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[puh-troh-lee-uh m] /pəˈtroʊ li əm/
an oily, thick, flammable, usually dark-colored liquid that is a form of bitumen or a mixture of various hydrocarbons, occurring naturally in various parts of the world and commonly obtained by drilling: used in a natural or refined state as fuel, or separated by distillation into gasoline, naphtha, benzene, kerosene, paraffin, etc.
Origin of petroleum
1520-30; < Medieval Latin: literally, rock oil, equivalent to Latin petr(a) rock (< Greek pétra) + oleum oil
Related forms
petroleous, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for petroleum
  • petroleum jelly is a semisolid mixture of fat-based substances made from petroleum.
  • Try a little petroleum jelly on the tip of your nose, ear lobes, and lips.
  • For much of this series, the trade deficit and the deficit less petroleum move in tandem.
  • But discoveries of huge petroleum deposits kept gasoline and diesel cheap for decades, and biofuels were largely forgotten.
  • Plant-based plastics are beginning to replace petroleum.
  • Today, the state is the base for the nation's large, nationally owned petroleum industry.
  • Don't confuse it with synthetic latex, which is derived from petroleum.
  • Vaporizing sawdust and corn stalks yields a versatile petroleum stand-in called bio-oil.
  • There are multiple theories of petroleum origin, none absolutely certain.
  • For much of the previous decade, the petroleum deficit hovered at a level around a third of the total trade deficit.
British Dictionary definitions for petroleum


a dark-coloured thick flammable crude oil occurring in sedimentary rocks around the Persian Gulf, in parts of North and South America, and below the North Sea, consisting mainly of hydrocarbons. Fractional distillation separates the crude oil into petrol, paraffin, diesel oil, lubricating oil, etc. Fuel oil, paraffin wax, asphalt, and carbon black are extracted from the residue
Word Origin
C16: from Medieval Latin, from Latin petra stone + oleum oil
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
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Word Origin and History for petroleum

early 15c. "petroleum, rock oil" (mid-14c. in Anglo-French), from Medieval Latin petroleum, from Latin petra "rock" (see petrous) + oleum "oil" (see oil (n.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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petroleum in Science
A thick, flammable, yellow-to-black mixture of gaseous, liquid, and solid hydrocarbons that occurs naturally beneath the Earth's surface. It can be separated into fractions including natural gas, gasoline, naphtha, kerosene, paraffin wax, asphalt, and fuel and lubricating oils, and is used as raw material for a wide variety of derivative products. It is believed to originate from the accumulated remains of fossil plants and animals, especially in shallow marine environments.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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