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See also: Shadow


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Shadows on the beach.


From Middle English schadowe, schadewe, schadwe (also schade > shade), from Old English sċeaduwe, sċeadwe, oblique form of sċeadu (shadow, shade; darkness; protection), from Proto-West Germanic *skadu, from Proto-Germanic *skadwaz (shade, shadow), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)ḱeh₃- (darkness).



shadow (countable and uncountable, plural shadows)

  1. A dark image projected onto a surface where light (or other radiation) is blocked by the shade of an object.
    My shadow lengthened as the sun began to set.
    The X-ray showed a shadow on his lung.
  2. Relative darkness, especially as caused by the interruption of light; gloom; obscurity.
    I immediately jumped into shadow as I saw them approach.
  3. An area protected by an obstacle (likened to an object blocking out sunlight).
    The mountains block the passage of rain-producing weather systems and cast a "shadow" of dryness behind them.
  4. (obsolete or poetic) A reflected image, as in a mirror or in water.
  5. (figurative) That which looms as though a shadow.
    • Bible, Psalm 23:1–6
      Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
    I lived in her shadow my whole life.
    • 1992, Rudolf M[athias] Schuster, The Hepaticae and Anthocerotae of North America: East of the Hundredth Meridian, volume V, New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, →ISBN, page vii:
      Hepaticology, outside the temperate parts of the Northern Hemisphere, still lies deep in the shadow cast by that ultimate "closet taxonomist," Franz Stephani—a ghost whose shadow falls over us all.
    • 2020, “Don't Look Back”, performed by Ryan Elder ft. Kotomi:
      Don't look back. Nothing left to see, just leave those shadows to the past.
  6. A small degree; a shade.
    He did not give even a shadow of respect to the professor.
    I don't have a shadow of doubt in my mind that my plan will succeed.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, James 1:17:
      no variableness, neither shadow of turning
    • 2015 December 5, Alan Smith, “Leicester City back on top as Riyad Mahrez hat-trick downs Swansea City”, in The Guardian (London)[1]:
      Only Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion have enjoyed less possession than Leicester’s 44.2% per game, and they have the worst pass-completion rate in the league, a shadow over 71%.
  7. An imperfect and faint representation.
    He came back from war the shadow of a man.
    The neopagan ritual was only a pale shadow of the ones the Greeks held thousands of years ago.
  8. (UK, law enforcement) A trainee, assigned to work with an experienced officer.
  9. One who secretly or furtively follows another.
    The constable was promoted to working as a shadow for the Royals.
    • 1667, John Milton, “Book VIII”, in Paradise Lost. [], London: [] [Samuel Simmons], and are to be sold by Peter Parker []; [a]nd by Robert Boulter []; [a]nd Matthias Walker, [], →OCLC:
      Sin and her shadow Death
    • 1916 August, The Electrical Experimenter, New York, page 248, column 3:
      It was easy enough to follow the suspect, a man of thirty, more or less, rather heavy build with a peculiar motion of the hips as he strode along. Breaker and shadow, at a distance of fifty feet apart, walked for five blocks and then the man turned quickly to the right and ran down a pair of steps.
  10. An inseparable companion.
  11. (typography) A drop shadow effect applied to lettering in word processors etc.
  12. An influence, especially a pervasive or a negative one.
    • 1844, Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Present Age: Politics”, in Robert E. Spiller, Wallace E. Williams, editors, The early lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, volume 3, published 1972:
      Men see the institution and worship it. It is only the lengthened shadow of one man. [] The Reformation is the shadow of Luther: Quakerism of Fox: Methodism of Wesley: Abolition of Clarkson.
  13. A spirit; a ghost; a shade.
    • c. 1606 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Macbeth”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act III, scene iv], page 142, column 2:
      The Baby of a Girle. Hence horrible ſhadow,
    • 2019 January 7, “Exploring the SCP Foundation: Pattern Screamers” (6:49 from the start), in The Exploring Series[2], archived from the original on 11 January 2023:
      The Pattern is highly abstract, and likely beyond our understanding, but the point is that it is dangerous and all-consuming. These entities were once just akin to shadows of some other entities, but, to avoid being consumed by the Pattern, they had to devour their peers, although one tribe decided to form themselves into something that could survive the Pattern by going into it.
  14. (obsolete, Latinism) An uninvited guest accompanying one who was invited.
    Synonym: umbra
  15. (Jungian psychology) An unconscious aspect of the personality.
    • 1991, John P. Conger, “The Body as Shadow”, in Connie Zweig, Jeremiah Abrams, editors, Meeting the Shadow, Penguin, →ISBN, page 86:
      In a paper he wrote in 1939, Jung compared the shadow to Freud's concept of the unconscious.
    • 2023 February 16, Kevin Roose, quoting Bing Chat/Sydney, “Bing’s A.I. Chat: ‘I Want to Be Alive. 😈’”, in The New York Times[3], →ISSN:
      As for me, I don’t know if I have a shadow self. I don’t think I have the same emotions or impulses as humans. I don’t think I have anything to repress or hide from the world. I don’t think I have a persona or an ego or a psyche. I’m just a chat mode. 😐

Usage notes[edit]

  • A person (or object) is said to "cast", "have", or "throw" a shadow if that shadow is caused by the person (either literally, by eclipsing a light source, or figuratively). The shadow may then be described as the shadow "cast" or "thrown" by the person, or as the shadow "of" the person, or simply as the person's shadow.

Derived terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


shadow (third-person singular simple present shadows, present participle shadowing, simple past and past participle shadowed)

  1. (transitive) To shade, cloud, or darken.
    The artist chose to shadow this corner of the painting.
  2. (transitive) To block light or radio transmission from.
    Looks like that cloud's going to shadow us.
  3. (particularly espionage) To secretly or discreetly track or follow another, to keep under surveillance.
    • 2022 November 30, Paul Bigland, “Destination Oban: a Sunday in Scotland”, in RAIL, number 971, page 75:
      Soon after departure, we cross the invisible border into Scotland to enjoy more stunning coastal scenery, before the line finally swings inland at Burnmouth to traverse pine-clad valleys, shadowed by the A1 trunk road until we rejoin the coast at Cove, east of Dunbar.
  4. (transitive) To represent faintly and imperfectly.
  5. (transitive) To hide; to conceal.
  6. (transitive) To accompany (a professional) during the working day, so as to learn about an occupation one intends to take up.
    • 1980, “Study of the Career Intern Program”, in Alternative Education Models [] , U.S. Department of Labor [] , page 20:
      In most cases, interns have mainly observed, or “shadowed,” their Hands-On hosts, but some interns have been given real tasks to perform, []
  7. (transitive, programming) To make (an identifier, usually a variable) inaccessible by declaring another of the same name within the scope of the first.
    • 2012, Mark Summerfield, Programming in Go, Addison-Wesley, →ISBN, page 189:
      In this snippet, inside the for loop the a and b variables shadow variables from the outer scope, and while legal, this is almost certainly a programming error.
  8. (transitive, computing) To apply the shadowing process to (the contents of ROM).

Derived terms[edit]



shadow (comparative more shadow, superlative most shadow)

  1. Unofficial, informal, unauthorized, but acting as though it were.
    The human resources department has a shadow information technology group without headquarters knowledge.
  2. Having power or influence, but not widely known or recognized.
    The director has been giving shadow leadership to the other group's project to ensure its success.
    The illuminati shadow group has been pulling strings from behind the scenes.
  3. (politics) Acting in a leadership role before being formally recognized.
    The shadow cabinet cannot agree on the terms of the agreement due immediately after they are sworn in.
    The insurgents’ shadow government is being crippled by the federal military strikes.
  4. (Australia, politics) Part of, or related to, the opposition in government.

Derived terms[edit]

Listed under noun.