Capitol vs. capital? What's the difference?


[muhth -er] /ˈmʌð ər/
a female parent.
(often initial capital letter) one's female parent.
a mother-in-law, stepmother, or adoptive mother.
a term of address for a female parent or a woman having or regarded as having the status, function, or authority of a female parent.
a term of familiar address for an old or elderly woman.
a woman exercising control, influence, or authority like that of a mother:
to be a mother to someone.
the qualities characteristic of a mother, as maternal affection:
It is the mother in her showing itself.
something or someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else; origin or source.
(in disc recording) a mold from which stampers are made.
being a mother:
a mother bird.
of, relating to, or characteristic of a mother:
mother love.
derived from or as if from one's mother; native:
his mother culture.
bearing a relation like that of a mother, as in being the origin, source, or protector:
the mother company and its affiliates; the mother computer and its network of terminals.
verb (used with object)
to be the mother of; give origin or rise to.
to acknowledge oneself the author of; assume as one's own.
to care for or protect like a mother; act maternally toward.
verb (used without object)
to perform the tasks or duties of a female parent; act maternally:
a woman with a need to mother.
mother of all, the greatest or most notable example of:
the mother of all mystery novels.
Origin of mother1
before 900; Middle English mother, moder, Old English mōdor; cognate with Dutch moeder, German Mutter, Old Norse mōthir, Latin māter, Greek mḗtēr, Sanskrit mātar-. As in father, th was substituted for d, possibly on the model of brother
Related forms
motherless, adjective
motherlessness, noun
unmothered, adjective
17. tend, nurse, mind, raise. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
Cite This Source
Examples from the Web for motherless
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • And then he tried to thank her for her care of his motherless bairns, and broke down into a silence more eloquent than words.

    Janet's Love and Service Margaret M Robertson
  • My child––what will she do––poor, motherless, fatherless girl––all alone, all alone––.

    The Strollers Frederic S. Isham
  • Yet is it pleasant to know the motherless little lad received such a new mother as this tribute pictures.

  • She saw not the dances of the heedless, but the tears of the motherless and the orphaned.

    Mary Wollstonecraft Elizabeth Robins Pennell
  • To even faintly express the anguish of that now bereaved husband and motherless girl is impossible and shall not be attempted.

    Pocket Island Charles Clark Munn
  • That made 'er just a little kid, and motherless, when Rodaine got in 'is work.

    The Cross-Cut Courtney Ryley Cooper
  • She heard Daphne's young voice, and a sudden rare pity filled her for the motherless child, her gardener's daughter.

    Suzanna Stirs the Fire Emily Calvin Blake
British Dictionary definitions for motherless


not having a mother
(Austral, informal) (intensifier): motherless broke


  1. a female who has given birth to offspring
  2. (as modifier): a mother bird
(often capital, esp as a term of address) a person's own mother
a female substituting in the function of a mother
(often capital) (mainly archaic) a term of address for an old woman
  1. motherly qualities, such as maternal affection: it appealed to the mother in her
  2. (as modifier): mother love
  3. (in combination): mothercraft
  1. a female or thing that creates, nurtures, protects, etc, something
  2. (as modifier): mother church, mother earth
a title given to certain members of female religious orders: mother superior
(Christian Science) God as the eternal Principle
(modifier) native or innate: mother wit
(offensive, taboo, slang, mainly US) short for (offensive) motherfucker
be mother, to pour the tea: I'll be mother
(informal) the mother of all …, the greatest example of its kind: the mother of all parties
verb (transitive)
to give birth to or produce
to nurture, protect, etc as a mother
adjective maternal
Derived Forms
mothering, noun
Word Origin
Old English mōdor; compare Old Saxon mōdar, Old High German muotar, Latin māter, Greek mētēr


a stringy slime containing various bacteria that forms on the surface of liquids undergoing acetous fermentation. It can be added to wine, cider, etc to promote vinegar formation Also called mother of vinegar
Derived Forms
mothery, adjective
Word Origin
C16: perhaps from mother1, but compare Spanish madre scum, Dutch modder dregs, Middle Low German modder decaying object, mudde sludge
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
Cite This Source
Word Origin and History for motherless

Old English moderleas; see mother (n.) + -less.



Old English modor "female parent," from Proto-Germanic *mothær (cf. Old Saxon modar, Old Frisian moder, Old Norse moðir, Danish moder, Dutch moeder, Old High German muoter, German Mutter), from PIE *mater- "mother" (cf. Latin mater, Old Irish mathir, Lithuanian mote, Sanskrit matar-, Greek meter, Old Church Slavonic mati), "[b]ased ultimately on the baby-talk form *mā- (2); with the kinship term suffix *-ter-" [Watkins]. Spelling with -th- dates from early 16c., though that pronunciation is probably older.

Mother nature first attested c.1600; mother earth is from 1580s. Mother tongue "one's native language" first attested late 14c. Mother of all ________ 1991, is Gulf War slang, from Saddam Hussein's use in reference to the coming battle; it is an Arabic idiom (as well as an English one), cf. Ayesha, second wife of Muhammad, known as Mother of Believers. Mother Carey's chickens is late 18c. sailors' nickname for storm petrels, or for snowflakes. Mother lode attested by c.1882, from mining [1849].

"a thick substance concreting in liquors; the lees or scum concreted" [Johnson], probably from Middle Dutch modder "filth, dregs," from PIE *meu- (see mud).


1540s, "to be the mother of," from mother (n.1). Meaning "to take care of" is from 1863. Related: Mothered; mothering.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Cite This Source
motherless in Medicine

mother moth·er (mŭð'ər)

  1. A woman who conceives, gives birth to, or raises and nurtures a child.

  2. A female parent of an animal.

  3. A structure, such as a mother cell, from which other similar bodies are formed.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Cite This Source
Slang definitions & phrases for motherless



: Every mother other one of 'em cried foul


  1. The leader, usually the elder and mentor, of younger homosexuals (1970s+ Homosexuals)
  2. A despicable person; motherfucker: I looked into the wallet of one of the mothers (fr black)
  3. A fine, interesting, or remarkable event, object, or person; momma: Grab these mothers. They'll really do the job/ When a good-looking girl passes a ''big man'' on the street, instead of a whistle she gets an approving Motha Higby, especially if she's a cool mother (1950s+ Black)
  4. A problem or difficulty; motherfucker

[both black senses fr the very useful and general motherfucker]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
Cite This Source
Idioms and Phrases with motherless


In addition to the idiom beginning with mother also see: necessity is the mother of invention
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Cite This Source

Word of the Day

Difficulty index for mother

All English speakers likely know this word

Word Value for motherless

Scrabble Words With Friends

Nearby words for motherless