From Middle English dwerf, dwergh, dwerw, dwerȝ, from Old English dweorh, dweorg (dwarf), from Proto-West Germanic *dwerg, from Proto-Germanic *dwergaz.

Cognate with Scots dwerch; Old High German twerc (German Zwerg); Old Norse dvergr (Swedish dvärg); Old Frisian dwirg (West Frisian dwerch); Middle Low German dwerch, dwarch, twerg (German Low German Dwarg, Dwarch); Middle Dutch dwerch, dworch (Dutch dwerg).

The Modern English noun has undergone complex phonetic changes. The form dwarf is the regular continuation of Old English 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
In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the seven dwarfs sing "Heigh-Ho", while walking on a log.


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 as short with long beards, and sometimes 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.
    Synonyms: midget, pygmy (imprecise)
    Antonyms: ettin, giant
  3. An animal, plant or other thing much smaller than the usual of its sort.
    Synonym: runt
    dwarf tree
    dwarf honeysuckle
  4. (astronomy) A star of relatively small size.

Usage notesEdit

At first, dwarfs was the common plural in English. After J. R. R. Tolkien used dwarves in his works, that form became the standard for the plural of the mythological beings. For a non-mythological dwarf (people with dwarfism, small plants, animals, planets, stars, etc.), dwarfs has remained the preferred plural form. The use of dwarf to describe people with short statures is currently considered to be offensive.

Derived termsEdit


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 Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


dwarf (comparative dwarfer, superlative dwarfest)

  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).
    Synonyms: miniaturize, shrink
  2. (transitive) To make appear (much) smaller, puny, tiny.
    The newly-built skyscraper dwarfs all older buildings in the downtown skyline.
    • 1960 April, J. P. Wilson and E. N. C. Haywood, “The route through the Peak - Derby to Manchester: Part Two”, in Trains Illustrated, page 225:
      The train bursts from Rusher Cutting Tunnel with explosive violence, the engine's exhaust soaring high into the air, but dwarfed by the mighty limestone cliffs on either side.
    • 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.
  3. (transitive) To make appear insignificant.
    Synonyms: eclipse, overshadow, outshadow, outshine, outdo, put to shame, upstage, surpass, outmatch, outstrip
    Bach dwarfs all other composers.
  4. (intransitive) To become (much) smaller.
    Synonym: shrink
  5. To hinder from growing to the natural size; to make or keep small; to stunt.


Further readingEdit