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Borrowed from Old French capitaine, from Late Latin capitāneus, from Latin caput (head) (English cap). Doublet of chieftain, also from Old French.



captain (plural captains)

  1. A chief or leader.
    • 1526, The Bible, tr. William Tyndale, Matthew 2:
      For out of the shal come a captaine, whych shall govern my people israhel.
    • 1929, Rudyard Kipling, "The English Way":
      Stand up-stand up, Northumberland! / I bid you answer true, / If England's King has under his hand / A Captain as good as you?
  2. The person lawfully in command of a ship or other vessel.
    The captain is the last man to leave a sinking ship.
  3. An army officer with a rank between the most senior grade of lieutenant and major.
    • 1915, Emerson Hough, The Purchase Price, chapterI:
      "A fine man, that Dunwody, yonder," commented the young captain, as they parted, and as he turned to his prisoner. "We'll see him on in Washington some day. He is strengthening his forces now against Mr. Benton out there. []."
  4. A naval officer with a rank between commander and commodore.
  5. A commissioned officer in the United States Navy, Coast Guard, NOAA Corps, or PHS Corps of a grade superior to a commander and junior to a rear admiral (lower half). A captain is equal in grade or rank to an Army, Marine Corps, or Air Force colonel.
  6. One of the athletes on a sports team who designated to make decisions, and is allowed to speak for his team with a referee or official.
    • Remember the Titans
      Captain's supposed to be the leader, right?
    • 2012 May 5, Phil McNulty, “Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool”, in BBC Sport:
      As Di Matteo celebrated and captain John Terry raised the trophy for the fourth time, the Italian increased his claims to become the permanent successor to Andre Villas-Boas by landing a trophy.
  7. The leader of a group of workers.
    John Henry said to the captain, "A man ain't nothing but a man."
  8. A maître d'.
    • 1977, Don Felder, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey, lyricists, "Hotel California",
      So I called up the Captain, "Please bring me my wine." / He said: "We haven't had that spirit here since 1969."
  9. (Southern US) An honorific title given to a prominent person. See colonel.
  10. (Internet) Someone who provides contextual information for a post. Originally a shorthand for 'Captain Obvious'.


Derived terms[edit]



The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.


captain (third-person singular simple present captains, present participle captaining, simple past and past participle captained)

  1. (intransitive) To act as captain
  2. (transitive) To exercise command of a ship, aircraft or sports team.

Related terms[edit]