Definition of crawl in US English:



  • 1no object (of a person) move forward on the hands and knees or by dragging the body close to the ground.

    ‘they crawled out from under the table’
    • ‘His knees still on the ground, he crawled towards the bench, wary of his surroundings.’
    • ‘I yelled, crawling forward to the edge of the concrete, and outstretched my arms to grab at him, but he wasn't there.’
    • ‘Mack and I dove on the ground and began to crawl forward.’
    • ‘He released his grip and began crawling forward on his hands and knees.’
    • ‘I leaned forward, crawling on my knees to a bottle of beer resting on the desk next to the door.’
    • ‘Jenn falls to the ground, and quickly crawls over to Michael.’
    • ‘Young children are prone to picking up germs because they spend time crawling on the ground and don't wash their hands as frequently as adults.’
    • ‘He then crawled to a forward trench to get the other one.’
    • ‘Wearing my country's badge I'd have crawled on my knees to the finish if I'd had to.’
    • ‘Out of morbid curiosity she pushed herself back into the storm drain and crawled forward on hands and knees toward the body.’
    • ‘Closer and closer the child crawled, but nobody noticed.’
    • ‘She would always talk to us about our troubles, help us when we cut our knees crawling through the undergrowth and give us ice creams.’
    • ‘Last June, the 35-year-old had to crawl, slide and drag himself down the mountain for 10 hours to get back to base camp.’
    • ‘There's really no good way to carry a rifle when crawling on hands and knees, or when squirming to the lip of a ravine.’
    • ‘He looks around and when he feels that no one is looking, he gets down on his hands and knees and crawls towards the four old women sitting at the table with the case.’
    • ‘I vowed to myself that I would catch that sneaky little thief no matter what, even if I have to crawl on my knees to do it.’
    • ‘Rolling across the ground, she crawled forward on her belly, ignoring the taste of grime and blood in her mouth.’
    • ‘So I crawled, dragging myself over the ground, clawing my way forward because I couldn't bring myself to give up.’
    • ‘Each time he fell to his knees and crawled instead.’
    • ‘To retrieve the wounded it was necessary to move forward by foot or crawl under intense fire cover.’
    creep, go on all fours, move on hands and knees, inch, drag oneself along, pull oneself along, drag, trail, slither, slink, squirm, wriggle, writhe, scrabble, worm one's way, advance slowly, advance stealthily, sneak
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    1. 1.1 (of an insect or small animal) move slowly along a surface.
      ‘the tiny spider was crawling up Nicky's arm’
      • ‘We saw tarantulas and spiders and bugs crawling all over the place!’
      • ‘She looked at the floor, and an ant was slowly crawling past.’
      • ‘The insects are crawling all over each other, searching for escape.’
      • ‘The juxtaposition of pristine glass structures and the grimy creatures crawling at their feet makes for an interesting visual contrast.’
      • ‘He looked with compassion at the creatures crawling over the hollow log.’
      • ‘So, aside from flies, he had no qualms about letting insects crawl all over him.’
      • ‘There were many times when snakes passed by and centipedes crawled up the tent.’
      • ‘When she looked at the floor more closely, she noticed a herd of tiny lizards crawling across its surface.’
      • ‘The creature slowly crawled into the clearing and snuck over to Oki's side.’
      • ‘I currently have at least 6 species of insect larva crawling around the front yard, and I just checked.’
      • ‘The insects crawled along on their bellies, their legs wrapped around the steel.’
      • ‘She glanced down to find a kitten crawling up on her boot.’
      • ‘It's about rats crawling up a drainpipe or something.’
      • ‘It was just too much, I could feel the insects crawling on my skin.’
      • ‘I picked up the flower and looked at it closely; the petals were white but the inside of it was pink and a tiny black beetle was crawling around.’
      • ‘I watched as a tiny little puppy crawled out from under the bed.’
      • ‘White winged insects crawled on the glass and slowly buzzed away.’
      • ‘The knight rode ahead of him calm and self-contained, but Kieran felt as though insects were crawling under the surface of his skin.’
      • ‘Willis turned to the south to see a small spidery-like creature crawling about, heading straight for him.’
      • ‘A pale green light shrouded the scenery, above a canopy thrived and animals and birds crawled and flew through the treetops.’
    2. 1.2 (of a vehicle) move at an unusually slow pace.
      ‘the traffic was crawling along’
      • ‘Cars were slowly crawling down the street, occasionally beeping at each other.’
      • ‘I join the traffic crawling on the 405 and we inch our way south.’
      • ‘He sat down beside her and looked at the constant stream of slow-moving vehicles crawling along to the junction with the street.’
      • ‘The result is a road and street system on which the city's five million vehicles crawl.’
      • ‘About half hour from there, the bus crawled to a stop again, for another tire change.’
      • ‘Nine lanes of constant traffic come crawling past every day.’
      • ‘Hundreds of cars were crawling up and down the aisles and it looked as if there wasn't going to be a single empty spot.’
      • ‘Walking is better than crawling in slow traffic, wasting fuel and adding to air pollution.’
      • ‘The car crawled at 11 miles per hour, as excited onlookers cheered the smiling President and his glamorous wife.’
      • ‘A few days later our bus is crawling along while we stew in exhaust fumes.’
      • ‘A roadside survey last month found that on some streets, traffic crawls at less than 2mph.’
      • ‘Every week almost a million cars crawl over the Jacques Cartier Bridge alone.’
      • ‘An hour later, as the bus finally crawled its way out of that horrible traffic jam, it managed to reach the train stop.’
      • ‘When I looked out of the window, there were three or four blokes going from door-to-door whilst an unmarked transit van crawled along behind them.’
      • ‘As your boat crawls around its coast you will see the breathtaking cliffs in all their vivid colours.’
      • ‘After all, when traffic is crawling, at least nobody's going over the speed limit, which is the only traffic law that the cops seem to care about.’
      • ‘On a lonely dirt road, a truck crawls along through the dark.’
      • ‘Some motorists who contacted the Daily Dispatch said they had to wait up to an hour in the scorching heat, as the queue of vehicles crawled through the town.’
      • ‘He said hundreds of commuters already arrive late each day after sitting in buses crawling through rush-hour jams.’
      • ‘The streets of South London were unusually dark as our bus crawled through a rainy Clapham and Brixton.’
    3. 1.3 Swim using the crawl.
      • ‘The result may have been a remarkably smooth motion, like the crawl performed by an expert swimmer.’
    4. 1.4technical (of paint or other liquid) move after application to form an uneven layer over the surface below.
      ‘glazes can crawl away from a crack in the piece’
  • 2informal no object Behave obsequiously or ingratiatingly in the hope of gaining someone's favor.

    ‘don't come crawling back to me later when you realize your mistake’
    • ‘It was always her way to come back crawling to him.’
    • ‘I always wondered if Cyrus came crawling to me, if I would help him.’
    • ‘Next thing you know, the t-shirt companies will come crawling to you, asking for you to be their ambassador!’
    • ‘That's just what independent people who have worked hard all their lives want: to have to go crawling to the State with their begging bowl out.’
    • ‘Wes dropped me off at my apartment and told me that if that's the way I felt, I shouldn't come crawling to him for any more favors.’
    • ‘He bitterly rebuked them for having the temerity to come crawling to him for a loan after publicly disdaining him.’
    • ‘And it was his pride more than anything else that prevented him from crawling to her and begging her to let him sleep outside.’
    • ‘He didn't relish the thought of crawling to anyone's feet; it wasn't even something he did for most women.’
    • ‘Bill's always crawling to management, hoping for promotion.’
    • ‘He was always a source of warmth, and from her earliest age she had remembered always crawling to him for comfort.’
    • ‘They have a lot to lose in this and so they will be the ones who will be crawling to the negotiating table.’
    • ‘Anyway, if you come crawling to my door, crying to be let in because a comet is headed straight for your town, you can just forget it!’
    • ‘Unfortunately, it has blown its budget and will have to come crawling to Congress for the money it needs to start over from scratch.’
    grovel to, be obsequious towards, ingratiate oneself with, be servile towards, be sycophantic towards, kowtow to, pander to, abase oneself to, demean oneself to, bow and scrape to, prostrate oneself before, toady to, truckle to, dance attendance on, fawn on, fawn over, curry favour with, cultivate, seek the favour of, try to win over, try to get on the good side of, make up to, play up to
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  • 3be crawling withBe covered or crowded with insects or people, to an extent that is disgusting or objectionable.

    ‘the place was crawling with soldiers’
    • ‘Its mossy floor was crawling with wildlife, and the tips of the treetops rang with the mindless tittering and singing and chirping of a thousand different night birds.’
    • ‘The place was crawling with gun-toting security men.’
    • ‘Inspecting the marsupial in question, I noticed it was crawling with fleas.’
    • ‘You know the place is going to be crawling with all those people from the history department you don't like.’
    • ‘The place is crawling with highly trained, professional researchers.’
    • ‘There was at least 20 police vehicles, and the station was crawling with them.’
    • ‘She said: ‘The village was crawling with police cars and vans looking for Stuart, who had gone to the fish shop.’’
    • ‘In the beginning, the area had been crawling with soldiers and bristling with guns.’
    • ‘The food isn't very good, and the place is crawling with criminals.’
    • ‘This whole huge area was crawling with soldiers, and each wave of a heavy gun resulted in quick, frightened obedience from the people.’
    • ‘The place was crawling with sight-seers, so after joining them in an extended picture-taking session, we returned to the car and retraced our steps towards Lagos.’
    • ‘Inside it is crawling with maggot-like insects.’
    • ‘The train station yesterday was crawling with police and sniffer dogs, but alerts come and go.’
    • ‘By nightfall, this place will be crawling with soldiers.’
    • ‘The boardwalk was crawling with people on holiday, but for some reason the skyride wasn't running.’
    • ‘For the next two hours, the entire area was crawling with dozens of police vans, squad cars, riot troops and paddy wagons.’
    • ‘It's Children in Need, so the male members of staff were having their chests waxed (presumably to raise money) and the place was crawling with kids.’
    • ‘The coastal rocks and islands were reported to be crawling with seals, which brought good prices for their carcases and their oil.’
    • ‘But beware - the park is crawling with ground squirrels and if you're not paying attention, you can get your foot stuck in a gopher hole.’
    • ‘The place was crawling with good looking, very funny, very intelligent, eligible bachelors!’
    be full of, overflow with, teem with, abound in, abound with, be packed with, be crowded with, be thronged with, be jammed with, be alive with, be overrun with, swarm with, be bristling with, be infested with, be thick with
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  • 4Computing
    with object (of a program) systematically visit (a number of web pages) in order to create an index of data.

    ‘its automated software robots crawl websites, grabbing copies of pages to index’
    • ‘We use a huge set of computers to crawl billions of pages on the web.’
    • ‘Google crawls 20 billion pages a day.’
    • ‘The 33-year-old wrote a program to crawl the Web and download menus from New York eateries.’
    • ‘At peak speeds, the system can crawl over 100 web pages per second using four crawlers.’
    • ‘Search engines are programs that crawl the web looking for information.’
    • ‘Also, always check your server logs to find out, accurately, which pages are actually being crawled.’


  • 1An act of moving on one's hands and knees or dragging one's body along the ground.

    ‘they began the crawl back to their own lines’
    • ‘First crawl, then walk and God will get you running.’
    • ‘He slowed down as the bathroom came into sight, and walked at a circumspect crawl now.’
    • ‘A run became a jog, became a walk, and then a near crawl.’
    • ‘Blake began the upside-down crawl on the net, his hands and feet hooking themselves into holes in the net like it was instinct.’
    • ‘Tyler and Tony began the long crawl back to their cells.’
    • ‘She slowed from a run to something of a crawl as rain began to pour down on her and splash her in the face.’
    • ‘Meanwhile, the baby had a crawl through the meadow.’
    • ‘His men began at a jog, which became a walk and then a crawl before they finally shook themselves towards the end.’
    1. 1.1 A slow rate of movement, typically that of a vehicle.
      ‘he reduced his speed to a crawl’
      • ‘A mile before the city limit marker, the traffic slowed to a crawl.’
      • ‘After a long, slow back breaking crawl, he caught up with the others.’
      • ‘I was forced to slow down to a crawl and pay special attention to everything going on around me.’
      • ‘She slowed her pace passing by the streams of people, eventually slowing to a crawl with the masses of people.’
      • ‘Dozens of roadblocks force you to slow to a crawl, you wave your summit badge, they ask you where you're from to judge just how bad your French is and then wave you on.’
      • ‘However, it does not matter how powerful a tug is pulling it, the barge will never move at more than a crawl, even when moving down-river empty.’
      • ‘He falls into a slow crawl so he can observe how they mate without disturbing them.’
      • ‘One weekend, there was a half-hour crawl along Didsbury Road to get to the car park and it took 20 minutes to get off it.’
      • ‘As it turned out, life inside the car was not all it was cracked up to be either - especially when traffic on the freeway slowed to a crawl.’
      • ‘In the afternoon, we slowed to a crawl and then stopped.’
      • ‘Everyone was going at a crawl and occasionally, when an opening arose, I would advance a little further by going either left or right of the car in front of me.’
      • ‘After the observation mile it was a straight run home, only if the truth be told it was more of a crawl than anything else.’
      • ‘First-up, most companies that needed websites already have one now so the initial rush to the web has slowed to a crawl.’
      • ‘If you live in London, Manchester or any of our big cities a daily crawl is absolutely normal and I remember a daily journey of at least one hour - for ever.’
      • ‘We slowed to a crawl about three miles or so out of Morrisville and even came to a brief stop for a minute.’
      • ‘Unfortunately, although the road is clear of other traffic, the bus can't reroute when it runs into a Utah snowstorm and slows to a crawl.’
      • ‘If every laptop user is downloading from the network at this speed, the servers will slow to a crawl.’
      • ‘In many episodes, the animation slows to a crawl, or even freezes altogether into a static image.’
      • ‘He said the road did not look particularly dangerous but jams were caused when motorist slowed down to a crawl because of the icy conditions.’
      • ‘Add a multi-car accident and traffic quickly slows to a crawl.’
  • 2A swimming stroke involving alternate overarm movements and rapid kicks of the legs.

    • ‘I've got some wonderful documents that explain how to swim the Japanese crawl, in the 1930s.’
    • ‘Shovelling snow, swimming by way of a crawl or butterfly stroke, or playing hockey all aggravate his condition.’
    • ‘Inside I may be dancing but outside I'm doing the front crawl.’
    • ‘Soon our swimmers are at 100 kicks and we are reaping the benefits of strong legs in other strokes such as crawl and back.’
    • ‘However, the risk to the shoulder is real in both the butterfly and crawl strokes if the upper arm bone is not externally rotated during the recovery phase.’
    • ‘Changes in performance time for 100 metre front crawl were examined over a 4-year period for both groups.’
    • ‘In this event swimmers can pick whatever stroke they wish, but the reality is they always pick the fastest one, the crawl.’
    • ‘Where Carl learned to swim like a porpoise, we aren't told, but he strikes out in a smooth crawl, out-distancing the pursuing sailor and beats him to a buoy by a mile.’
    • ‘As soon as I saw her doing the front crawl, I knew she'd be good.’
    • ‘When swimming front crawl, to which side do you breathe, and what is your usual handedness?’
    • ‘The crawl stroke, with flutter kick, had been introduced into competitive swimming a few years earlier by another Aussie.’
    • ‘Accompanied by a flotilla of small boats, he swam a powerful crawl across to Scarba.’
    • ‘I have a straight arm recovery on front crawl so am limited to certain drills.’
    • ‘Swimmers who have already learned front crawl gain a whole new appreciation of how freestyle works.’
    • ‘If you've been swimming a lot of front crawl or fly, swim some backstroke.’
    • ‘He does this for a few lengths, the starts doing front crawl.’
    • ‘So popular was the gala that the number of events had to be restricted to the front crawl and the backstroke because such a large number of competitors turned up.’
    • ‘The shoulder can be put into a precarious position during the recovery and entry periods of the crawl and butterfly strokes.’
    • ‘They dominated the crawl stroke, they dominated the 100 yards, they dominated the relays, winning the Gold Medals.’
    • ‘The ideal freestyle or front crawl stroke has changed over the past 20 years, with more emphasis on whole body rotation.’
  • 3A strip or band running across the bottom of a computer or television screen, within which news headlines, public service announcements, and advertisements are continuously scrolled.


  • make someone's skin crawl

    • see skin
      • ‘They are the kind of parents who instantly make one's skin crawl.’
      • ‘No fear shone in their orange eyes, only an evil deadness that could be felt, making one's skin crawl.’
      • ‘Yet in one scene he overturns the balance of power between them with a single disturbing gesture, and the sleazy satisfaction on his face makes one's skin crawl.’


Middle English: of unknown origin; possibly related to Swedish kravla and Danish kravle.