1. a unit of length, 1/12 (0.0833) foot, equivalent to 2.54 centimeters.
  2. a very small amount of anything; narrow margin: to win by an inch; to avert disaster by an inch.

verb (used with or without object)

  1. to move by inches or small degrees: We inched our way along the road.
  1. by inches,
    1. narrowly; by a narrow margin: escaped by inches.
    2. Also inch by small degrees or stages; gradually: The miners worked their way through the narrow shaft inch by inch.
  2. every inch, in every respect; completely: That horse is every inch a thoroughbred.
  3. within an inch of, nearly; close to: He came within an inch of getting killed in the crash.


  1. a unit of length equal to one twelfth of a foot or 0.0254 metre
  2. meteorol
    1. an amount of precipitation that would cover a surface with water one inch deepfive inches of rain fell in January
    2. a unit of pressure equal to a mercury column one inch high in a barometer
  3. a very small distance, degree, or amount
  4. every inch in every way; completelyhe was every inch an aristocrat
  5. inch by inch gradually; little by little
  6. within an inch of very close to


  1. to move or be moved very slowly or in very small stepsthe car inched forward
  2. (tr foll by out) to defeat (someone) by a very small margin


  1. Scot and Irish a small island

“move little by little,” 1590s, from inch (n.1). Related: Inched; inching.


“linear measure, one-twelfth of a foot,” late Old English ynce, Middle English unche (current spelling c.1300), from Latin uncia “a twelfth part,” from root of unus “one” (see one). An early borrowing from Latin, not found in any other Germanic language. Transferred and figurative sense of “a very small amount” is attested from mid-14c. For phrase give him an inch … see ell.


“small Scottish island,” early 15c., from Gaelic innis (genitive innse) “island, land by a river,” from Celtic *inissi (cf. Old Irish inis, Welsh ynys, Breton enez).

  1. A unit of length in the US Customary System equal to 112 of a foot (2.54 centimeters). See Table at measurement.

In addition to the idioms beginning with inch

  • inch along
  • inch by inch

also see:

  • by inches
  • every inch
  • give an inch
  • within an ace (inch) of
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