Definition of unravel in English:



  • 1Undo (twisted, knitted, or woven threads).

    • ‘Howard was still sitting on his pallet, head halfway between his knees, trying to unravel a knot in the lace of his right boot.’
    • ‘I started trying to track down the origins of this idea but then I realized that my sweater was completely unraveled.’
    • ‘When he did his first press day in Holland he had 26 interviews one after the other and afterwards he lay on his bed feeling that someone had pulled on a loose thread in his soul and continued to pull until it unravelled the whole sweater.’
    • ‘There are some threads that once pulled unraveled the whole sweater.’
    • ‘Then, when the toe goes, you can just unravel the stitches from the end and re-knit the cap exactly as in your original pattern.’
    • ‘The use of white ropes as props with the dancer's movements enveloping and unravelling the rope makes a powerful visual image of the soul's freedom from bondage.’
    • ‘Salvation came in the form of a doctor who was able to help Sterry unravel the knots - and in the form of his wife.’
    • ‘He unravelled an elastic rope only a half inch thick and tied it to a pipe once used for the transmission of natural gas.’
    • ‘Her hands laced around the front of his body, grabbing at the coat of his robe, slowly pulling, unraveling the knot on his waist.’
    • ‘But a reverse pull seems evident in countering many of the wrongs and unravelling the red thread.’
    • ‘It unravels the narrative threads each from the other, so that we may better understand how they interweave, forcing them apart so that we can understand their detail before they spring back together.’
    • ‘How selfish he must think I am, she thought irascibly, tugging her long slender fingers through her hair to unravel the lacquered knots.’
    • ‘Looks like unravelled balaclava helmets cut up into one-foot lengths.’
    • ‘Meanwhile the South Knox Bubba Research Institute has been doing experiments on the Spaghetti Principle Effect in relation to unraveling strings of Christmas lights.’
    • ‘My Opa could remember hours spent at kindergarten unravelling jumpers to provide wool for socks for First World War soldiers in the trenches.’
    • ‘Ellen J.Keiter unravels the narrative threads of Denise Allen's rich tapestries’
    • ‘His arms were around her, unraveling the strings that held together her bodice.’
    • ‘He had to unravel the umbilical cord from round Niamh's neck, but the delivery was otherwise straightforward.’
    • ‘My first task was to deck it with lights, I had treated us to a new set this year, I spent an interminable length of time unraveling the wire, and placing them in just the right spot on the tree only to turn them on and discover half would not light.’
    • ‘I feel that it's kind of like unraveling a knitted sweater - you have to pull, but if you pull to hard, the string will knot and break.’
    untangle, disentangle, straighten out, separate out, unsnarl, unknot, unwind, untwist, undo, untie, unkink, unjumble
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    1. 1.1[no object] (of knitted or woven threads) become undone:
      ‘part of the crew neck had unravelled’
      figurative ‘his painstaking diplomacy of the last eight months could quickly unravel’
      • ‘When the trail leads to a young man and his pregnant wife, things unravel like a thread in a cheap garment.’
      • ‘I just hope the knots don't unravel and create a Swiss cheese styling.’
      • ‘When she tried to look at anything else, the imperfections and the failings leapt out at her, the single thread unravelling in the otherwise perfect tapestry.’
      • ‘The Bush stooges and their lackeys in the media know that they are hanging by a tenuous thread that is unraveling ever faster and faster.’
      • ‘That it surely has, although if attention wanders even for an instant, the thread quickly unravels.’
      • ‘So we've never seen a budget unravel so quickly.’
      • ‘Drenched pants slipping down his hips, his braid unraveled, he watched Ikeda approach alluringly, thick black lashes lowered beneath Shanza's half-lidded eyes.’
      • ‘She pulled the significantly looser strands and the rope unraveled.’
      • ‘That his effort is in vain can be inferred from the strands of gold thread that unravel from the bride's veil, sewn across the paper in large deliberate stitches.’
      • ‘She noticed wildly his hair was messed up; the crimson ribbon had unraveled and his silver-blonde hair was spilling out over his shoulders, frizzing slightly.’
      • ‘That last thread unraveled from the grand tapestry of the Enlightenment…’
      • ‘The Government's immigration policy appears to be unravelling very quickly, with further changes announced today.’
      • ‘Sighing in relief, the audience perks up to watch this knot unravel.’
      • ‘Miri held her hands out beneath the bowl, for it began to tilt as the rope unraveled, She was torn, for she knew that if she caught the bowl, she would break its spell.’
      • ‘Daphne White pulls at a thread unraveling from the black woolen glove in her hand.’
      • ‘But our moral fabric - the basis of our interactions - can unravel and become frayed.’
      • ‘The thread that unravels from this cocoon is tangled and nubby, thus producing the texture of the doupioni.’
      • ‘Her third offering, The Barrens, which she wrote as Rosamond Smith - one of her numerous pen names - is a superior thriller with a fascinating main character whose personality unravels as quickly as the plot.’
      • ‘There was no complexity, no thread to unravel, just flat ink.’
      • ‘There against the purple horizon above the flat-topped dome rises the gray trickle of steam, barely visible, a thin ribbon unraveling into the night.’
      fall apart, fail, collapse, go wrong
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  • 2Investigate and solve or explain (something complicated or puzzling):

    ‘they were attempting to unravel the cause of death’
    • ‘With a little luck, it will eventually unravel the whole puzzle.’
    • ‘A team of auditors are currently going through the college books in a bid to unravel the complicated dealings of a network of companies set up by former principal David Eade.’
    • ‘One was a clockmaker years ahead of his time - a pioneer who did the impossible and tamed the timepiece, transforming exploration and unravelling the riddle of safe navigation.’
    • ‘Throughout, he addresses the reader directly, carefully unravelling the threads of the intricate tapestry that was his relationship with Lexy.’
    • ‘I had to unravel a logic puzzle, really, which was an interesting take on that, and a credit to John's ingenuity.’
    • ‘Confirmed losses so far stand at $2.7 million, with the figure expected to grow as investigators unravel the scope of the fraud.’
    • ‘Some of the rewards of this novel lie in trying to unravel the puzzles Murakami sets the reader.’
    • ‘In The Dark Lady, Richard North Patterson does a fantastic job of creating a multi-layered story that his protagonist must unravel a thread at a time.’
    • ‘I love how genetics can unravel mysteries; it's just like solving intricate puzzles.’
    • ‘As the Edmonton festival has grown to more than 150 companies presenting their magnum opi, perusing the tome that is the Fringe programme has become akin to unraveling the Gordian knot.’
    • ‘Effortlessly unravelling the twists and turns of medieval Italian politics, Stonor Saunders is stylish in her prose style, languid in her learning and acerbic in her judgments.’
    • ‘The book was later made into a superb 1978 movie starring Peter Ustinov as the fictional detective Hercule Poirot, aided by David Niven, who unravels the twists and turns of the ingenious murder.’
    • ‘Kathakali's life lies in suggestions, which demands that the audience work on what they see and unravel the complicated modes of expression and enjoy it.’
    • ‘Can the India of the Vedas and the Puranas make her mother's dream existence comprehensible to Rakhi, unravelling a lifelong puzzle?’
    • ‘It's got structure, but it's like unravelling a puzzle.’
    • ‘As such, banded iron formations record important information that contributes towards unravelling the puzzle of when and how early life developed on Earth.’
    • ‘But two archaeologists who have pored over the patterns for the past five years say they may have unravelled the riddle.’
    • ‘I had first assumed that I must see them in the light of previous work in order to unravel the mystery, explain them.’
    • ‘The remainder of Saw is spent unravelling the puzzle, offering sly red herrings and tracing the progress of a detective obsessed with cracking the case.’
    • ‘Youngsters at The Compton Primary School in Long Compton and St Mary's Primary, Evesham, found out how the ingredients of hot cross buns were produced as the Food Puzzle was unravelled to them.’
    solve, resolve, work out, clear up, puzzle out, find an answer to, get to the bottom of, explain, elucidate, fathom, decipher, decode, crack, penetrate, untangle, unfold, settle, reveal, clarify, sort out, make head or tail of
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