Definition of sulfur in US English:


(British sulphur)


  • 1The chemical element of atomic number 16, a yellow combustible nonmetal.

    Sulfur occurs uncombined in volcanic and sedimentary deposits, as well as being a constituent of many minerals and petroleum. It is normally a bright yellow crystalline solid, but several other allotropic forms can be made. Sulfur is an ingredient of gunpowder, and is used in making matches and as an antiseptic and fungicide

    • ‘In the burning process most carbon, nitrogen and sulphur are lost in gaseous form, whereas phosphorus, potassium and calcium are retained in the ash.’
    • ‘Boron, silicon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur are among the most prevalent of the elements other than carbon that form covalent compounds.’
    • ‘Calcium, sulphur, magnesium, aluminium, iron, copper, zinc and manganese were measured by atomic absorption spectrophotometry.’
    • ‘Most of your mass is carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur, plus some nitrogen and phosphorous.’
    • ‘Other elements added to improve characteristics include nickel, molybdenum, copper, titanium, aluminum, silicon, niobium, nitrogen, sulfur, and selenium.’
    • ‘Life in the Universe - as we know it - began with the synthesis of some key elements: hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, and phosphorus.’
    • ‘Oxygen is a particularly strong embrittling agent for molybdenum and tungsten; nitrogen and sulfur are particularly harmful in wrought chromium.’
    • ‘Because iron has an affinity electronegative atoms such as oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur, these atoms are found at the heart of the iron-binding centers of macromolecules.’
    • ‘Aluminum was named for one of its most important compounds, alum, a compound of potassium, aluminum, sulfur and oxygen.’
    • ‘Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur and boron have been found to be important in Zambia.’
    • ‘Coal is a solid organic material made up of large, complex molecules containing mostly carbon, plus small amounts of hydrogen, sulfur, nitrogen and oxygen.’
    • ‘Chlorosis is a common symptom of deficiencies of other nutrients such as nitrogen, sulphur, and magnesium.’
    • ‘These include iron, calcium, sulfur, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, boron, and copper.’
    • ‘Potassium, a macronutrient for plants, is present in plant dry matter next to carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen and before sulphur and phosphorus.’
    • ‘Stainless steel is an alloy composed of various percentages of iron, nickel, sulfur, carbon, silicon, manganese, and chromium.’
    • ‘Acid rain results when sulfur and nitrogen compounds - products of fossil fuel combustion - rise into the atmosphere and combine with water.’
    • ‘Along with carbon, they include elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, sulphur or nitrogen.’
    • ‘The first is the ‘bulk’ elements, which include calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, chlorine, sodium, and magnesium.’
    • ‘It combines easily with many non-metals, including nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and the halogens.’
    • ‘Potassium also reacts readily with all acids and with many nonmetals, such as sulfur, fluorine, chlorine, phosphorus, and nitrogen.’
    1. 1.1 The material of which hellfire and lightning were formerly believed to consist.
      • ‘Neither the white-dwarf theory nor the the black-hole theory can explain the presence of sulfur (‘brimstone’) in the lake of fire, if it is to be taken literally.’
      • ‘The first Muslims saw that sulphur has qualities that do not exist in other stones, so they thought that it would be the fuel of Hell.’
    2. 1.2 A pale greenish-yellow color.
      as modifier ‘the bird's sulfur-yellow throat’
      • ‘What they have in common are ball-like clusters of flowers of a bright sulfur yellow that fades to a softer orange-yellow as the seeds form.’
      • ‘Among aromatic double-flowered tulips we have the sulphur yellow ‘Monte Carlo’ and the golden ‘Hoangho’.’
      • ‘Each stem carries up to 10 nodding sulphur coloured flared bell shaped flowers, growing from a base of deep green foliage that has attractive mottled markings.’
  • 2An American butterfly with predominantly yellow wings that may bear darker patches.

    Colias, Phoebis, and other genera, family Pieridae

    • ‘There are certain minerals that some butterflies, such as swallowtails, sulfurs, and blues need that are not provided in a diet of nectar alone.’
    • ‘The sulfur butterflies, Colias philodice and C. eurytheme, are economic pests of alfalfa and clover crops.’
    • ‘Create a shallow puddle to attract swallowtails, blues, sulfurs and other butterflies that enjoy drinking at mud puddles.’
    • ‘The coyote approached a patch of wet earth where a dozen or more butterflies - monarchs and sulphurs - were getting a morning drink, and the insects scattered.’
    • ‘Swallowtails, cabbage whites, skippers, and orange sulphurs follow scent trails to the tiny patches of flowers blooming furiously in the middle of the city.’


[with object]
  • Disinfect or fumigate with sulfur.

    • ‘Fruits may be pretreated by sulfuring, salt solution, ascorbic acid solution, or steam blanching.’
    • ‘Of course just as with candied fruit, ‘sulphuring’ can leave a chemical taste behind, which is why it's nearly impossible to find ‘sulphured’ molasses in grocery stores today, even if you wanted to.’
    • ‘The wine was then handled like a white wine, cool fermented and sulphured once dry.’
    • ‘Recent experiments suggest that sulphuring an inverted barrel but not bunging up results in a much lower level of volatile acids since bunging up creates a humid environment, ideal for the growth of bacteria.’
    • ‘By far the best method of sulphuring is by using liquid sulphur dioxide from a cylinder, also called bottled sulphur dioxide.’


The standard US spelling is sulfur; sulphur is the traditional British spelling. However, the -f- spelling is now standard in scientific and technical writing in the UK, and is increasingly used in other contexts as well


Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French sulfre, from Latin sulfur, sulphur.