Definition of wolf in US English:



  • 1A wild carnivorous mammal of the dog family, living and hunting in packs. It is native to both Eurasia and North America, but has been widely exterminated.

    Canis lupus, family Canidae; it is the chief ancestor of the domestic dog

    • ‘Actually, upon closer examination it seemed to be a cross between a wild boar and a wolf.’
    • ‘Among wild dogs and wolves, the cooperative hunting pack includes both males and females, and they provision both pups and a nursing mother.’
    • ‘At each site of historical interest he will guide visitors through local folklore and legend, recreating the era thousands of years ago when wild boar and wolves roamed the moors.’
    • ‘Wild dogs, especially the big wild dogs, are famously family oriented, and wolves are no exception.’
    • ‘Dogs can be vaccinated against the virus, but it is not feasible to trap and vaccinate all the wild wolves in Yellowstone, park officials say.’
    • ‘Returning west, we take the road through middle Skane, where dense pine forests hide wild boar and even wolves.’
    • ‘Everything from saber-toothed carnivores and wolves to flying squirrels and anteaters were produced independently.’
    • ‘Did you know that the last British wolf was shot in Scotland in the Fifteenth Century and that the last wolf living wild in England was trapped and killed nearly a thousand years ago?’
    • ‘The ability to place young pups as well as older wolves in the wild will inject the population with new genes and increase the numbers of wild wolves.’
    • ‘In medieval times the area was a hunting forest, roamed by deer, wild bear and wolves.’
    • ‘The extent of livestock loss to wolves is often overstated, wolves typically prefer their wild prey.’
    • ‘The wolves that remained wild find themselves all but exterminated in the lower forty-eight states.’
    • ‘Researchers say that wolves in the coastal region are much more genetically variable than wolves elsewhere in North America.’
    • ‘It was described as a monster of terrible size but probable only a hungry wolf or wild boar which roamed the area striking terror into the hearts of all the people.’
    • ‘We saw predatory birds hunting, which is not uncommon as Transylvania also hosts wild boars and wolves.’
    • ‘With a blink, his eyes adjusted and decided it was either a wild dog or a wolf or a coyote.’
    • ‘Inukai suggested that the fate of the wolf and wild dog was tied to that of the deer.’
    • ‘Their proposal would allow wolves that attack hunting dogs or livestock outside of fenced areas to be shot.’
    • ‘No, it was not a dog's head but probably of one of the wild canines; a wolf or perhaps a jackal.’
    1. 1.1 Used in names of mammals similar or related to the wolf, e.g. maned wolf, Tasmanian wolf.
      • ‘Only about 500 Ethiopian wolves remain in the wild, and the species has been ravaged by rabies epidemics at least twice in the recent past.’
      • ‘The African wild dog, Lycaon pictus, also called the painted wolf or the Cape hunting dog is the victim mainly of human persecution.’
  • 2Used in similes and metaphors to refer to a rapacious, ferocious, or voracious person or thing.

    • ‘Who do you feed to the media wolves?’
    • ‘Again Ridge instantly screamed out breathless tales of a terrorist wolf, while the media slobbered at the door.’
    • ‘Instead, rather intriguingly, it has become a grim battle of the superpowers, both engaged in a hard fight to keep the media wolves from their door.’
    1. 2.1informal A man who habitually seduces women.
      • ‘Note that the wolf waits until he gets her into bed before pouncing.’
      womanizer, casanova, romeo, don juan, lothario, flirt, ladies' man, playboy, philanderer, seducer, rake, roué, libertine, debauchee
      View synonyms
  • 3A harsh or out-of-tune effect produced when playing particular notes or intervals on a musical instrument, caused either by the instrument's construction or by divergence from equal temperament.

    • ‘The one sure way of avoiding wolf notes but still keeping 3rds and 5ths almost pure was by increasing the number of notes in the octave.’


[with object]
  • Devour (food) greedily.

    ‘he wolfed down his breakfast’
    • ‘I was operating under the illusion that only I knew how vile this curry was and continued the pretence by enthusiastically wolfing it down.’
    • ‘I dashed outside and wolfed the meat down as fast as I could.’
    • ‘Champagne, fine wines, smoked salmon and strawberries have been wolfed down in staggering quantities during the five-day Royal Ascot at York festival.’
    • ‘The cops gave him biscuits and gravy and he wolfed them down.’
    • ‘But, this morning I made him a scrambled egg sandwich and he wolfed it down.’
    • ‘Instead, it was pancakes all round at Café Chicco D' Oro, Bertie breaking his in two before wolfing them down.’
    • ‘But in order to try it you may have to stop wolfing the smothered pork chops and grits the person on your left is drooling over, or the curried goat with superb succotash that has made the friend on your right fall suddenly silent.’
    • ‘Their marriage, as well as being a union of celebrities, became the template of an extravagant lifestyle in which one ordered without reflection, wolfed it down without pause and signed the bill without a glance at the total.’
    • ‘It was perfect to dip naan bread in, and the pilau rice was wolfed down by Matt who seemed to enthuse about how special the chef's special was with every mouthful.’
    • ‘Fufu turns out to be one of Schroeder's favorite dishes; he wolfs his plate down heartily, as does Gherardi.’
    • ‘Cheryl said the children are often trying certain foods for the first time and, despite an initial reticence, they usually end up wolfing it all down.’
    • ‘Even David noticed the way she wolfed the cake down.’
    • ‘But as we were wolfing our eclairs I noticed that I seemed to have lost their attention and out of the corner of my eye I saw something in powder blue, and I looked up and there she was again!’
    • ‘He wolfed food the down, and then drank from the bowl of water that he had.’
    • ‘If I'd have been a real man, I would have bought one of the six pound pie beasts, I would not have wolfed my snack in private.’
    • ‘I start my running class today, so I want to make sure I eat something good and not terribly heavy, and I don't want to be wolfing it down at the last minute.’
    • ‘On the verandah I wolfed dinner as hungry walkers do.’
    • ‘Instead of our bodies having to work double-time to sift out the nutrients from food that is wolfed down anxiously, what if we gave our bodies an easier time of it?’
    • ‘I dug into my food, almost wolfed it down, then a sudden thought occurred to me.’
    • ‘Tossing the pills into the basket, I heard crunching noises as the creature inside greedily wolfed them down.’
    devour greedily, gobble, gobble up, guzzle, gulp down, bolt, cram down, gorge oneself with
    View synonyms


  • hold (or have) a wolf by the ears

    • Be in a precarious position.

      • ‘In a moving, tremendously poignant story, Creech weaves her plot with the use of Native American maxims such as, ‘Being a mother is like trying to hold a wolf by the ears,’ and ‘Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his shoes.’’
      • ‘China could not disconnect if they wanted to - the regime has a wolf by the ears which it continues to ride only with 8-9% growth rates and an export or die economy.’
      • ‘America has a wolf by the ears in Iraq.’
      • ‘Basically, if you are holding a wolf by the ears, there is no way to get out of a situation without getting hurt.’
      • ‘A mind can more easily hold a wolf by the ears than steady itself in spiritual experience.’
      • ‘I looked at this and thought of saying about having a wolf by the ears, you can't hold on and you can't let go.’
      • ‘When you have a wolf by the ears, it's as hard to let go, as to hold on.’
      • ‘When you're holding a wolf by the ears, it's a dangerous situation and there is no way to escape without injury.’
      • ‘I think Thomas Jefferson hit the nail on the head when he likened slavery to holding a wolf by the ears: ‘… we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.’’
      • ‘He that goes by the law (as the proverb is) holds a wolf by the ears.’
  • keep the wolf from the door

    • Have enough money to avert hunger or starvation (used hyperbolically)

      ‘I work part-time to pay the mortgage and keep the wolf from the door’
      • ‘I think every writer scribbles away in the hope that they will come up with a play that will keep the wolf from the door and get a little pension from them.’
      • ‘I had to have it, so I just bashed away and worked in bookstores to keep the wolf from the door.’
      • ‘A Yorkshire smallholder kept the wolf from the door after her business was wiped out by foot and mouth by selling the fleeces of rare breed sheep over the Internet.’
      • ‘The firefighters just turn up every day because it keeps the wolf from the door and it pays the mortgage.’
      • ‘His real ambition was to write, but a chap's got to eat, and teaching seemed like a not entirely uncivilised way of keeping the wolf from the door.’
      • ‘Having made enough money to keep the wolf from the door I am concerned with making the world a better place, like many other people.’
      • ‘If enough of you buy it, he may be able to give up whatever absurd activities he undertakes during the day to keep the wolf from the door, and become a full time writer, with no excuse for failing to update his web journal several times each week.’
      • ‘I was brought up to believe it is rather vulgar to talk about money, but I do make a very good living - nowhere near the top professionals today, but enough certainly to keep the wolf from the door.’
      • ‘It was that kind of week for me but mustn't grumble, at least we got some each way money to keep the wolf from the door.’
      • ‘Work kept the wolf from the door, but it also improved the human condition because it contributed to the greater good.’
  • throw someone to the wolves

    • Leave someone to be roughly treated or criticized without trying to help or defend them.

      • ‘Friends of a York woman who died after falling from a window have lashed out at the mental health support system, claiming it ‘threw her to the wolves’.’
      • ‘Basically, throwing Rummy to the wolves may slow the haemorrhage, but it may not stop it.’
      • ‘Officer Friendly was returned to duty, but had been so traumatized by his department throwing him to the wolves that he felt he could no longer effectively function in law enforcement.’
      • ‘I love Mother and everything, but what was she thinking, throwing you to the wolves like this?’
      • ‘Meanwhile, outraged victims attack innocent priests for attempting to defend themselves against their bishop's eagerness to throw them to the wolves in order to save their own sorry butts.’
      • ‘So my theory is that someone higher than Sanchez is throwing him to the wolves.’
      • ‘For it, I was later accused of purposely throwing her to the wolves.’
      • ‘Quickmatches allow you to set the parameters of your battles, including the number of bots, type of game, and other variants before throwing you to the wolves.’
      • ‘I mean, what's stopping them from throwing us to the wolves once they've got us?’
  • a wolf in sheep's clothing

    • A person or thing that appears friendly or harmless but is really hostile.

      • ‘You are a wolf in sheep's clothing and everyone else knows it.’
      • ‘But, alas, he had proved to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.’
      • ‘Although few would have suspected that Page was actually a wolf in sheep's clothing, the presenter is set to stop his fee payments this month in protest at what he claims is a BBC bias against rural Britain.’
      • ‘But the third and potentially worst problem of all is that Dorothea is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and we divers appear to be exceedingly gullible!’
      • ‘It isn't, therefore, that community policing is a better way to package draconian measures, like a wolf in sheep's clothing.’
      • ‘Although heavily involved in the creation of the Human Rights Watch program, this man is a wolf in sheep's clothing.’
      • ‘They say this is a wolf in sheep's clothing or something, and you then say to yourself, ‘What did the valuation have to do with the case?’’
      • ‘Now they need our vote; now they coming to us smiling and laughing in our face, like a wolf in sheep's clothing.’
      • ‘When we say someone is a wolf in sheep's clothing, we don't literally mean that he's a large land mammal related to a dog, wearing wool.’
      • ‘Vancouverites have quickly cottoned on to the fact they'd been fooled into electing a wolf in sheep's clothing in their rush to promote the former cop to the top political office in the City.’


Old English wulf, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch wolf and German Wolf, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin lupus and Greek lukos. The verb dates from the mid 19th century.