1. a series of objects connected one after the other, usually in the form of a series of metal rings passing through one another, used either for various purposes requiring a flexible tie with high tensile strength, as for hauling, supporting, or confining, or in various ornamental and decorative forms.
  2. Often chains. something that binds or restrains; bond: the chain of timidity; the chains of loyalty.
  3. chains,
    1. shackles or fetters: to place a prisoner in chains.
    2. bondage; servitude: to live one’s life in chains.
    3. Nautical.(in a sailing vessel) the area outboard at the foot of the shrouds of a mast: the customary position of the leadsman in taking soundings.
    4. tire chain.
  4. a series of things connected or following in succession: a chain of events.
  5. a range of mountains.
  6. a number of similar establishments, as banks, theaters, or hotels, under one ownership or management.
  7. Chemistry. two or more atoms of the same element, usually carbon, attached as in a chain.Compare ring1(def 17).
  8. Surveying, Civil Engineering.
    1. a distance-measuring device consisting of a chain of 100 links of equal length, having a total length either of 66 feet (20 meters) (Gunter’s chain or surveyor’s chain) or of 100 feet (30 meters) (engineer’s chain).
    2. a unit of length equal to either of these.
    3. a graduated steel tape used for distance measurements. Abbreviation: ch
  9. Mathematics. totally ordered set.
  10. Football. a chain 10 yards (9 meters) in length for determining whether a first down has been earned.

verb (used with object)

  1. to fasten or secure with a chain: to chain a dog to a post.
  2. to confine or restrain: His work chained him to his desk.
  3. Surveying. to measure (a distance on the ground) with a chain or tape.
  4. Computers. to link (related items, as records in a file or portions of a program) together, especially so that items can be run in sequence.
  5. to make (a chain stitch or series of chain stitches), as in crocheting.

verb (used without object)

  1. to form or make a chain.

  1. drag the chain, Australian Slang. to lag behind or shirk one’s fair share of work.
  2. in the chains, Nautical. standing outboard on the channels or in some similar place to heave the lead to take soundings.


  1. Sir Ernst Boris [urnst, ernst] /ɜrnst, ɛrnst/, 1906–79, English biochemist, born in Germany: Nobel Prize in Medicine 1945.


  1. a flexible length of metal links, used for confining, connecting, pulling, etc, or in jewellery
  2. (usually plural) anything that confines, fetters, or restrainsthe chains of poverty
  3. Also called: snow chains (usually plural) a set of metal links that fit over the tyre of a motor vehicle to increase traction and reduce skidding on an icy surface
    1. a number of establishments such as hotels, shops, etc, having the same owner or management
    2. (as modifier)a chain store
  4. a series of related or connected facts, events, etc
  5. a series of deals in which each depends on a purchaser selling before being able to buy
  6. (of reasoning) a sequence of arguments each of which takes the conclusion of the preceding as a premiseSee (as an example) sorites
  7. Also called: Gunter’s chain a unit of length equal to 22 yards
  8. Also called: engineer’s chain a unit of length equal to 100 feet
  9. chem two or more atoms or groups bonded together so that the configuration of the resulting molecule, ion, or radical resembles a chainSee also open chain, ring 1 (def. 18)
  10. geography a series of natural features, esp approximately parallel mountain ranges
  11. off the chain Australian and NZ informal free from responsibility
  12. jerk someone’s chain or yank someone’s chain informal to tease, mislead, or harass someone


  1. surveying to measure with a chain or tape
  2. (tr often foll by up) to confine, tie, or make fast with or as if with a chain
  3. to sew using chain stitch


  1. Sir Ernst Boris. 1906–79, British biochemist, born in Germany: purified and adapted penicillin for clinical use; with Fleming and Florey shared the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine 1945

c.1300, from Old French chaeine “chain” (12c., Modern French chaîne), from Latin catena “chain” (source also of Spanish cadena, Italian catena), of unknown origin, perhaps from PIE root *kat- “to twist, twine” (cf. Latin cassis “hunting net, snare”).

Figurative use from c.1600. As a type of ornament worn about the neck, from late 14c. Chain of stores is American English, 1846. Chain gang is from 1834; chain reaction is from 1916 in physics, specific nuclear physics sense is from 1938; chain mail first recorded 1822, in Scott, from mail (n.2). Before that, mail alone sufficed. Chain letter recorded from 1892; usually to raise money at first; decried from the start as a nuisance.

Nine out of every ten givers are reluctant and unwilling, and are coerced into giving through the awful fear of “breaking the chain,” so that the spirit of charity is woefully absent. [“St. Nicholas” magazine, vol. XXVI, April 1899]

Chain smoker is attested from 1886, originally of Bismarck (who smoked cigars), thus probably a loan-translation of German Kettenraucher. Chain-smoking is from 1930.


late 14c., “to bar with a chain; to put (someone) in chains,” also “to link things together,” from chain (n.). Related: Chained; chaining.


  1. A group of atoms covalently bonded in a spatial configuration like links in a chain.
  2. A linear arrangement of living things such as cells or bacteria.

  1. German-born British biochemist. He shared a 1945 Nobel Prize for isolating and purifying penicillin, discovered in 1928 by Sir Alexander Fleming.

  1. A group of atoms, often of the same element, bound together in a line, branched line, or ring to form a molecule.♦ In a straight chain, each of the constituent atoms is attached to other single atoms, not to groups of atoms.♦ In a branched chain, side groups are attached to the chain.♦ In a closed chain, the atoms are arranged in the shape of a ring.

  1. German-born British bacteriologist who, with Howard Florey, developed and purified penicillin in 1939. For this work, they shared a 1945 Nobel Prize with Alexander Fleming, who first discovered the antibiotic in 1928.

In addition to the idioms beginning with chain

  • chain reaction
  • chain smoker

also see:

  • ball and chain
  • pull someone’s chain

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

47 queries 0.977