gone, though steel hoops remain.’
    • ‘The row planted inside the tunnel is tall and vibrant.’
    • ‘Turn one of your beds into a hoop tunnel and sow peas, salad greens and spinach for next spring.’
    • ‘Where hard freezes are frequent, the plants need the protection of a plastic tunnel.’
    • ‘He said over the past two years he had been commercially growing bedding plants in tunnels in his garden.’
    • ‘The extra support is necessary because tomatoes in the tunnels grow more vigorously than field-grown plants.’
    • ‘In the winter the tunnels are lined with plastic.’


  • 1[no object, with adverbial of direction] Dig or force a passage underground or through something.

    ‘he tunnelled under the fence’
    ‘the insect tunnels its way out of the plant’
    • ‘A tube approximately 24 inches in length is tunneled under the skin into the peritoneum.’
    • ‘He's got a nice big backyard to roam through, with ivy to tunnel through and a couple of dirt patches to dig in.’
    • ‘Termites are usually happy to tunnel through a sand-filled tube, but when a layer of sand soaked in catnip oil is present it stops them dead in their tracks.’
    • ‘In recent years, badgers have tunnelled into 52 ancient monuments on Salisbury Plain.’
    • ‘If you tunnel underground and travel in a straight line, you cover less distance.’
    • ‘The machine for tunnelling the underground section will be imported from either Japan, Germany or the United Kingdom.’
    • ‘Ancient burial sites across Salisbury Plain could soon be fenced off to prevent badgers from tunnelling through the archaeology.’
    • ‘Marauding badgers are again tunnelling under a pre-school.’
    • ‘The snow was so thick, he was able to tunnel through it without it collapsing on him until he started clearing the hood.’
    • ‘These grubs create straight, narrow mines as they tunnel into the leaves, followed by larger, brown or yellow blisters as they grow and feed inside the foliage.’
    • ‘Rescuers tunnelled into the wreckage taking great care to prevent further collapses.’
    • ‘A week of tramping for miles underground and sleeping in limestone catacombs tunneled out by sulfuric acid is not everyone's idea of happy camping.’
    • ‘The site is dangerous and our concern is that they are not experts in tunnelling and we are genuinely concerned about their safety.’
    • ‘Mr Harris revealed that, despite the ban, he had been part of a group that continued tunnelling through an undiscovered route nicknamed George.’
    • ‘The weevil's eggs are deposited inside the banana tissue and once hatched, they tunnel through the corm for feeding and growth.’
    • ‘They look to tunnel through corporate networks through mass emails.’
    • ‘Gophers tunnel through the ground to eat tender bulbs and shoots.’
    • ‘Electric transport tunnelled underground as well as overground: the first ‘tube’ was built in London in 1887-90.’
    • ‘The catheter is tunneled under the skin and enters a large vein and then is threaded into the superior vena cava.’
    • ‘Mr Hutton had suggested tunnelling through Bradford, but this would prove too costly, especially as Bradford Beck would have to be diverted.’
    dig, dig one's way, burrow
    excavate, mine, bore, drill
    View synonyms
  • 2Physics
    [no object] (of a particle) pass through a potential barrier.

    • ‘By making the particles interact, they approximated quantum tunneling - a phenomenon forbidden by classical mechanics.’
    • ‘Eventually, quantum confinement effects and tunneling currents dominate the device design.’
    • ‘In photon tunneling, the intensity of evanescent light is reduced when the lasing particle is approached by a non-lasing one.’
    • ‘They are restricted to orbit given atoms, and they can only move from one to the other by quantum tunneling.’
    • ‘In rare cases where a quantum mechanical effect called tunneling occurs in the reaction, deuterium isotope effects of 20 or more have been observed.’


  • light at the end of the tunnel

    • An indication that a long period of difficulty is nearing an end.

      ‘it had been a hard struggle but I could see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel’
      • ‘There is no light at the end of this awful dark, painful tunnel.’
      • ‘And with no light at the end of the tunnel, pressure on the government's Debt Management Office will grow.’
      • ‘People are feeling very hopeless and tired, and they really need to see the light at the end of the tunnel.’
      • ‘We are able to work alone for long periods of time, if necessary, with no light at the end of the tunnel.’
      • ‘This has been a negative and stressful time for all concerned, but I can see a positive light at the end of the tunnel for sure.’
      • ‘They do not see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as their lives go.’
      • ‘I don't think there's a light at the end of the tunnel for baseball anytime soon.’
      • ‘There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, but it is still a long way off yet.’
      • ‘One light at the end of the tunnel for taxi drivers has been the allocation of another taxi rank to be placed at Harmony Hill.’
      • ‘It has, at times, been difficult but he can see a light at the end of the tunnel now.’


Late Middle English (in the senses ‘tunnel-shaped net’ and ‘flue of a chimney’): from Old French tonel, diminutive of tonne cask. tunnel dates from the mid 18th century.