Definition of hen in US English:



  • 1A female bird, especially of a domestic fowl.

    • ‘In adults, the cock has a crimson crown while the hen's cap is dull white; the young of both sexes usually show touches of red on the crown.’
    • ‘Displaying to the hen, the flame and gold crest features of the male are fully exposed.’
    • ‘They're sort of like cardinals - the males are all scarlet and beautiful, and the females are little brown hens.’
    • ‘If you have - as I do - a yard full of hens and roosters, you learn quickly how emotional these birds are.’
    • ‘Clare's free-range hens are lucky birds; for breakfast she feeds them organic porridge with apple and sultanas, and uses suncream when it gets hot.’
    • ‘Certified organic poultry - including laying hens, broilers, and turkeys - showed even higher rates of growth during this period.’
    • ‘The hen usually lays two eggs, which she incubates for about 24 days until they hatch.’
    • ‘Chickens raised for meat are dumped into sheds housing thousands of birds, while hens raised for their eggs are stuffed into cages and after they churn out hundreds of eggs, they, too, are slaughtered.’
    • ‘Male and female birds are very similar, with the hens distinguished only by their brighter, pinkish-red irides.’
    • ‘Tragically it's beyond them to understand the instinct that will make even a domestic hen attack anyone coming between her and her chicks.’
    • ‘Usually the hen bird would fly off and work her way through the undergrowth in rather a flurry as one approached the nest, so this usually served as a warning to tread carefully.’
    • ‘The 5 bantam hens and one California white hen provide excellent grasshopper and slug control.’
    • ‘Well before the cock is over the nest, the hen rises and approaches him from below, turns over almost upside down and catches the prey as he drops it.’
    • ‘The female red junglefowl is leaner than tame hens.’
    • ‘In early spring the turkey hen began to lay and when she had 12-15 eggs laid around St. Patrick's Day they began to hatch.’
    • ‘I couldn't believe how many types of hens there are and how tame they are.’
    • ‘Breeding hens and young chicks eat a greater proportion of animal matter than the rest of the population.’
    • ‘International cuisine uses the eggs of other birds, including ducks, geese, sparrows, quails and ostriches, but it is the hen that has been universally domesticated.’
    • ‘He hid near nests of black woodpeckers, kingfishers, northern hazel hens and Eurasian sparrow hawks.’
    • ‘My mother kept chickens until all four hens and the three cockerels were stolen just over two weeks ago by the local kids.’
    1. 1.1hens Domestic fowls of either sex.
      • ‘Children will also delight in the baby piglets, kittens, ducks, and hens that roam free.’
      • ‘Male hens which are hatched are usually killed the instant they are born as they are of no use whatsoever to the battery farm industry.’
      • ‘The only things living were a sow, her piglets, and some hens scratching in the dirt.’
      • ‘Shot over a five-year period, the programme reveals secret glimpses into the ordinary, everyday life of cattle, sheep, hens and wildlife on the Cotswold slopes.’
      • ‘Now the European Union is in the process of overhauling many practices involving farm animals like hens, calves and pigs.’
    2. 1.2 Used in names of birds, especially waterbirds of the rail family, e.g., moorhen.
      • ‘Pan-roasted guinea hen, golden as the duck, is sparked by a sauce of tomato and lovage.’
      • ‘Incubating common eider hens were caught on the nest with hand-nets on selected islands in the study area.’
    3. 1.3 A female lobster, crab, or salmon.
      • ‘It went into the ‘fish bank’ - a cage in the river where the best hens are kept for breeding at the end of the season.’
      • ‘Down below me in a shallow margin I watched a ragged hen salmon, bursting with eggs, preparing to spawn with a huge cock fish that had a kype like a fist and a tail like a shovel.’


  • as rare (or scarce) as hen's teeth

    • Extremely rare.

      • ‘In Australia (where I'm from) these units are as scarce as hen's teeth.’
      • ‘Floral gifts are as rare as hen's teeth round my house too, as it happens, and asking the women of my acquaintance, it seems I'm not the only one.’
      • ‘The police are as rare as hen's teeth in Bingley so we have to wait for a terrible accident before anything will be done (if then).’
      • ‘With the union chief pointing out that taxis were still as rare as hen's teeth at weekends, he expects messages to start rolling in.’
      • ‘Getting rooms for girls is like hen's teeth, as they keep the numbers as even as possible, and being as there are about twice as many women dancing as men, the women's rooms go pronto presto.’
      • ‘They're about as rare as hen's teeth, but I'll try to find you one.’
      • ‘She acknowledged the existence of differences between men and women, but argued that the reason ‘women are as scarce as hen's teeth’ in academia is due to discrimination.’
      • ‘No wonder both teams are finding victories about as rare as hen's teeth.’
      • ‘These will be as rare as hen's teeth in the selections made by Scotland coach Berti Vogts for Saturday's first leg at Hampden, and the return in the Amsterdam Arena four days later.’
      • ‘Good, dedicated filing clerks are as rare as hen's teeth.’
      rare, uncommon, unusual, exceptional, few and far between, few, like gold dust, as scarce as hens' teeth
      View synonyms


Old English henn, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hen and German Henne.