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From Middle English knelen, knewlen, from Old English cnēowlian (to kneel), equivalent to knee +‎ -le. Cognate with Dutch knielen, Low German knelen, dialectal German knielen, Alemannic German chnüle, Danish knæle, all meaning “to kneel”.



kneel (third-person singular simple present kneels, present participle kneeling, simple past and past participle knelt or kneeled)

  1. (intransitive) To rest on one's bent knees, sometimes only one; to move to such a position.
    • 1907 August, Robert W[illiam] Chambers, chapter III, in The Younger Set, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, →OCLC:
      When the flames at last began to flicker and subside, his lids fluttered, then drooped ; but he had lost all reckoning of time when he opened them again to find Miss Erroll in furs kneeling on the hearth and heaping kindling on the coals, and her pretty little Alsatian maid beside her, laying a log across the andirons.
  2. (intransitive, of a bus or other vehicle) To sink down so that the entrance is level with the pavement, making it easier for passengers to enter.
  3. (transitive) To cause to kneel.
    She knelt the doll to fit it into the box.
    • 1898, K.L. Montgomery, “The Red Rosary”, in The Ludgate Illustrated Magazine[1], volume 6, page 47:
      Raising the girl with unexpected strength, she bore her towards the chapel, the firesparks flickered in her eyes, as she knelt her burden against the altar step.
    • 2007, Norman Horrod, On a Different Note[2], page 47:
      Kneel him down and stick his head in. No, don't let him up, just hold him there.
    • 2011, Joseph T. Wells, Fraud Fighter: My Fables and Foibles[3], page 201:
      He took the wife in his car to the piney woods outside town, and knelt her down.
  4. (reflexive, archaic) To rest on (one's) knees
    He knelt him down to pray.
    • 1833, Robert Pollok, “The Course of Time”, in The Poetical Works of Hemans, Heber, and Pollok[4], page 33:
      Just when the damsel kneeled herself to pray.


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