Definition of ghost in US English:



  • 1An apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image.

    ‘the building is haunted by the ghost of a monk’
    figurative ‘the ghosts of past deeds’
    • ‘The ghost is believed to haunt the A363 and get into people's cars.’
    • ‘Out of those of you who believe in ghosts, do any of you think you've ever seen a ghost?’
    • ‘His viewpoint can be illustrated by myths such as those of ancient Egypt, where the living believe that ghosts live the same lives as themselves.’
    • ‘I don't really believe in ghosts, or spirits or anything of that nature.’
    • ‘Last week it was revealed that more people than in the 1950s now believe in ghosts.’
    • ‘Reading this, you might not consider yourself spiritual, but you might believe in ghosts.’
    • ‘But in our sleep there are ghosts of dead friends and relatives.’
    • ‘In Britain, as an example, most things linked to the Romans was destroyed - villas were covered up as the Ancient Britons believed that they contained ghosts and evil spirits.’
    • ‘However, he said he has spoken to a blonde ghost, who he believes is called Lindsey, on many occasions.’
    • ‘Hardly a day goes by without a snippet to evoke the ghost of negative equity that followed the 1990s crash.’
    • ‘Rumours of ghosts and strange apparitions in Windhouse are widespread.’
    • ‘It is an assembly of ghosts and the long dead gather here.’
    • ‘Throughout history there have been reports of ghosts, apparitions and spiritual visitations, both angelic and demonic.’
    • ‘They have both improved their chances of qualifying and laid to rest the ghost of German invincibility.’
    • ‘I didn't have to believe in ghosts, because there was no proof that they existed.’
    • ‘I admit I am a bit apprehensive, but I am not sure if I believe in ghosts, although the other girls are quite scared.’
    • ‘Everything about this place suggested that it was not a place for the living, only the ghosts of the dead who had once lived there.’
    • ‘They also believe the spirits of the dead become ghosts that may haunt their families and animals, make them sick, or even kill them.’
    • ‘Those shades are sometimes nothing less than the ghosts of dead men and women, as collected here.’
    • ‘She had stopped believing in ghosts and demons years ago.’
    spectre, phantom, wraith, spirit, soul, shadow, presence
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    1. 1.1 A faint trace of something.
      ‘she gave the ghost of a smile’
      • ‘I'll show up anywhere there's even a ghost of a chance to establish my legacy, but it's a real honor to be here on your program on Mother's Day.’
      • ‘I can still feel the ghost of her touch on my chin.’
      • ‘The Cabinet last week said it was a priority to tackle the issue, but the new laws have not even been drafted yet and in reality haven't a ghost of a notion of affecting anything for at least another year.’
      • ‘A ghost of a touch sets flesh to quiver, mind to glaze over, and a gaze to follow it until it slows to a halt.’
      • ‘The corners of Ian's mouth turned upwards slightly showing a ghost of a smile.’
      • ‘Now, though, insurers find they are increasingly paying out for teenagers crashing expensive vehicles that they would not normally have the ghost of a chance of obtaining cover for.’
      • ‘She ran a hand through her hair carefully, a slight ghost of a smile fluttering across her lips.’
      • ‘Let it be spoken without effect, without the ghost of a shadow on it.’
      • ‘He allowed the ghost of a smile to touch his lips.’
      • ‘He shook his head slightly, the ghost of a smile on his face.’
      • ‘His worn face held the slightest ghost of a smile as he stared down at her with twinkling eyes.’
      • ‘The man has maybe the ghost of a smile forming, he is a bit tired looking, dirty from hard work, but doesn't look beaten down.’
      • ‘There was the ghost of a slipstream behind me before the searing, slashing sting of the cane bit deeply into my flesh and the wave of pain spread throughout me like frozen meat instantly defrosting.’
      • ‘She held up her hands, a ghost of a smile touching her lips.’
      • ‘Her fingers silently moved over the patterns on the fret-board, bringing her a slight ghost of what she had felt earlier.’
      • ‘He seemed a ghost of his former action-hero self.’
      • ‘What I saw in Jimmy John's hot dog stand was the ghost of an America I used to know - a land of little guys looking for a place to build something.’
      • ‘Those eyes were deep pools of cocoa brown and set over well chiseled cheekbones and a straight aquiline nose that was shadowed by a ghost of a goatee.’
      trace, hint, suggestion, impression, faint appearance, touch, suspicion, tinge, modicum, dash, soupçon
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    2. 1.2 A faint secondary image produced by a fault in an optical system or on a cathode ray screen, e.g., by faulty television reception or internal reflection in a mirror or camera.
      • ‘What we saw were clearly ghosts from the static image we'd left on the screen.’


  • 1with object Act as ghostwriter of (a work)

    ‘his memoirs were smoothly ghosted by a journalist’
    • ‘The trouble is, without any material in his own handwriting, they were never able to defend him against the charge that his material was ghosted.’
    • ‘There remain recurring rumours his blockbuster novels must have been ghosted by a craftsman with the wit that eludes the public man of affairs.’
    • ‘A range of sports people, and writers who've ghosted these ‘autobiographies’, discuss the process and the pitfalls.’
    • ‘Or pretend to write a book and get someone with talent to ghost it for you.’
    • ‘She ghosted numerous novels for someone we all knew as a famous London publisher, and I just want to see in the flesh a woman who could be that happy to stay in the shadows.’
  • 2no object, with adverbial of direction Glide smoothly and effortlessly.

    ‘they ghosted up the river’
    • ‘His close control is marginally functional, unimpeachable, without being flashy and he has the ability to almost collide with an opponent before ghosting past him.’
    • ‘And there were; dark sleek shapes ghosting through the weeds.’
    • ‘He ghosted past two tackles and slipped the ball to his forward to sweep the ball into the empty net.’
    • ‘A great blue heron ghosted out of the trees, stately and slow.’
    • ‘We passed one another on the beach, sometimes quite closely, with no sign of recognition, like sleepwalkers ghosting through a dreamscape in which each was alone.’
  • 3with object End a personal relationship with (someone) by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

    ‘I didn't want to ghost her, so we ended up having ‘the talk’ and it was horrible’
    ‘being ghosted is one of the toughest ways to be dumped’
    no object ‘people who ghost are primarily focused on avoiding their own emotional discomfort’
    • ‘I ghosted my fiance when I had definitive proof he had been running around on me with multiple people for years.’
    • ‘I've ghosted two people in my life.’
    • ‘If you have a new partner, make sure to keep some time for your friends and if your bestie has just ghosted you for someone, make sure to tell them, honestly, about your feelings.’
    • ‘I ghosted my last relationship.’
    • ‘It's easy to compare your life—and that jerk who ghosted you the other week—to the rom-com sparks on the silver screen.’
    • ‘I'd heard of people being ghosted by those they had casually dated or even people they were in a relationship with, but just weren't all that invested in.’
    • ‘It causes additional stress and even physical ailments as we worry about what might happen if we encounter the person we are ghosting.’
    • ‘I ghosted you rather than explain myself.’
    • ‘I tried to keep working at it for another three months with her, but when things didn't get any better, I just ghosted her.’
    • ‘Not only did she leave him, she straight up ghosted him.’
    • ‘According to an informal magazine survey, 24.2 % of women and 16.7 % of men have ghosted someone.’


  • the ghost in the machine

    • The mind viewed as distinct from the body (usually used in a derogatory fashion by critics of dualism).

      • ‘The doctrine of the ghost in the machine is that people are inhabited by an immaterial soul that is the locus of free will and choice and which can't be reduced to a function of the brain.’
      • ‘I had expected something of the ghost in the machine philosopher rather than a sober minded cleric.’
      • ‘And neuroscience has most decisively exorcised the ghost in the machine by showing that our thoughts, feelings, urges, and consciousness depend completely on the physiological activity of the brain.’
      • ‘It challenges three deeply held beliefs: the blank slate (the mind has no innate structure), the noble savage (people are naturally good), and the ghost in the machine (behavior is not caused by physical events).’
      • ‘Is this the ghost in the machine that neuroscience can't really put a finger on?’
  • give up the ghost

    • 1Die.

      • ‘The tree lasted until March and then suddenly, inexplicably, gave up the ghost (and the majority of its needles) and expired.’
      • ‘The tulips almost got to flowering but then seemed to give up the ghost, go pale and slowly fall over.’
      die, lose one's life, be killed, fall, expire, meet one's death, be lost, lay down one's life, breathe one's last, draw one's last breath, pass away, go the way of all flesh, give up the ghost, go to glory, meet one's maker, go to one's last resting place, cross the great divide
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      1. 1.1(of a machine) stop working.
        • ‘If your washing machine gives up the ghost after two years and has been subject to normal use, you're entitled to a free repair.’
        • ‘With impeccable timing my sewing machine has chosen now to give up the ghost.’
        • ‘Having queued for 45 minutes to get money, the three bank machines each give up the ghost.’
        • ‘On Monday of last week, the ailing machine gave up the ghost leaving the hospital without the capacity to carry out even the most basic diagnostic tests.’
        • ‘My faithful tumble dryer is giving up the ghost, and its sad death rattles are breaking my purse.’
        • ‘For example, they can look after you when an unexpected car repair bill crops up or when your washing machine finally decides to give up the ghost after fifteen years of loyal and faithful service.’
        • ‘You know the sort of thing: you lose your job; the boiler gives up the ghost; your car breaks down; a huge bill arrives; and so on.’
        • ‘It took us the best part of five hours just to reach Birmingham, and by the time we'd reached the Scottish border, the car was screaming for mercy and the battery was giving up the ghost.’
        • ‘As if all of this weren't enough, my coffee machine gave up the ghost yesterday.’
        • ‘Yesterday Dave's PC gave up the ghost and just crashed - no power, no response from the on/off button, nothing wrong with the external power supply or cable.’
        break down, break, stop working, cease to function, cut out, stop, stall, crash, give out
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  • look as if you have seen a ghost

    • Look very pale and shocked.

  • not stand a ghost of a chance

    • Have no chance at all.


Old English gāst (in the sense ‘spirit, soul’), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch geest and German Geist. The gh- spelling occurs first in Caxton, probably influenced by Flemish gheest.