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  • IPA(key): /ʃɛlf/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɛlf

Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English schelfe, probably from Old English sċylfe, sċilfe (shelf, ledge, deck of a ship), from Proto-West Germanic *skilfijā, from Proto-Germanic *skelfō (shelf, ledge, cliff), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)kelH- (to cut), distantly related to sculpt, carve and shell. Cognate with Dutch schelf (hay loft, haystack), German Low German Schelf (haystack), Old Norse skjalf (bench).


shelf (plural shelves)

A simple wooden wall shelf
  1. A flat, rigid structure, fixed at right angles to a wall or forming a part of a cabinet, desk, etc., and used to display, store, or support objects.
    We keep the old newspapers on the bottom shelf of the cupboard, and our photos on the top shelf.
    • 2012 October 31, David M. Halbfinger, New York Times, retrieved 31 October 2012:
      Localities across New Jersey imposed curfews to prevent looting. In Monmouth, Ocean and other counties, people waited for hours for gasoline at the few stations that had electricity. Supermarket shelves were stripped bare.
  2. The capacity of such an object
    a shelf of videos
  3. A projecting ledge that resembles such an object.
  4. (computing) The part of a repository where shelvesets are stored.
    • 2012, Bradley Irby, Reengineering .NET:
      This is where the Visual Studio Shelving function can help. A shelf is a place on the server in source control that is separate from the main code line so it will not affect other developers.
    • 2016, Wouter de Kort, DevOps on the Microsoft Stack, page 114:
      A shelveset allows you to store a changeset on the server without adding it to the current codebase and sharing it with team members directly. Each team member has his own “shelf,” where he can store as many shelvesets as he wants.
Derived terms[edit]
Related terms[edit]
  • Czech: šelf
  • Irish: seilf
  • Serbo-Croatian: šȅlf, ше̏лф
  • Welsh: silff
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

Etymology 2[edit]

Of obscure origin; evidently identical to Middle English shelp (sandbar in a river), but the sound shift is unexpected. Shelp might be from Old English scylp (crag) or Middle Dutch schelp-.[1]


shelf (plural shelves or shelfs)

  1. A reef, sandbar, or shoal.
    • 1582, Virgil, “The Firste Booke of Virgil His Aeneis”, in Richard Stanyhurst, transl., The First Foure Bookes of Virgils Æneis, [], London: Henrie Bynneman [], published 1583, →OCLC; republished as The First Four Books of the Æneid of Virgil, [], Edinburgh: [Edinburgh Printing Company], 1836, →OCLC, page 21:
      But with a ſlaw ſuddein chauffing ſtorm-bringer Orion, / Spurnt vs too the waters: then ſootherne ſwaſhruter huffling / Flung vs on high ſhelueflats, to the rocks vs he buffeted after.
    • 1594, Odet de la Noue, translated by Iosuah Silvester, The Profit of Imprisonment. A Paradox, VVritten in French by Odet de la Noue, Lord of Teligni, Being Prisoner in the Castle of Tournay., London: [] Peter Short, for Edward Blunt:
      The Marchant that returnes from ſome far forrain lands, / Eſcaping dreadfull rocks and dangerous ſhelfs and ſands, / When as he ſees his ſhip her home-hauen enter ſafe, / Will he repine at God, and as offended chafe / For being brought to ſoone home to his natiue ſoile, / Free from all perills ſad that threaten ſaylor’s ſpoile?
    • 1598, John Florio, “Scopuloso”, in A Worlde of Words, or Most Copious, and Exact Dictionarie in Italian and English, [], London: [] Arnold Hatfield for Edw[ard] Blount, →OCLC, page 357, column 2:
      Scopuloſo, full of rocks, ſhelfs, flats, or dangers by ſea.
    • 1603, Richard Knolles, “The Life of Amurath, the Second of That Name, Sixt King of the Turkes, and the Great Establisher of Their Kingdome”, in The Generall Historie of the Turkes, [], London: [] Adam Islip, →OCLC, page 266:
      The other part of the Turks which at the same time aſſaulted the citie by water, out of their gallies and ſmall ſhips, had as euill or rather worſe ſucceſſe: many of them were ſunke with great ſhot, and ſome burnt by the fire caſt from the wals, and ſo fired one another; and diuers of them in that ſudden feare, for avoiding of that preſent danger, ran a ground vpon the ſhelfs in the riuer, and ſo ſplit.
    • 1623, Iohn Speed [i.e., John Speed], “Elizabeth Queene of England, France, and Ireland, []”, in The Historie of Great Britaine under the Conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans. [], 2nd edition, London: [] Iohn Beale, for George Humble, [], →OCLC, book 9, paragraph 215, page 1203, column 1:
      [T]he greateſt of their Galliaſſes fell foule vpon another ſhippe, and loſt her Rudder, ſo that guideleſſe ſhee droue vvith the tyde vpon a ſhelue in the ſhoare of Callis, vvhere ſhee vvas aſſaulted by the Engliſh.
    • 1819 July 15, [Lord Byron], Don Juan, London: [] Thomas Davison, [], →OCLC, canto II, stanza CLXXXI, page 209:
      And all was stillness, save the sea-bird's cry, / And dolphin's leap, and little billow crost / By some low rock or shelve, that made it fret / Against the boundary it scarcely wet.
    • 1823 December 23 (indicated as 1824), [Walter Scott], “Theatricals”, in St Ronan’s Well. [], volume II, Edinburgh: [] [James Ballantyne and Co.] for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., →OCLC, page 156:
      But upon inquiry among the company, this plan was wrecked upon the ordinary shelve, to wit, the difficulty of finding performers who would consent to assume the lower characters of the drama.
      A figurative use.
Alternative forms[edit]
Derived terms[edit]
  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2024), “shelf (n.2)”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.
  • Henry E[lliot] Shepherd (1883), “Nouns”, in A Grammar of the English Language, Baltimore, Md.: John B. Piet & Co., page 19:
    In words ending in f, of native origin, preceded by a long vowel sound, except oo, and in words ending in lf, the f is converted into its kindred letter, v, and the plural is formed by the addition of es; as, leaf, leaves; sheaf, sheaves; shelf, shelves. Under this rule also falls beef, beeves, which is of French origin. To this general rule, the great diversity of English usage will furnish exceptions; thus we have both elfs and elves, shelfs and shelves.
  • K. T. B. (1885), “On the Plural of Substantives in English”, in Taalstudie. Tweemaandelijksch tijdschrift voor de studie der nieuwe talen., Blom & Olivierse, page 89:
    Wherever this struggle has not come to an end, both plural forms are occasionally found, as in elfs and elves, shelfs and shelves, wharfs and wharves (the dirty stream that ran oilily about the wharves; Murray: Life’s Atonement, II, 77), turfs and turves, mastiffs and mastives.

Further reading[edit]


Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of schelfe