Definition of wolf in English:



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

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

    • ‘No, it was not a dog's head but probably of one of the wild canines; a wolf or perhaps a jackal.’
    • ‘Inukai suggested that the fate of the wolf and wild dog was tied to that of the deer.’
    • ‘Everything from saber-toothed carnivores and wolves to flying squirrels and anteaters were produced independently.’
    • ‘Returning west, we take the road through middle Skane, where dense pine forests hide wild boar and even wolves.’
    • ‘Wild dogs, especially the big wild dogs, are famously family oriented, and wolves are no exception.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Their proposal would allow wolves that attack hunting dogs or livestock outside of fenced areas to be shot.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Actually, upon closer examination it seemed to be a cross between a wild boar and a wolf.’
    • ‘In medieval times the area was a hunting forest, roamed by deer, wild bear and wolves.’
    • ‘With a blink, his eyes adjusted and decided it was either a wild dog or a wolf or a coyote.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Among wild dogs and wolves, the cooperative hunting pack includes both males and females, and they provision both pups and a nursing mother.’
    • ‘We saw predatory birds hunting, which is not uncommon as Transylvania also hosts wild boars and wolves.’
    • ‘Researchers say that wolves in the coastal region are much more genetically variable than wolves elsewhere in North America.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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?’
    1. 1.1 Used in names of mammals similar or related to the wolf, e.g. maned wolf, Tasmanian wolf.
      • ‘The African wild dog, Lycaon pictus, also called the painted wolf or the Cape hunting dog is the victim mainly of human persecution.’
      • ‘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.’
  • 2Used figuratively to refer to a rapacious, ferocious, or voracious person or thing.

    ‘he calls the media ravening 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.’
    • ‘Who do you feed to the media wolves?’
    1. 2.1informal A man who habitually seduces women.
      ‘he's the archetypal wolf in Armani threads’
      • ‘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
    2. 2.2North American informal A homosexual who habitually seduces men or adopts an active role with a partner.
  • 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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘But, this morning I made him a scrambled egg sandwich and he wolfed it 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.’
    • ‘I was operating under the illusion that only I knew how vile this curry was and continued the pretence by enthusiastically wolfing it down.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Fufu turns out to be one of Schroeder's favorite dishes; he wolfs his plate down heartily, as does Gherardi.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘He wolfed food the down, and then drank from the bowl of water that he had.’
    • ‘Instead, it was pancakes all round at Café Chicco D' Oro, Bertie breaking his in two before wolfing them down.’
    • ‘On the verandah I wolfed dinner as hungry walkers do.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘I dashed outside and wolfed the meat down as fast as I could.’
    • ‘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!’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Even David noticed the way she wolfed the cake down.’
    • ‘Tossing the pills into the basket, I heard crunching noises as the creature inside greedily wolfed them down.’
    • ‘The cops gave him biscuits and gravy and he wolfed them down.’
    • ‘Champagne, fine wines, smoked salmon and strawberries have been wolfed down in staggering quantities during the five-day Royal Ascot at York festival.’
    devour greedily, gobble, gobble up, guzzle, gulp down, bolt, cram down, gorge oneself with
    View synonyms


  • cry wolf

    • Call for help when it is not needed, with the effect that one is not believed when one really does need help.

      ‘he accused her of crying wolf’
      • ‘If our weather forecasters cry wolf again, we're just not going to believe them next time are we?’
      • ‘It's like the little boy that cried wolf, but you have to believe that sooner or later it will happen again.’
      • ‘Habitual vilification of governments as being dishonest, lying, or determined to extend their powers improperly are more likely to blind us, on the principle of the boy crying wolf, to genuine abuses when and if they occur.’
      • ‘Environmental scientists must stop crying wolf: ‘There is a crisis emerging in the scientific community.’’
      • ‘If they say something too early then they can be accused of crying wolf and if they wait too long then people ask if they have been asleep.’
      • ‘Whether it is a genuine case of the Prime Minister being paranoid, or a case of his constantly crying wolf to gain cheap political advantage or sympathy, I leave for others to decide.’
      • ‘With these high-profile, periodic press conferences sort of calling every - all hands on deck, that you do run the risk of crying wolf, and I think that's a danger that the administration faces.’
      • ‘And if anyone other than me cares about my car, the catalytic converter light gracing my dashboard was apparently crying wolf and has consequently been disconnected.’
      • ‘The saying ‘If you cry wolf too many times, eventually no-one will believe you’ springs to mind.’
      • ‘The difficulty is trying to spot something big before it becomes a problem but not crying wolf too often.’
  • hold (or have) a wolf by the ears

    • Be in a precarious position.

      ‘we may end up holding the wolf by the ears’
      • ‘Basically, if you are holding a wolf by the ears, there is no way to get out of a situation without getting hurt.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’’
      • ‘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.’’
      • ‘A mind can more easily hold a wolf by the ears than steady itself in spiritual experience.’
      • ‘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 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.’
      • ‘He that goes by the law (as the proverb is) holds a wolf by the ears.’
      • ‘America has a wolf by the ears in Iraq.’
  • 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’
      • ‘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 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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Work kept the wolf from the door, but it also improved the human condition because it contributed to the greater good.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
  • throw someone to the wolves

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

      ‘power brokers are biding their time before throwing him to the wolves’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Basically, throwing Rummy to the wolves may slow the haemorrhage, but it may not stop it.’
      • ‘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 love Mother and everything, but what was she thinking, throwing you to the wolves like this?’
      • ‘I mean, what's stopping them from throwing us to the wolves once they've got us?’
      • ‘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’.’
  • a wolf in sheep's clothing

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

      ‘the widespread belief that any British proposal was a wolf in sheep's clothing’
      • ‘But, alas, he had proved to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.’
      • ‘Now they need our vote; now they coming to us smiling and laughing in our face, like a wolf in sheep's clothing.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘It isn't, therefore, that community policing is a better way to package draconian measures, like a wolf in sheep's clothing.’
      • ‘You are a wolf in sheep's clothing and everyone else knows it.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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!’
      • ‘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?’’
      • ‘Although heavily involved in the creation of the Human Rights Watch program, this man is a wolf in sheep's clothing.’


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.