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From Middle English dwerf, dwergh, dwerw, dwerȝ, from Old English dweorh, dweorg (dwarf), from Proto-Germanic *dwergaz, cognate with Old High German twerc (German Zwerg), Old Norse dvergr (Swedish dvärg), Old Frisian dwirg, Middle Low German dwerch, dwarch, twerg (Low German Dwarg, Dwarch), Middle Dutch dwerch, dworch (Dutch dwerg). The Germanic word is perhaps from a Proto-Indo-European *dʰwer- (harm, deceive); compare Sanskrit ध्वरति (dhvárati, to bend, hurt), ध्वरस् (dhvarás, class of female demons).

The Modern English noun has undergone complex phonetic changes. The form dwarf is the regular continuation of dweorg, but the plural dweorgas would have given rise to dwarrows and the oblique stem dweorge- would have led to dwery. These forms are sometimes found as the nominative singular in Middle English texts and in English dialects. A parallel case is that of Old English burg giving burgh, borough, burrow, bury.


Nain assis (Seated Dwarf, 19th century), a painting in the style of Spanish artist Francisco Goya


dwarf (plural dwarfs or dwarves)

  1. (mythology) Any member of a race of beings from (especially Scandinavian and other Germanic) folklore, usually depicted as having some sort of supernatural powers and being skilled in crafting and metalworking, often depicted as short, and sometimes depicted as clashing with elves.
  2. (now often offensive) A person of short stature, often one whose limbs are disproportionately small in relation to the body as compared with normal adults, usually as the result of a genetic condition.
  3. An animal, plant or other thing much smaller than the usual of its sort.
    dwarf tree; dwarf honeysuckle
  4. (astronomy) A star of relatively small size.

Usage notes[edit]

At first, dwarfs was the more common plural in English. After J. R. R. Tolkien used dwarves, it began to rise in popularity, and is now about as common as dwarfs.


  • (person): midget, pygmy (imprecise)
  • (animal, plant etc. much smaller than usual): runt


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 Help:How to check translations.


dwarf (not comparable)

  1. (especially in botany) Miniature.
    The specimen is a very dwarf form of the plant.
    It is possible to grow the plants as dwarf as one desires.



dwarf (third-person singular simple present dwarfs, present participle dwarfing, simple past and past participle dwarfed)

  1. (transitive) To render (much) smaller, turn into a dwarf (version).
  2. (transitive) To make appear (much) smaller, puny, tiny.
    • 2013 May-June, Kevin Heng, “Why Does Nature Form Exoplanets Easily?”, in American Scientist, volume 101, number 3, page 184:
      In the past two years, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has located nearly 3,000 exoplanet candidates ranging from sub-Earth-sized minions to gas giants that dwarf our own Jupiter.
    The newly-built skyscraper dwarfs all older buildings in the downtown skyline.
  3. (transitive) To make appear insignificant.
    Bach dwarfs all other composers.
  4. (intransitive) To become (much) smaller.
  5. To hinder from growing to the natural size; to make or keep small; to stunt.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Addison to this entry?)
    • J. C. Shairp
      Even the most common moral ideas and affections [] would be stunted and dwarfed, if cut off from a spiritual background.