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From Middle English delven, from Old English delfan (to dig, dig out, burrow, bury), from Proto-Germanic *delbaną (to dig), from Proto-Indo-European *dʰelbʰ- (to dig). Cognate with West Frisian dolle (to dig, delve), Dutch delven (to dig, delve), Low German dölven (to dig, delve), dialectal German delben, telben (to dig, delve).


  • IPA(key): /dɛlv/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɛlv


delve (third-person singular simple present delves, present participle delving, simple past delved or (obsolete) dalf, past participle delved or (obsolete) dolven)

  1. (intransitive) To dig the ground, especially with a shovel.
    • 1381, John Ball
      When Adam dalf and Eve span, / Who was then a gentleman?
    • Dryden
      Delve of convenient depth your thrashing floor.
    • 1845 October – 1846 June, Ellis Bell [pseudonym; Emily Brontë], Wuthering Heights: A Novel, volume XXIX, London: Thomas Cautley Newby, publisher, [], published December 1847, OCLC 156123328:
      I got a spade from the tool-house, and began to delve with all my might - it scraped the coffin; I fell to work with my hands; the wood commenced cracking about the screws; I was on the point of attaining my object, when it seemed that I heard a sigh from some one above, close at the edge of the grave, and bending down.
  2. (transitive, intransitive) To search thoroughly and carefully for information, research, dig into, penetrate, fathom, trace out
    • 1609-11, Shakespeare, Cymbeline, King of Britain
      I cannot delve him to the root.
    • 1943, Emile C. Tepperman, Calling Justice, Inc.!
      She was intensely eager to delve into the mystery of Mr. Joplin and his brief case.
  3. (transitive, intransitive) To dig, to excavate.
    • ca. 1260, Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend
      And then they made an oratory behind the altar, and would have dolven for to have laid the body in that oratory ...
    • 1891, Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company, chapter IV
      Let him take off his plates and delve himself, if delving must be done.


Derived termsEdit

Related termsEdit



delve (plural delves)

  1. (now rare) A pit or den.
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, III.iii:
      the wise Merlin whylome wont (they say) / To make his wonne, low vnderneath the ground, / In a deepe delue, farre from the vew of day [...].
    • 1995, Alan Warner, Morvern Callar, Vintage 2015, p. 75:
      I put the clods on top the delve and gave it all a good thumping down with my feet.



Middle EnglishEdit

Etymology 1Edit

From Old English delfan.



  1. Alternative form of delven

Etymology 2Edit

From Old English delf.



  1. Alternative form of delf