Definition of sulfur in US English:


(British sulphur)


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

    Sulfur occurs 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

    • ‘Along with carbon, they include elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, sulphur or nitrogen.’
    • ‘These include iron, calcium, sulfur, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, boron, and copper.’
    • ‘The first is the ‘bulk’ elements, which include calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, chlorine, sodium, and magnesium.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It combines easily with many non-metals, including nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and the halogens.’
    • ‘Stainless steel is an alloy composed of various percentages of iron, nickel, sulfur, carbon, silicon, manganese, and chromium.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Acid rain results when sulfur and nitrogen compounds - products of fossil fuel combustion - rise into the atmosphere and combine with water.’
    • ‘Most of your mass is carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur, plus some nitrogen and phosphorous.’
    • ‘Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur and boron have been found to be important in Zambia.’
    • ‘Potassium, a macronutrient for plants, is present in plant dry matter next to carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen and before sulphur and phosphorus.’
    • ‘Other elements added to improve characteristics include nickel, molybdenum, copper, titanium, aluminum, silicon, niobium, nitrogen, sulfur, and selenium.’
    • ‘Oxygen is a particularly strong embrittling agent for molybdenum and tungsten; nitrogen and sulfur are particularly harmful in wrought chromium.’
    • ‘Potassium also reacts readily with all acids and with many nonmetals, such as sulfur, fluorine, chlorine, phosphorus, and nitrogen.’
    • ‘Life in the Universe - as we know it - began with the synthesis of some key elements: hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, and phosphorus.’
    • ‘In the burning process most carbon, nitrogen and sulphur are lost in gaseous form, whereas phosphorus, potassium and calcium are retained in the ash.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Aluminum was named for one of its most important compounds, alum, a compound of potassium, aluminum, sulfur and oxygen.’
    1. 1.1 The material of which hellfire and lightning were formerly believed to consist.
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
    2. 1.2 A pale greenish-yellow color.
      as modifier ‘the bird's sulfur-yellow throat’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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’.’
  • 2An American butterfly with predominantly yellow wings that may bear darker patches.

    Colias, Phoebis, and other genera, family Pieridae

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Create a shallow puddle to attract swallowtails, blues, sulfurs and other butterflies that enjoy drinking at mud puddles.’
    • ‘The sulfur butterflies, Colias philodice and C. eurytheme, are economic pests of alfalfa and clover crops.’
    • ‘There are certain minerals that some butterflies, such as swallowtails, sulfurs, and blues need that are not provided in a diet of nectar alone.’
    • ‘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.

    • ‘The wine was then handled like a white wine, cool fermented and sulphured once dry.’
    • ‘Fruits may be pretreated by sulfuring, salt solution, ascorbic acid solution, or steam blanching.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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 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.