Definition of shelf in English:



  • 1A flat length of wood or rigid material, attached to a wall or forming part of a piece of furniture, that provides a surface for the storage or display of objects.

    • ‘These ladies got a team together that catalogued and organised the books and journals from boxes to shelves and they continue their work today as more and more books are donated.’
    • ‘The brunette in question merely nodded at my statement and continued rifling through the shelves.’
    • ‘Many display shelves were covered by stationery materials, crepe paper, haberdashery, hair conditioner and washing detergent, boot polish and plastic toys.’
    • ‘The cost of fitted shelves and units can break the bank.’
    • ‘I could stock the shelves with my teenage children at the local food bank.’
    • ‘Wood or plastic shelves then rest on the brackets.’
    • ‘A shelf along one wall provides extra space for smaller plants.’
    • ‘The pieces were displayed on shelves, propped against the wall, emphasizing their three-dimensionality.’
    • ‘The boy grabbed a lantern off a shelf and lit it, and they continued down the dark hallway.’
    • ‘Traditionally, a food bank's shelves are filled haphazardly with whatever goods companies overproduce.’
    • ‘Scattered around the perimeter were canvases and dark wood frames and shelves were put seemingly randomly on the walls.’
    • ‘In the adjacent cabinet, glide-out shelves provide pantry storage.’
    • ‘A walk-in pantry with shelves provides extra storage and another door leads to a roomy back hall, toilet and plumbed utility room.’
    • ‘At the back of the restaurant is a grand old-fashioned teak pharmaceutical counter with banks of drawers and shelves full of bottles.’
    • ‘The painters, who had promised me two days notice to remove everything from walls, shelves and large pieces of furniture, instead gave me a few hours.’
    • ‘On another wall were shelves holding the trophies displayed.’
    • ‘Eventually, the stock grew and Bruce put shelves on the wall (behind the counter) to display the movies.’
    • ‘Free-standing shelves provide excellent storage and can be taken with you when you move.’
    • ‘You'll find wood storage shelves and crates in pine, oak, redwood, and a variety of other woods, or you can have a wood shop custom make whatever you need.’
    • ‘They check that the items are continuously on the shelves and promoted prominently.’
    ledge, bracket, sill, rack
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1A ledge of rock or protruding strip of land.
      • ‘Figure 6 shows outcrop Al as a representative example of the shelf to shoreface successions on the footwall of the Jalan Tutong Fault.’
      • ‘As the water went down, one of the aquarists placed some of the eggs that had fallen from the sides of the tank on a rock shelf.’
      • ‘An undamaged cluster of two foot long straws hang under a shelf of rock topped with flowstone, and is well worth a visit.’
      • ‘Later, he tries another, trickier approach, via an overhanging shelf of rock and ice.’
      • ‘There were, broadly speaking, three tracts of relevant land: there is the rock shelf, which was tidal…’
      • ‘The rock shelf came to an end as the cliff stopped, and at the end was a thirty-foot drop into the lagoon.’
      • ‘Each bank has a marginal shelf, which during the summer is covered in lilies.’
      • ‘I pull the rope bag out and drop it on the ledge in front of my shins, padding the rock shelf so I can lean into it.’
      • ‘Sitting on a natural shelf in the rock was a dingy mirror, and Prudence finger-combed her hair in it before smiling through the redness of her nose and eyes.’
      • ‘This has been known to occur on the north side of Mavericks where there is no exit from the water, only a rock shelf.’
      • ‘The venue has steep banks with a shelf half way down.’
      • ‘They kept to the shadows, slinking along beneath a dusty shelf of rock.’
      • ‘In the Speak-See Ball, huge shelves of land were being uprooted and tossed through the air like confetti.’
      • ‘Several minutes later the rock shelf above him disappeared and a steady stream of moonlight cascaded across the path.’
      • ‘I wanted to get a photo of the Gram Parsons BBQ pit from a small shelf in the rock above.’
      • ‘To the hole's right lies a broad shelf of rock; to its left, a tower.’
      • ‘Beside him on the rock shelf was a small cylindrical shaped object with a whip-thin antenna telescoping from the top.’
      • ‘A dusty pile of sheet rock tumbled from one of the high, unsteady shelves and landed beside Barbara.’
      • ‘Then the fogbank was gone and the ground suddenly appeared, jagged shelves of rock speeding up toward them.’
      • ‘The children seemed a little disappointed that a ride in the rubber boat was not included in their tour, but they found plenty to interest them in the rock pools in the cave and on the rock shelf.’
    2. 1.2A submarine bank, or a part of the continental shelf.
      • ‘From the cave I like to follow the reef up past a shelf at 12m to a window in the rocks at just less than 10m.’
      • ‘This problem with the sediment trap technique is probably restricted to the continental slope and shelf and will not occur over abyssal depths.’
      • ‘Zebra sharks are primarily bottom dwellers that live in warm shallow inland waters, of continental and island shelves.’
      • ‘Anemone City's sharply angled reef is broken by plateaux and shelves, where dense pinnacles and coral heads tower in a blaze of colour.’
      • ‘The deep-sea species inhabit the ocean shelf around 100 miles off the north-west coast of Scotland.’
      • ‘Sea mounts with dizzying shelves rise from the ocean floor, covered in every form of life which crawls, slides, flickers and oozes through the days and nights of marine existence.’
      • ‘Heading up Leck Fell Lane, past the cascade marking the start of the Cigalere, we continued upstream until arriving at the nice flowstone shelf with loads of straws.’
      • ‘Exquisite rock islands cloaked in dense foliage are fringed by the shelves of coral reefs covered in crystal water leading you to precipitous drop-offs.’
      • ‘The reef at once returned to slopes, shelves and indentations, with a host of coral species shrouded in anthias, butterflyfish, angelfish and groupers.’
      • ‘In 1965, a sudden change occurred; drift ice and polar water covered the north Icelandic shelf during spring.’
      • ‘We thank B. Pelletier for fruitful discussions on the origin of the shallow submarine shelf, and G. Wadge and S. J. Day for their careful reviews.’
      • ‘They prefer the warm environment of coastal waters along continental and insular shelves.’
      • ‘Adjacent coastal states have sovereign rights over the seabed mineral resources of the shelf.’
      • ‘Limestone deposition will then result by retrogradation from the adjoining shelf during continuous transgression.’
      • ‘This is situated on the highest part of the shelf and is bounded on the east by a rubble bank, which can be traced for over 600 m. and on the west by a precipitous natural scarp.’
      • ‘Recruitment patterns of these species along the shelf were then used to infer water-mass distributions along the shelf.’
      • ‘The Lower and Middle Allochthons comprise shelf and continental rise successions envisaged as indigenous to the Baltoscandian margin.’
      • ‘It occurs in mudstones that were deposited at outer shelf or bathyal depths and in flysch facies that were deposited at bathyal depths or greater.’
      • ‘Sheltered from the southeasterly breeze, the reef drops away in a series of shelves down to a large sand gutter at 30m.’
      • ‘This depth corresponds to the major change in slope between the shelf and the submarine flanks of the island.’
      sandbank, sandbar, bank, bar, reef, shoal
      View synonyms


  • off the shelf

    • Not designed or made to order but taken from existing stock or supplies.

      ‘off-the-shelf software packages’
      • ‘In Japan and some parts of Scandinavia you can buy a house off the shelf.’
      • ‘You ditch the standard template you grabbed off the shelf when you first started blogging, in favour of a design of your own making.’
      • ‘This is the software you buy shrink-wrapped off the shelf or download from the Internet onto your computer.’
      • ‘So in all probability, they took the stadium plans off the shelf.’
      • ‘No one out there is buying off the shelf without some recompense to their own industry or their own workers.’
      • ‘All cost around £20 and are available off the shelf or next day at the dealer.’
      • ‘My busy Lizzies are grown from seed rather than bought in off the shelf but, unfortunately, they never reach the seeding stage.’
      • ‘Recruits, knowledge, ideas and even cash could be had off the shelf.’
      • ‘You can buy software specific to an industry and specific to one need, off the shelf, without having to buy a whole package.’
      • ‘The electronic speed controller which works through a conventional twist grip throttle was bought off the shelf.’
  • on the shelf

    • (of people or things) no longer useful or desirable.

      ‘an injury that has kept him on the shelf’
      • ‘And it is the self-centred ones who tend to get left on the shelf and so are the main frequenters of singles venues.’
      • ‘Keep in mind that plans are not something to write and put on the shelf.’
      • ‘Neither of us can afford to put the other on the shelf for a few years.’
      • ‘For the likely and less likely lads still on the shelf there's always tomorrow - at least until the end of the week.’
      • ‘These proposals have been on the shelf from six months to a year.’
      • ‘Until people realize this, the bad boys will have to sing their own praises to avoid being left on the shelf.’
      • ‘Every budget that I submitted they put on the shelf and said it was dead on arrival.’
      • ‘So I put this screenplay on the shelf, and I called my producers who shared the same opinion with me.’
      • ‘Until the court case settled, this IPO is on the shelf, possibly forever.’
      • ‘She feels that this puts a lot of otherwise extremely worthwhile contemporary keyboard works on the shelf.’


Middle English: from Middle Low German schelf; related to Old English scylfe partition scylf crag.