Definition of swell in US English:



[no object]
  • 1(especially of a part of the body) become larger or rounder in size, typically as a result of an accumulation of fluid.

    ‘her bruised knee was already swelling up’
    figurative ‘the sky was black and swollen with rain’
    ‘swollen glands’
    • ‘So much was going on that his eyes flashed images and his body swelled with sweat, and he didn't care about what it was, but just about when he would see it.’
    • ‘First he went down with malaria, but later on due to lack of food his legs started swelling up.’
    • ‘Your back aches to high heaven, your smell has turned a different kind of sour, you are hungry and the welts on your body are swelling as your pores open up again.’
    • ‘On returning home to write up my research, I fell victim to a throat infection which caused one of the glands in my throat to swell to massive size.’
    • ‘He has kwashiorkor, which has left his limbs bloated and his belly swollen.’
    • ‘I'm tired of my legs swelling up after a day sitting behind the desk, and I'm tired of clothes feeling too tight.’
    • ‘In children, the abdomen can become swollen and bloated and medical attention should be sought urgently.’
    • ‘The symptoms vary and have included airways swelling up and attacks to both his liver and immune systems.’
    • ‘She was suffering from frequent headaches, her eye was watering and swelling up.’
    • ‘The only thing I managed to get out of the whole experience was a painful foot which is presently swelling up quite nicely, and a bruise on my bottom.’
    • ‘They said this anti-inflammatory, called adiponectin, prevents arteries swelling up and becoming blocked.’
    • ‘Some experience ankle or leg swelling because the excessive fluid from the blood cells accumulates there.’
    • ‘The lentils will swell with cooking so maybe add some more water if its looking a little dry.’
    • ‘The liver, spleen and lymph glands can swell with leukemia cells.’
    • ‘Doctors say Hindley, 57, is suffering from a cerebral aneurysm caused by an artery swelling up at the base of the brain.’
    • ‘Histamine is one of the body's signals that causes rashes, swelling, leakage of fluid from cells, and itching.’
    • ‘But trainer Todd Hutcheson says that may not be sufficient to prevent the knee from swelling up again when Gwynn resumes baseball activity.’
    • ‘Rash, itching, body swelling, breathing difficulties, possible localised red itchy mouth and throat, and even collapse.’
    • ‘As my body swelled, I thought I would die, but death did not come, so I continued to hunt and gather food.’
    • ‘They'll swell with moisture and send out roots faster in the soil than ones planted dry.’
    expand, bulge, distend, become distended, inflate, become inflated, dilate, become bloated, bloat, blow out, blow up, puff up, balloon, fatten, fill out, tumefy, intumesce
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    1. 1.1 Become or make greater in intensity, number, amount, or volume.
      no object ‘the murmur swelled to a roar’
      ‘the swelling ranks of Irish singer-songwriters’
      with object ‘the city's population was swollen by refugees’
      • ‘Recent events have swelled both their ranks and the volume with which they proclaim their beliefs.’
      • ‘These bring an influx of travelling cod in to swell the ranks of any resident cod, plus the big fast tides will displace more food for the cod to eat and stir up some coloured water which cod feed best in.’
      • ‘Hundreds of thousands of refugees have swelled Monrovia's population to well over a million, scrabbling where they can for shelter and running short of food, water and medical supplies.’
      • ‘Least of these is the assertion that, in using such aggressive tactics against the civil rights movement, the British government swelled the ranks of the IRA.’
      • ‘During most of the 18th century the forced enlistment of vagrants was also used to swell the ranks of the army.’
      • ‘American exchanges have cheered the proposal, which will swell their ranks and pocketbooks.’
      • ‘Police in East Yorkshire are looking to swell their crime fighting ranks as they take part in a national drive to recruit special constables this weekend.’
      • ‘The cash raised has swelled the amount to almost £39,000 realised over the nine years the competition has been played.’
      • ‘Like the Irish, Scots disproportionately volunteered to swell the ranks of the British army, but there were important differences.’
      • ‘With very few exceptions, however, Cabernet Sauvignon was left to command California's highest wine prices, Merlot to swell sales volumes.’
      • ‘Every match requires an army of helpers to get the game on - and the Knights are looking for new volunteers to swell the ranks.’
      • ‘Worse, it can cause call-center volumes to swell with callers looking not for products or services, but for technical support.’
      • ‘As more and more policemen and women swell the ranks of the Metro police, we have seen a steady improvement in law and by-law enforcement within the City.’
      • ‘Alienation among unemployed youths will swell the ranks of those vulnerable to terrorist recruitment.’
      • ‘Singapore's population was swollen by refugees, and two-fifths of the city's water had come in pipes from the mainland.’
      • ‘The ranks of female players swelled by a similar amount to 132, up from 116 earlier in the decade.’
      • ‘Some 35,000 additional soldiers would swell the army's ranks.’
      • ‘If they aggressively cuts jobs, that would swell the ranks of the retirees with those fantastic benefits.’
      • ‘The bill will climb even faster as seniors' ranks swell with aging baby boomers.’
      • ‘The village, its population swollen by refugees, had been thought safe by many local people.’
      grow larger, grow greater, grow, enlarge, increase, expand, rise, wax, mount, escalate, accelerate, step up, accumulate, surge, multiply, proliferate, snowball, mushroom, skyrocket
      make larger, make greater, enlarge, increase, increase in scope, increase in size, expand, augment, boost, top up, build up, accelerate, step up, multiply
      grow loud, grow louder, become louder, amplify, intensify, heighten
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    2. 1.2 Be intensely affected or filled with a particular emotion.
      ‘she felt herself swell with pride’
      • ‘We watch strange moods fill our children, and our hearts swell with pain.’
      • ‘The old man seemed to swell with wrath and outrage.’
      • ‘Then there is dowager Jodha Bai, stately, self-contained, but lording over her eyes which swell with more water than a cloudburst can contain.’
      • ‘Leóni seemed to swell with pride as he made this announcement.’
      • ‘Her eyes began to swell with tears as she sat holding her head in her hands.’
      • ‘Her heart swelled for some affection, but she eased herself so not to appear flamboyant.’
      • ‘I swell with pride at their excited, happy replies.’
      • ‘All of this points towards The Alamo's greatest strength: If you are a Texan, you'll probably swell with pride at this film.’
      • ‘‘Oh, my,’ she said, looking at Ryan, he nodded and her eyes began to swell with tears.’
      • ‘Suddenly, a question popped into her head that made her eyes swell with tears once more.’
      • ‘So while I can't say that I swell with national pride when I read this kind of thing, I wonder if it is actually quite unimportant?’
      • ‘Anger filled me - swelling and spreading occupying every bit of my being.’
      • ‘I try not to swell with pride, and just nod, but it's hard.’
      • ‘He could feel her eyes upon him from beneath her veil, forcing his heart to swell with the thought that she loved him enough to accept his marriage proposal.’
      • ‘Yet, when even first time acquaintances called him Veerappan, Bihari Lal would swell with importance.’
      • ‘Cut to close-up of red, corn-syrup-stained hand opening to reveal said coin as violins swell with sadness.’
      • ‘Logan felt his eyes swell with tears and knew he was failing in his strong appearance.’
      • ‘They are volunteers who only do this once a year, so their chests swell with purpose.’
      • ‘Her heart seemed to swell with tears, but none cam though her eyes.’
      • ‘Robert explained, and I smiled inwardly to see the way his chest seemed to swell with his pride at having been made a partner in the firm and having been given such a responsibility.’
      be filled, be full of, be bursting, brim, overflow, be overcome
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  • 1in singular A full or gently rounded shape or form.

    ‘the soft swell of her breast’
    • ‘He could make out the swell of her left breast, harbouring a half moon crescent of dancing light as she did so.’
    • ‘From here, looking back across the choppy river, there is the best view of Greenwich, with the twin halves of the Royal Naval College, and the green swell of Greenwich Park behind.’
    • ‘The sharp inward curve of the bow gives the back a lightbulb shape, and the extreme swell on the bamboo-turned legs quickly tapers to very narrow feet.’
    • ‘The hill's lower slopes swell gradually to a gently rounded summit plateau, a bare, wind-scoured place that is haunted by the melancholic cry of the golden plover.’
    • ‘Blown under the porch roof by the wind, snowflakes alight on Beth Durand's curly brown hair, and on the pale rounded swell of her cheeks.’
    • ‘Her gown cuts down so low behind her he can slip his hand beneath the silken material to cradle the soft swell of her buttocks.’
  • 2A gradual increase in sound, amount, or intensity.

    ‘there was a swell of support in favor of him’
    • ‘He looked at her, dwarfed by the immense bed, and suddenly felt a huge swell of protectiveness overcome him.’
    • ‘Japan anticipates a huge swell of senior citizens in coming years.’
    • ‘Against that, there is a big swell of support for Forsyth among the rank-and-file professionals on the Tour.’
    • ‘Mr Smith said that, ironically, it was his book that created the swell of support that actually resulted in the Judge examining cases.’
    • ‘There in no need to be anxious about a swell in the amount of bacteria either.’
    • ‘The latest action follows a swell of support for the campaign from residents who are fed up with their address being classed as Sutton.’
    • ‘The huge swell in attendance for the events has led organiser Carmel Flahavan to appeal to parents to book early for the final month of the year.’
    • ‘If a huge swell of people come to him next election and say ‘we want you to run for mayor,’ he's human, so he may.’
    • ‘New employment opportunities lead to a swell of great economic growth within the city.’
    • ‘While there are indications the formula may be changing, Eastman sees its patient loads increasing as the population swells while its funding fails to keep up.’
    • ‘Rather, the opinions on both sides were mindful of the potential swell of cases that could be brought by African-American motorists.’
    • ‘The majority of town councillors continue to express support for the project and this is extremely important at a stage when there is a huge swell of community support.’
    • ‘Gawain Little, a 23-year-old teacher, believes there is still a steady swell of support.’
    • ‘I don't think there was ever a broad swell of support for his campaign.’
    • ‘The polls indicate a swell of support for them in those outer suburban and regional electorates which went so solidly to Howard in the last election.’
    • ‘They are also the ones who are gaining the most ground, as most recently evidenced by the swell of support for the late politician.’
    • ‘He outlined the great swell of public support for a memorial as a fitting tribute to the contribution of the sisters.’
    • ‘I am not convinced that there is ‘a huge swell of community support’ for the Riverbank project.’
    • ‘Sure, profits shrank, but that was more than offset by huge swells in sales volumes as new customers were drawn in.’
    • ‘‘There has been a huge swell of goodwill for Tom in recent days,’ says Cllr.’
    increase, rise, growth, expansion, escalation, acceleration, surge, stepping-up, proliferation, snowballing, mushrooming, skyrocketing
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    1. 2.1 A welling up of a feeling.
      ‘a swell of pride swept over George’
      • ‘At once, realization hits him, and a dull fury swells within Cahill's chest.’
      • ‘But if there were anything to force an uncommon swell of national pride through my cynical hairy chest, this would be it.’
      • ‘Sloan watched Elena feeling a swell of happiness in his heart.’
      • ‘So if my ego swells up to the point where it won't quite fit with me down here in my office, will someone please remind me of just how embarrassingly drunk I was at our 4th of July party?’
      • ‘As we near Lhasa, anticipation swells in all of us.’
      • ‘My heart swells with pride and love for those who have given up so much to make this world a better place.’
      • ‘As we all join our voices in praise of Canada, I feel chills running down my back and my heart swells with patriotic love for my adopted country.’
      • ‘If you are one, or identify with them, as this reviewer does, your chest swells with pride.’
      • ‘It was a powerful tale, and spun from the captivating silver-tongued artist who breathed life into its antique words, it brought deep, billowing swells of grief and joy to all who heard.’
      • ‘Maeve only looked at him; she felt anger, frustration, and sadness swell inside her at every second he didn't speak.’
      • ‘Sometimes my heart swells with hope for the future.’
      • ‘In addition to the swell of pride going on in my head, I feel connected to nature.’
      • ‘Even when I am typing this testimonial, my heart swells with so much adoration, love, pride, and joy for the Lord and His children.’
      • ‘Indeed the same communalists' heart swells with pride when remembering Swami Vivekananda's speeches to Americans about the glory of Vedantic thought.’
      • ‘No wonder my heart swells with pride to be an inheritor of this wonderful legacy.’
      • ‘Both Freddy and Pharaon are, on several occasions, overwhelmed by swells of inarticulate rage.’
      • ‘Tempers flare, pride swells, and soon they are divorced.’
      • ‘I can only hope that the swell of pride that has risen in our country will continue to grow in the years to come.’
      • ‘My skin still tingles at the memory and my heart swells with pride and love for my mom, though she's been long gone.’
      • ‘Jude angers swells once again, the frustration and irritation that is constantly present in a little box at the back of his mind.’
  • 3usually in singular A slow, regular movement of the sea in rolling waves that do not break.

    ‘there was a heavy swell’
    • ‘And since such vessels are not usually subjected to heavy swells and waves, the container stacks need not even be stowed in a secure cellular structure.’
    • ‘But the Marshall islanders take little interest in those factors - what count instead are the shapes and orientations of the ocean swells that break around islands.’
    • ‘Taylor said earlier that the rescuers had first reached the sinking yacht near Kei Mouth late yesterday afternoon, but by 8.45 pm had lost contact in heavy swells and fading light.’
    • ‘Annual competitions are held at this left break, where the north and south swells can stir up waves of ten feet and higher.’
    • ‘An actual ocean wave is a superposition of various wind waves and swells.’
    • ‘Half way across, with surging swells and rolling seas, the bar was soon emptied and the deck railings were full of people bent over delivering their well-spent money into the ocean.’
    • ‘The pier barely damps the roll from the westerly swells that can march down Santa Barbara Channel on even the calmest days, and a southeasterly turns the anchorage into a vicious lee shore.’
    • ‘Facing dangerous swells and harrowing rocks, Freeman maneuvered the Coast Guard vessel close enough to the disabled freighter to successfully help rescue all the crew.’
    • ‘The outer wall is now completed and offers good protection from northerly swells to those yachts anchored inside or even off the entrance.’
    • ‘During a major swell, surfable waves might break beyond the ends of the rocks.’
    • ‘We watched swells break on the point and come around into the anchorage with curling graybeard tops.’
    • ‘Wherever possible, he writes with a seaman's lingo of seaways, gunwales, swells and whitecaps.’
    • ‘The swells rolling onto the outer reef were bigger than hoped for, so we headed to a site inside the fringing reef, called Lion's Den.’
    • ‘This is an open bay with plenty of wind (Cabo de Vela means Cape Sail) but you are out of the swell in a good comfortable anchorage.’
    • ‘As the yacht surged and rolled over the swell, every movement was magnified enormously at the top of the mast.’
    • ‘The swell of the wave he caught was the biggest push of water I've ever seen ridden.’
    • ‘There was a heavy swell and they were caught by the tide. The small engine on the boat made little impact, and they drifted.’
    • ‘The long swell that was breaking on the beach is barely noticeable.’
    • ‘You don't smell the salt air of the ocean, feel the swell of the waves under your boat or the slipperiness of a freshly caught fish.’
    • ‘With airspeed picked up, the lumbering giant quit moving with the movement of the heavy swells and leaving one crest we ploughed into the next.’
    billow, billowing, undulation, surge, surging, wave, roll, rolling, bulge, bulging, rush, deluge, movement
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  • 4A mechanism for producing a crescendo or diminuendo in an organ or harmonium.

    • ‘Every big chorus kicks off with a raucous singalong or choir-like swells, and hearing everybody in the studio bellow together may be the best part of the album.’
    • ‘Unwilling to merely deal the same strum-along hand, Pottsy turns his back to beat out tribal timpani to the swells of feedback and reverse guitar.’
    • ‘Synth swells and distorted electric guitar combined with punchy kick drums frame a sumptuous female vocal loop to create one of THE tunes of the year so far.’
    • ‘Most effective is the contrast created when Slean's piano-tinkling waltz-time verses bloom into symphonic swells of strings and timpani on the pop-smart choruses.’
    • ‘Staring with ‘Rolls and Waves of Ignorance’, Herren produces a song based on a series of orchestral swells, a smooth saxophone, and a gently plucked bass.’
    • ‘Things pick up with a more pronounced drumbeat, the repetition of hi-hat, bass swells.’
    • ‘Traditionally, a musical climax is reached through the emotionally loaded swell of dynamics or harmonic resolution.’
    • ‘A lowly mixed stuttering guitar eeks out two short notes, only to be overtaken by an orchestral swell of repetitive notes.’
    • ‘Planted between chromatic saxophone swells, honeydew tongues of piano and eddying synth pulses, the childish coo of Caroline Lufkin discloses a fey, unabashed sentimentalism that is hard to dislike.’
    • ‘And yet, in the final moments, we get a happy family reunion and a swell of music that suggests everything will turn out fine.’
    • ‘If the film-makers had toned down the swells of music, upped the humanity, and found a clear direction, it might have been a powerful film.’
  • 5dated, informal A person of wealth or high social position, typically one perceived as fashionable or stylish.

    ‘a crowd of city swells’
    fop, beau, man about town, bright young thing, glamour boy, rake
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North American
dated, informal
  • 1Excellent; very good.

    ‘you're looking swell’
    • ‘David is a swell multi-talented guy and it was a pleasure to finally meet him.’
    • ‘Additionally, there's a swell new gallery of exploitation magazine covers, accompanied by a different set of radio rarities.’
    • ‘This is a swell sound bite that ignores the reality that someone must pay for the ads, phone banks, direct mail and Web sites.’
    • ‘I spent the weekend with Gene and Kindy in their swell new apartment.’
    excellent, marvellous, wonderful, splendid, magnificent, superb, first-rate
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    1. 1.1archaic Smart; fashionable.
      ‘a swell boulevard’
      • ‘Throwbacks to a swell fashion trend of yesteryear, they spice up any pair of shoes, from ballet flats to mules or slinky stilettos.’
      smart, stylish, upmarket, fancy, high-class, fashionable, chic, luxurious, luxury, deluxe, exclusive, select, sumptuous, opulent, lavish, grand, rich, elegant, ornate, ostentatious, showy
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North American
dated, informal
  • Excellently; very well.

    ‘everything was just going swell’


  • someone's head swells

    • Someone becomes conceited.

      ‘I am not saying this to make your head swell’
      ‘if I say this, you'll get swollen-headed’
      • ‘People get relaxed with their routines, they get lazy, and their head swells up since they're the one with all the information.’
      • ‘And I love Rufus and I am prepared to shout that from the rooftops as the orchestra in my head swells.’
      • ‘Mike murmurs in agreement, and my head swells with ridiculously disproportionate pride.’


Old English swellan (verb), of Germanic origin; related to German schwellen. Current senses of the noun date from the early 16th century; the informal adjectival use derives from noun swell (sense 5 of the noun) (late 18th century).