Definition of devil in US English:


nounPlural devils

  • 1(in Christian and Jewish belief) the chief evil spirit; Satan.

    • ‘Right now, I feel as if I were in the middle of a fight between God and the Devil.’
    • ‘I have no idea what the Islamic version of Hell and the Devil is like, so maybe the symbolism really is lost on them.’
    • ‘As if to deceive the Devil himself, this humblest of men turns out to be the Son of God.’
    • ‘The majority is educated through movies and entertainment and recognizes that the pentacle is a sign of the Devil.’
    • ‘The problem is that more people now believe in the existence of God than the existence of the Devil.’
    • ‘It may be a bargain with the Devil, but it is a bargain that may be worthwhile in many cases.’
    • ‘After all, if it rises from the grave to murder innocent Christians, it has to be from the Devil, right?’
    • ‘Terrorism may have replaced the Devil as the bogeyman, but the same principle applies.’
    • ‘A silly one, unless they sniff glue and worship the Devil, and we wouldn't put it past them.’
    • ‘Listen to him for a day and you would think the Devil was here walking in our midst in the form of Liberals and the Left.’
    • ‘Did you find it any easier to avoid the Devil, to avoid evil when you were a monk?’
    • ‘Once God is absent, the Devil starts making his own plans with help of human agents.’
    • ‘In an arm-wrestling match between God and the Devil, you're not quite sure who he'd be rooting for.’
    • ‘The Church would torture and kill because the Devil roamed the Earth, and possessed the unfaithful.’
    • ‘The bible says today is the day of salvation, the Devil always says tomorrow.’
    • ‘Trams rattle by on the sunny street below, oblivious to our discussion of the world, the flesh and the Devil.’
    • ‘Hinduism is the only religion, whose God does not have any enemy, like the Devil or the Satan.’
    • ‘If a person believes themselves to be possessed by the Christian Devil, perform a Catholic exorcism.’
    • ‘Many refer to the Devil, or rely on descriptions of satanic cults as symbols of evil and death.’
    • ‘For a Harry fans, this is like a one-to-one tussle between God and the Devil himself.’
    1. 1.1 An evil spirit; a demon.
      • ‘In comes an angel or a devil or a spirit or an ancestor or whatever who gives him a ‘glimpse’ of what life could be like or should be like depending on how you look at it.’
      • ‘He knew the cant of demons and devils alongside being streetwise and arrogant.’
      • ‘There was a lot more of people's souls being stolen and demons and devils.’
      • ‘The devils and evil spirits of the next day were perhaps more psychosomatic and drawn from the excesses of the night before than derived from a Celtic past.’
      • ‘It can also take the form of an exorcism, where the treatment is meant to drive out an evil spirit or devil from the victim.’
      • ‘In science fiction there can be no inexplicable marvels, no transcendences, no devils or demons.’
      • ‘Ignore her as she is being borne away by these devils, these demons, these evil creatures with the intention of - what?’
      • ‘The Holy Fools were tasked to protect Tripitaka on his journey, and protect him they did, from all manner of demons and devils.’
      • ‘Some perceive them as demons, devils and harbingers of evil.’
      • ‘Characters often include such villains as devils, infidels, demons, Turks, and sometimes Englishmen, and the action emphasizes the struggle between good and evil.’
      • ‘And in the modern day, there's an equation relating UFOs and abduction experience to devils and demons as well.’
      • ‘Far from being a discouraging picture of evil, cinematic devils are cool, calculating and one step ahead of the mere mortals whose souls they seek to add to their collections.’
      • ‘We need to know that it is, precisely, human beings who do these things in certain circumstances, not monsters (except in the moral sense) or demons or devils.’
      • ‘The Bedouin traditionally hang amulets on the body of adults to prevent the evil eye, devils, impure spirits and other illnesses from attacking the bearer of the amulet.’
      • ‘I dressed up as a Vampire and my brother Wayne as a Devil with my sister Amy as a Witch.’
      • ‘So far as I know, even demons and devils have souls (though evil ones).’
      • ‘For there - so it is said - her idol sometimes comes to life and in physical form takes action to protect her devotees against devils and demons.’
      • ‘The whole devil/evil spirit/demons/possession thing fascinates me, it always has.’
      • ‘We are taught about angels, witches, devils, spirits, monsters, gods, etc. virtually in the cradle.’
      • ‘The Bible is almost silent about devils in the Old Testament.’
      evil spirit, demon, fiend, imp, bogie, ghost, spectre
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 A very wicked or cruel person.
      ‘they prefer voting for devils rather than for decent men’
      • ‘Some say they prefer to stick to the devil they know.’
      • ‘We vote for the devil we know rather then the Devil we don't.’
      • ‘Yet the Island editorial, which was pointedly headlined ‘The known devil is preferable’, also contained a note of apprehension.’
      • ‘I seek refuge in Thee from the wicked devils both male and female.’
      • ‘They were not devils or monsters psychologically speaking; for the most part they were not even abnormally sadistic or inherently brutal, or killers ‘by nature’, and so forth.’
      • ‘There were 4 other people waiting with me; 2 grannies, a mother and her devil of a son.’
      • ‘He is so utterly rotten he manages to make devils like Perle look positively benign in comparison, and his current evil is fomenting the attack on Iran.’
      • ‘Having his wicked way with women also figures high on the movie devil's list of priorities.’
      • ‘Stakeholders included relevant agents of class outside of Swapo, who preferred to keep the devil they knew in power rather than opting for an unknown alternative.’
      • ‘Elections are dead simple: if people feel prosperous or no worse off, they'll vote for the devil they know.’
      • ‘Finally he decides that because he prefers the advice the devil is giving him, he'll listen to it and run.’
      • ‘Yeah Joe Clark would prefer the devil we have now because Joe Clark himself is of the same breed as Paul Martin.’
      • ‘The principle of social continuity - Conservatives prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't know.’
      • ‘‘This will be the job of all the sons of this homeland… until we can rest assured that our country is free of devils and wicked people,’ Nayef said.’
      • ‘Plucked strings, bluegrass rhythms, deep gospel accompaniment and stories of sinners and devils are the order of the day.’
      • ‘The devil knows physical pleasure and how to manipulate the physical world.’
      • ‘Actually, you should probably just read that whole paragraph, it's almost envious of the wild, sun and sand lifestyle of that rogue devil Hussein.’
      • ‘For all the government's other failings, many voters may prefer the devil they know.’
      • ‘Randy was right, he would never lie, that would be a sin, and he must live blamelessly, but he was wrong, those people he had killed had been devils, and it had been his job to do so.’
      • ‘He prefers to think of the devil as that pimply-faced bully who used to beat him up and steal his lunch money in sixth grade.’
      brute, beast, monster, savage, demon, fiend
      View synonyms
    3. 1.3 A mischievously clever or self-willed person.
      ‘the cunning old devil is up to something’
    4. 1.4the devil Fighting spirit; wildness.
      ‘he was dangerous when the devil was in him’
      • ‘She was full of the devil, as my mother would say.’
      • ‘Edward's strength was not a match for this Savoyard, and the devil was in him to make him think of tilting against one of such superior force.’
      • ‘Her name in Hakka dialect meant ‘Sweet Little Sister’ but I could already tell she had the devil in her.’
    5. 1.5the devil A thing that is very difficult or awkward to do or deal with.
      ‘it's going to be the very devil to disentangle’
      • ‘That exhibit was the devil to put together, I can tell you.’
      • ‘Intermittent problems are the devil to fix, because they so often don't happen when the mechanic looks for them.’
  • 2informal with adjective A person with specified characteristics.

    ‘a lucky devil’
    ‘the poor devil’
    • ‘The poor devil was the first person to ever get run over by a train.’
    • ‘A cast list of more than about five scares the poor devils to death.’
    • ‘It got to the point where the poor devil daren't leave the bedroom door even slightly ajar for fear that I would sneakily insert a syringe through the gap in an attempt to feed him tea intravenously.’
    • ‘To do this, some poor devil was up all night with the Letraset making desk signs bearing the slogan ‘The Buck Stops Here.’’
    • ‘One would think that the police would be allowed not to prosecute when they lose eight out of 10 cases, but the Crown Law Office sends to court the poor devils who have already been traumatised.’
    • ‘Thus, the first order of the new Pax Americana is to bring those we deem as heathens to democracy, to modernize the poor devils, and while we're at it teach them the beauties of a more materialistic culture.’
    • ‘The pressures associated with his baldness finally wore down the poor devil.’
    • ‘She hadn't seen the handsome devil for several years.’
    • ‘Poor devil had his tongue cut out, so he trained the parrot to talk for him.’
    • ‘Now, this handsome devil to my right is Edwin Graham.’
    • ‘A morass of half-reconstituted chicken curry didn't go down all that well; I'm sure the poor devils thought I was trying to poison them.’
    • ‘Poor devils - they had come to believe that their wings were real.’
    • ‘Theatre Network's David Cheoros is one romantic devil.’
    • ‘The poor devils have to hack their own speeches out, and of course they often sound that way, heavygoing phrases and so on.’
    • ‘The poor devil must have performed non-stop pirouettes in his grave during a segment of the '40s.’
    • ‘Maybe she is and maybe she isn't, and the audience will judge for themselves, but what else is the poor devil going to say?’
    • ‘As Auntie Mame so colorfully stated, life is a banquet- and most poor devils are starving to death.’
    • ‘They are the real patriots, not the poor devils who are riding this bear market down.’
    wretch, unfortunate, creature, soul, person, fellow
    View synonyms
  • 3the devilExpressing surprise or annoyance in various questions or exclamations.

    ‘“Where the devil is he?”’
    • ‘"Speaking of Inspector Gadget, where the devil is he?’
    • ‘There was a knock at the door and Lori nearly fell off her bed when she heard it, ‘Lori what the devil is wrong with you?’’
  • 4An instrument or machine fitted with sharp teeth or spikes, used for tearing or other destructive work.

    • ‘General Mitchel, of counsel for the defendant, produced a model which was intended to represent a machine used in Great Britain for cleaning cotton, denominated the "Teazer or Devil."’
    • ‘The rag-tearer or 'devil' had been equipped with teeth instead of the original blades, so that it was capable of tearing up the better qualities of cloth.’
  • 5informal, dated A junior assistant of a lawyer or other professional.

    • ‘Assisted by a "devil," an aspiring barrister in his or her first year of practice, they work alone, the often flamboyant superstars of the Irish legal system.’
    • ‘While under the master's guidance, which is generally for a year, the newly qualified barrister is known as a devil.’

verbdevils, devilled, deviling, deviled, devilling

  • 1dated, informal no object Act as a junior assistant for a lawyer or other professional.

    • ‘There was Kyle Leyden, a young barrister about to embark on the two-year apprenticeship known as devilling.’
    • ‘As I'd never (to my knowledge) supped with the devil, I was thrilled to find myself in the company of a junior barrister who's devilling at the moment.’
    • ‘Even after the devilling year, Irish barristers are not guaranteed any income, and many drop out of the profession because of the pressure of growing bank loans.’
  • 2North American with object Harass or worry (someone)

    ‘he was deviled by a new-found fear’
    • ‘People will devil their own children, spouses, parents, co-workers and neighbors.’
    • ‘As I searched the mass of people below me for Josef's gipsy curls & defiant red scarf, the Reverend's words deviled my ears despite the barrier of the window-glass.’
    pester, badger, hound, harry, plague, torment, bedevil, persecute, bother, annoy, exasperate, worry, disturb, trouble, agitate, provoke, vex
    View synonyms


  • between the devil and the deep (blue) sea

    • Caught in a dilemma.

      • ‘In our modern day, this conflict has come to be known as ‘being between the devil and the deep blue sea,’ or ‘being between a rock and a hard spot.’’
      • ‘‘I'm stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea,’ she says.’
      • ‘An eco-minded fish lover who commits this little cheat sheet to memory won't be left stranded between the devil and the deep blue sea.’
      • ‘When black people need police protection we are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.’
      • ‘We were stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.’
      • ‘Lyn Sharpe, acting headteacher at John of Gaunt, admitted she is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea after closing the gate last year for health and safety reasons.’
      • ‘A classic case of finding oneself trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, you will agree.’
      • ‘If the law also states that people can come onto the premises and create a situation where it's not an orderly house then we're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.’
      • ‘Once again the affable Scot, who had already suspended the institutions twice in four months, was on the cusp of another deadline and between the devil and the deep blue sea.’
      • ‘Seeking professional advice on your portfolio never goes amiss but, when investors feel trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, guidance on how to best insulate your investments from market volatility can prove invaluable.’
  • devil a —

    • archaic Not even one or any.

      ‘the devil a man of you stirred himself over it’
  • the devil can quote scripture for his purpose

    • proverb People may conceal unworthy motives by reciting words that sound morally authoritative.

      • ‘Finally you get the Devil quoting scriptures for his own purposes when he turns the story of Jacob.’
      • ‘This utterly unbelievable and untrue account of the birth of this nation gives new meaning to the saying "the devil can quote scripture for his purpose too.’
  • the devil finds work for idle hands to do

    • proverb Someone who doesn't have enough work to do is liable to cause or get into trouble.

      • ‘We can't lower the workweek because the devil finds work for idle hands to do.’
      • ‘If it is true that the devil finds work for idle hands to do, the No. i U. S. Mephistopheles is currently a mild little Philadelphian named Charles Darrow.’
  • the devil looks after his own

    • proverb Success or good fortune often seem to come to those who least deserve it.

      • ‘But the devil looks after his own, it is said, and all eventually reached home safely.’
      • ‘Even though they started off in last place, it looks like the devil looks after his own, because by the end of the first episode they were contenders for first.’
      • ‘I thought Don would have to bowl himself - but the devil looks after his own.’
      • ‘They say the devil looks after his own, so perhaps Old Nick himself whispered these clever combinations of metaphor into the author's ear.’
      • ‘They say the devil looks after his own - and boy, am I grateful for small mercies!’
      • ‘Of the writer and dramatist Simon Raven, who died recently, his obituary in the Guardian started off like this: ‘The death of Simon Raven, at the age of 73 after a stroke, is proof that the devil looks after his own.’’
  • a devil of a —

    • informal Used to emphasize great size or degree.

      ‘we are in a devil of a mess here’
      • ‘President Theodore Roosevelt, in a private brief interview, had confided that "affairs are in a devil of a mess."’
      • ‘We are sure that such things must exist, but have a devil of a time pinning them down - as detailed rules, they are not generally understood at all.’
      • ‘Working out the ‘bugs’ in this plan is going to be a devil of a headache.’
      • ‘‘It gave me a devil of a lot of trouble’, said Morris, ‘to get that thing into verse’.’
  • the devil's own —

    • informal Used to emphasize the difficulty or seriousness of something.

      ‘he was in the devil's own hurry’
      • ‘We had the devil's own job getting ‘England’ past the censors, lest it be considered racist.’’
      • ‘When financial firms make mistakes, it's the devil's own job to get them to cough up an apology and some compensation - but it can be done.’
      • ‘KEVIN KEEGAN has admitted that Manchester City fans have the devil's own job in deciding on a player of the season.’
      • ‘This is supposed to be the devil's own major championship, with the teeniest sin earning you at least 20 minutes of mind-bending, score-inflating hell.’
      • ‘I had the devil's own time getting her to let me stay yesterday.’
      • ‘Rule #5: css is the devil's own scripting language.’
      • ‘It's approaching 1.50 pm, you've been in a queue for the past twenty minutes, clutching that prized gift, which has been the devil's own job to track down.’
      • ‘They will presumably beat Saudi Arabia and even though points and goal difference are the devil's own job to calculate, it will take some exceptional stuff from Cameroon to qualify ahead of them.’
      • ‘This is indeed something I'm hearing more frequently, and frankly, I think it's the devil's own polity.’
      • ‘Langer was 7-under through 16 holes, heading for that 65, when he came up against the devil's own invention, 17, the Road Hole, with its stone wall and macadam pathway and high rough.’
  • (the) devil take the hindmost

    • proverb Everyone should (or does) look after their own interests, without regard for the fate of others.

      ‘full speed ahead and the devil take the hindmost’
      • ‘But they didn't bring it back to pull the other people up and so it's like the devil take the hindmost.’
      • ‘Certainly, the traditional response has been for every country to try to maximize its own immediate well-being, and the devil take the hindmost.’
      • ‘However, environmental policy in the United States and Europe for the past 70 years has been guided by entirely different principles perhaps best reflected in the aphorisms, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ and, ‘Let the devil take the hindmost.’’
      • ‘You see that was before the race had conceived the idea that two could work together; it was every man-savage for himself and the devil take the hindmost.’
      • ‘I'm dressed for success, I'm focused tightly on my goals, I'm looking after me and mine, and the devil take the hindmost.’
      • ‘Why not simply announce the campaign, raise all the money you can and the devil take the hindmost?’
      • ‘Here it is every one for himself and the devil take the hindmost.’
      • ‘Maximize profits and let the devil take the hindmost!’
      • ‘In our individualism we have long since abandoned the laissez faire of the 18th Century-the notion that it is ‘every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.’’
      • ‘I do what I like, you do what you like, and the devil take the hindmost.’
  • the devil to pay

    • Serious trouble to be dealt with.

      ‘there was the devil to pay when we got home’
      • ‘It's time to fish or cut bait, mate, or there'll be the devil to pay.’
      • ‘Thus a crisis or emergency could be described as ‘the devil to pay and no pitch hot.’’
      • ‘There will be the devil to pay when Alorin finds out.’
      • ‘This time, Devellyn tells her, she'll have the devil to pay.’
  • give the devil his due

    • proverb Acknowledge the good qualities of even a bad or undeserving person.

      • ‘Though he'd become wealthy and famous, not much of the journey was ever easy for Rouncival, and it was time to give the devil his due.’
      • ‘There are times when one must give the devil his due.’
      • ‘He could have done that better if he had been more willing to give the devil his due.’
      • ‘And More says, I would give the devil his due because when they come after me, I want them to give me my due.’
      • ‘Interesting, well in this business sometimes you have to give the devil his due, I suppose.’
      • ‘Actually, to give the devil his due, Jack got her.’
      • ‘To give the devil his due, the Pentagon's web site is absolutely crammed with official propaganda, which does make it easier to track the evolution of official lies.’
      • ‘Given that I think Kerry is utterly appalling on such questions, I figure I'll give the devil his due.’
  • like the devil

    • With great speed or energy.

      ‘he drove like the devil’
      • ‘How Bruno makes it over the wall of the high security prison is never divulged, but he's there at the beginning, running like the devil, with bullets flying around his feet.’
      • ‘What they did is, they fought like the devil, throughout the year 2000, to try to keep this so-called New Economy, or Y2K bubble, alive.’
      • ‘What I say is I tried like the devil to take him out.’
      • ‘Tsyzu is smarter, tougher and can wallop like the devil.’
      • ‘One does have to work like the devil in order to keep your head above water in this country… or death by drowning is sure to happen with our economic climate.’
      • ‘They - you know, they fought like the devil going into the Democratic Convention to try and separate him from the moral issue problem.’
      • ‘They all knew Bo was hard on her brakes, and drove like the devil.’
      • ‘Yes, I know you may not even be able to pronounce it, but we have worked like the devil on this case and all her ulcers healed previously.’
      • ‘He actually was a chef on a dive boat when he was younger, and dude can cook like the devil - hence the 20 extra pounds that have clung to my backside like Grim Death since the day we started living together.’
      • ‘They were shelling us like the devil when we landed at Gold Beach all those years ago.’
      strenuously, with great vigour, strongly, powerfully, potently, forcefully, with force, forcibly, energetically, aggressively, heartily, eagerly, with eagerness, enthusiastically, with enthusiasm, with great effort, with all one's might, with might and main, with a will, for dear life, for all one is worth, to the best of one's abilities, as best one can, all out, with a vengeance, fiercely, intensely, hard, as hard as possible, as hard as one can, with all the stops out, like the devil, like the deuce, at full tilt
      View synonyms
  • play the devil with

    • Have a damaging or disruptive effect on.

      ‘this brandy plays the devil with one's emotions!’
      • ‘This played the devil with the men's sense of honour.’
      • ‘The danger is dogmatic thought; it plays the devil with religion, and science is not immune from it.’
      • ‘All sorts of things have played the devil with me; for instance, a hideous bout of influenza that left me so debilitated that I had to take thermal baths at Baden.’
      • ‘If it had not been for this unlucky hurt on my foot, I would have played the devil with them myself.’
      • ‘She always played the devil with his emotions, and he wouldn't have it, by God.’
      • ‘She looks like an angel - and plays the devil with our hearts.’
      • ‘Climbing with full load in these conditions played the devil with fuel consumption.’
      • ‘Her mind played the devil with her and tortured her to death.’
      • ‘He never got Hendry's letter with the news, and we knew that he was already in the hands of the woman who played the devil with his life.’
      • ‘The conflicting elements in his nature had played the devil with him.’
  • speak (or talk) of the devil

    • Said when a person appears just after being mentioned.

      • ‘And speak of the devil, there's Pat, and that dimwit Brock.’
      • ‘His smile wasn't nearly as beautiful as Andy's, and then speak of the devil, in barges Andy!’
      • ‘There was a light knock on the door, speak of the devil.’
      • ‘Speaking of the devil, Razi Rune, sister of a different mother, came through the flap of the tent.’
      • ‘He, Joe, and Ivan, speak of the devil, appeared in the main hall.’
      • ‘There was a knock on the door; speak of the devil, Clarissa thought wryly.’
      • ‘‘And speak of the devil,’ Bella nodded her head in the direction of an advancing figure.’
      • ‘Speaking of the devil, her mother decided at that time to come back with another opened can of tomato paste.’
      • ‘‘Ah, talk of the devil,’ she announced when she had consumed her snack, nodding towards the van, where Dylan was looking around like he had absolutely no idea where he was.’
      • ‘Speaking of the devil, Matthew walked into the kitchen with his plaid boxers and black tee.’
  • the devil is in the details

    • The details of a matter are its most problematic aspect.

      • ‘This is fraught with difficulties because the devil will be in the detail of the new contract due to be negotiated with the IHCA.’
      • ‘To use a common expression ‘the devil is in the detail’.’
      • ‘This sounds like we could be going in the right direction at last, but, as ever, the devil's in the detail.’
      • ‘Beware, the devil's in the detail - set out the facts as clearly as possible and keep your letter short and to the point.’
      • ‘As Sian Flynn explains, the devil's in the detail.’
      • ‘While welcoming the support, the fishing industry's president says the devil's in the detail, but $10 million is not enough.’
      • ‘But the devil's in the detail - Sky has won four new live packages, which include live games on Saturday lunchtime and Saturday afternoons.’
      • ‘She also welcomes the government's package, but she says the devil's in the detail.’
      • ‘Well, again, Susan, the key here is the devil is in the details.’
      • ‘Once you think you've found the right match, the devil is in the details.’
  • go to the devil

    • 1Said in angry rejection or condemnation of someone.

      • ‘"Go to the devil," said McCormack.’
      • ‘Then the luggage steward said: "Oh, go to the devil!"’
    • 2Fall into moral depravity.

      ‘he must go to the devil in his own way’
      • ‘What if a wretched old woman does choose to go to the devil, when I thought she was going to Heaven!’
      • ‘Go hack in the sugar cane fields, brew up those rotten geraniums, even go to the devil with your dad, but latch on to life if you don't want to die a dumb grifter with your mouth wide open catching flies.’
      • ‘Handel, who by this time had cooled considerably towards Greene, is said to have remarked that Greene had ‘gone to the devil’.’
      • ‘‘He must fight or go to the devil,’ demonstrators shouted as they marched out of Cairo's mosque.’
      • ‘On the theory that purgatory is, if nothing else, better than hell, I suppose I should be grateful the United States hasn't gone to the devil just quite yet.’
      • ‘Everybody knows that people who do business the way you do, finish up going to the devil.’
      • ‘While most of the articles are now positive and informative, there are still those that report that so and so of blah blah blah church held a meeting that people are going to the devil.’
      • ‘‘I incline to Cain's heresy,’ he used to say quaintly: ‘I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.’’
      • ‘Do not read books which tell you that the world is soon coming to an end, and do not read the writing of muckrakers and pessimistic philosophers who tell you that it is going to the devil.’


Old English dēofol (related to Dutch duivel and German Teufel), via late Latin from Greek diabolos ‘accuser, slanderer’ (used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew śāṭān ‘Satan’), from diaballein ‘to slander’, from dia ‘across’ + ballein ‘to throw’.