From Middle English emty, amty, from Old English ǣmtiġ, ǣmettiġ (vacant, empty, free, idle, unmarried, literally without must or obligation, leisurely), from Proto-Germanic *uz- (out) + Proto-Germanic *mōtijô, *mōtô (must, obligation, need), *mōtiþô (ability, accommodation), from Proto-Indo-European *med- (measure; to acquire, possess, be in command). Related to Old English ġeǣmtiġian (to empty), Old English ǣmetta (leisure), Old English mōtan (must, might, have to). More at mote, meet.

The interconsonantal excrescent p is a euphonic insertion[1] dating from Middle English.


  • IPA(key): /ˈɛmpti/
  • (file)
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: emp‧ty


empty (comparative emptier, superlative emptiest)

A man sitting in an empty guest room (1)
  1. Devoid of content; containing nothing or nobody; vacant.
    an empty purse; an empty jug; an empty stomach
    • 1949, George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part Two, Chapter 1, [1]
      [] something in the little man's appearance suggested that he would be sufficiently attentive to his own comfort to choose the emptiest table.
    • 2011 October 23, Phil McNulty, “Man Utd 1 - 6 Man City”, in BBC Sport[2]:
      United's stature is such that one result must not bring the immediate announcement of a shift in the balance of power in Manchester - but the swathes of empty seats around Old Trafford and the wave of attacks pouring towards David de Gea's goal in the second half emphasised that City quite simply have greater firepower and talent in their squad at present.
  2. (computing, programming, mathematics) Containing no elements (as of a string, array, or set), opposed to being null (having no valid value).
  3. (obsolete) Free; clear; devoid; often with of.
    • c. 1594, William Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost, Act V, Scene 2, [3]
      I shall find you empty of that fault,
    • 1674, John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book XI, lines 614-7, [4]
      For that fair femal Troop thou sawst, that seemd / Of Goddesses, so blithe, so smooth, so gay, / Yet empty of all good wherein consists / Womans domestic honour and chief praise;
  4. Having nothing to carry, emptyhanded; unburdened.
    • c. 1607, William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens, Act III, Scene 6, [5]
      I hope it remains not unkindly with your lordship that I returned you an empty messenger.
    • 1611, King James Version of the Bible, Exodus 3:21, [6]
      And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty:
  5. Destitute of effect, sincerity, or sense; said of language.
    empty words, or threats
    empty offer
    empty promises
    • 1697, Colley Cibber, Woman's Wit, Act V, page 190, [7]
      [] words are but empty thanks; my future conduct best will speak my gratitude.
  6. Unable to satisfy; hollow; vain.
    empty pleasures
    • 1713, Alexander Pope, Windsor-Forest, lines 429-430, [8]
      Ev'n I more sweetly pass my careless days, / Pleas'd in the silent shade with empty praise;
  7. Destitute of reality, or real existence; unsubstantial.
    empty dreams
  8. Destitute of, or lacking, sense, knowledge, or courtesy.
    empty brains; an empty coxcomb
    • 1599, William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7, [9]
      Art thou thus bolden'd, man, by thy distress? Or else a rude despiser of good manners, / That in civility thou seem'st so empty?
  9. (of some female animals, especially cows and sheep) Not pregnant; not producing offspring when expected to do so during the breeding season.
    Empty cow rates have increased in recent years.
  10. (obsolete) Producing nothing; unfruitful; said of a plant or tree.
    an empty vine
    • 1611, King James Version of the Bible, Genesis 42:27, [10]
      [] seven empty ears blasted with the east wind []



Derived termsEdit



empty (third-person singular simple present empties, present participle emptying, simple past and past participle emptied)

  1. (transitive, ergative) To make empty; to void; to remove the contents of.
    to empty a well or a cistern
    The cinema emptied quickly after the end of the film.
  2. (intransitive) Of a river, duct, etc: to drain or flow toward an ultimate destination.
    Salmon River empties on the W shore about 2 miles below Bear River.
    • 1899, Horace White, trans., Appian:
      Of these the Rhine empties into the Northern ocean and the Danube into the Euxine.


Derived termsEdit



empty (plural empties)

  1. (usually plural) A container, especially a bottle, whose contents have been used up, leaving it empty.
    Put the empties out to be recycled.
    • 2019 October, Steve Stubbs, photo caption, “'60' on the stone”, in Modern Railways, page 20:
      A number of locomotives have been drafted into the area to cover the traction shortfall, including two Class 60s: here No 60039 accelerates away from Eastleigh on the Chandlers Ford branch with the lunchtime Fareham to Whatley quarry empties [empty wagons] on 20 August 2019.

Derived termsEdit



  1. ^ empty” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2021.

Further readingEdit