Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Characterized by lightness and insubstantiality; intangible.
  • adj. Highly refined; delicate. See Synonyms at airy.
  • adj. Of the celestial spheres; heavenly.
  • adj. Not of this world; spiritual.
  • adj. Chemistry Of or relating to ether.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Pertaining to the hypothetical upper, purer air, or to the higher regions beyond the earth or beyond the atmosphere; celestial; otherworldly; as, ethereal space; ethereal regions.
  • adj. Consisting of ether; hence, exceedingly light or airy; tenuous; spiritlike; characterized by extreme delicacy, as form, manner, thought, etc.
  • adj. Delicate, light and airy.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Pertaining to the hypothetical upper, purer air, or to the higher regions beyond the earth or beyond the atmosphere; celestial
  • adj. Consisting of ether; hence, exceedingly light or airy; tenuous; spiritlike; characterized by extreme delicacy, as form, manner, thought, etc.
  • adj. Pertaining to, derived from, or resembling, ether.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Formed of or containing or filled with ether (sense 1); hence, relating or belonging to the heavens or heaven; heavenly; celestial; spiritual: as, ethereal space; ethereal regions.
  • Figuratively, having the characteristics of ether or air; light, intangible, etc.
  • Existing in the air; resembling air; looking blue like the sky; aërial: as, “ethereal mountains,”
  • In physics, of, pertaining to, or having the constitution of ether (sense 2).
  • In chem., of or pertaining to an ether or to ether: as, “ethereal liquids,”
  • Same as volatile oil (which see, under volatile). Synonyms Airy, aerial, empyreal.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. of heaven or the spirit
  • adj. of or containing or dissolved in ether
  • adj. characterized by unusual lightness and delicacy
  • adj. characterized by lightness and insubstantiality; as impalpable or intangible as air

Etymologies

From Latin aetherius, from Greek aitherios, from aithēr, upper air.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin aetherius ("of or pertaining to the ether, the sky, or the air or upper air; ethereal"), from Ancient Greek αἰθέριος (aitherios, "of or pertaining to the upper air; ethereal"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • This world, of course, includes not just the material world but also the ethereal, as evidenced by the root of the word ethereal: ether.

    Meditation as Medicine

  • When that happened, all the gods (who, it turns out, really did exist in ethereal forms, science be damned) became earthbound as humans.

    Book Review: Exponential Apocalypse | Fandomania

  • A wasting beauty in women was called ethereal, while robust health was considered vulgar; in men, tuberculosis was thought to denote creative genius, prompted by the suffering of such artists as Poe, Goethe, Balzac, Stevenson, and Keats.

    A Furnace Afloat

  • In the light of the tragic event, he could understand everything -- her quietness, that calm certitude as if all vexing questions of living had been smoothed out and were gone, and that certain ethereal sweetness about all that she had said and done that had been almost maternal.

    Chapter XII

  • Their motion through the bushes often disturbed clouds of yellow butterflies, which had been hanging on the fringes of the tall purple asters, and which rose toying with each other, and fluttering in ethereal dances against the blue sky, looking like whirls and eddies of air-flowers.

    Oldtown Folks

  •  Given that Sanaa specialise in a form of architecture that might be called ethereal? buildings of great transparency, such as the new Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne, that touch the ground as lightly as possible? this idea of doing more with less, and delightfully so, makes sense.

    Venice Architecture Biennale: castles in the air

  • Many philosophers have supposed the universe to be filled with an extremely subtile fluid, which they have termed ethereal; and this hypothesis has been sanctioned by the illustrious authority of Newton.

    Popular Lectures on Zoonomia Or The Laws of Animal Life, in Health and Disease

  • Life goes on, only you will function in a finer body known as the ethereal body.

    Yahoo! Answers: Latest Questions

  • Recalling the ethereal vocals of My Bloody Valentine, there Isn't female duo's blissed-out drone-pop ...

    WN.com - Business News

  • Beth Orton was known as the ethereal voice who added a calm nuance to kinetic dance tracks by the

    JamBase

Comments

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  • For years I thought it was pronounced "ehh thur EEL," and I loved it plenty. Then I learned how it's really pronounced, and loved it lots.

    September 28, 2007

  • I like it because of the way it looks. It's a pretty looking word, you have to admit.


    And brandelion is right, actually. It does get a little disgusting when over-used.
    Unless you live in a town where people pronounce "America" as "Amurica". I've never heard anyone in my town use that word.

    September 28, 2007

  • ethereal is my least favorite word because in these modern times, it has been used in abundance to describe the mundane, to the point of diluting the meaning and character of the word. especially when used to appraise amateur artwork. everything is "ethereal" or "transcendent." barf. when ethereal is no longer used redundantly to describe the abysmal and plain, i'll gladly place it back upon it's rightful pedestal as a praiseworthy word.

    December 18, 2006