1. chief in size, extent, or importance; principal; leading: the company’s main office; the main features of a plan.
  2. sheer; utmost, as strength or force: to lift a stone by main force.
  3. of or relating to a broad expanse: main sea.
  4. Grammar. syntactically independent; capable of use in isolation.Compare dependent(def 4), independent(def 14), main clause.
  5. Nautical.
    1. of or relating to a mainmast.
    2. noting or pertaining to a sail, yard, boom, etc., or to any rigging belonging to a mainmast.
    3. noting any stay running aft and upward to the head of a mainmast: main topmast stay.
  6. Obsolete.
    1. having or exerting great strength or force; mighty.
    2. having momentous or important results; significant.


  1. a principal pipe or duct in a system used to distribute water, gas, etc.
  2. physical strength, power, or force: to struggle with might and main.
  3. the chief or principal part or point: The main of their investments was lost during the war.
  4. Literary. the open ocean; high sea: the bounding main.
  5. the mainland.
  6. Usually mains. a main course in a meal: The restaurant offers four mains: one chicken, two beef, and one fish.


  1. South Midland U.S. (chiefly Appalachian ). very; exceedingly: The dogs treed a main big coon.

verb (used with or without object)

  1. Slang. mainline.


  1. in the main, for the most part; chiefly: In the main, the novel was dull reading.


  1. a river in central and W Germany, flowing west through Würzburg and Frankfurt to the Rhine. Length: about 515 km (320 miles)

adjective (prenominal)

  1. chief or principal in rank, importance, size, etc
  2. sheer or utmost (esp in the phrase by main force)
  3. nautical of, relating to, or denoting any gear, such as a stay or sail, belonging to the mainmast
  4. obsolete significant or important


  1. a principal pipe, conduit, duct, or line in a system used to distribute water, electricity, etc
  2. (plural)
    1. the main distribution network for water, gas, or electricity
    2. (as modifier)mains voltage
  3. the chief or most important part or consideration
  4. great strength or force (now chiefly in the phrase (with) might and main)
  5. literary the open ocean
  6. archaic short for Spanish Main
  7. archaic short for mainland
  8. in the main or for the main on the whole; for the most part


  1. a throw of the dice in dice games
  2. a cockfighting contest
  3. a match in archery, boxing, etc

n.Old English mægen (n.) “power, bodily strength, force, efficacy,” from Proto-Germanic *maginam “power,” suffixed form of PIE root *magh- (1) “be able, have power” (see may (v.)). Original sense preserved in phrase with might and main. Meaning “principal channel in a utility system” is first recorded 1727 in main drain; Used since 1540s for “continuous stretch of land or water.” In Spanish Main the word is short for mainland and refers to the coast between Panama and Orinoco. adj.early 13c., “large, bulky, strong,” from Old English mægen- “power, strength, force,” used in compounds (e.g. mægensibb “great love,” mægenbyrðen “heavy burden;” see main (n.)), probably also from or influenced by Old Norse megenn (adj.) “strong, powerful.” Sense of “chief” is c.1400. Main course in the meal sense attested from 1829. Main man “favorite male friend; hero” is from 1967, U.S. black slang. In addition to the idioms beginning with main

  • main drag
  • main squeeze
  • also see:

  • eye to the main chance
  • in the main
  • might and main
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