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

  • transitive v. To separate the fibers or threads of (cloth, for example); unravel.
  • transitive v. To clarify by separating the aspects of.
  • transitive v. To tangle or complicate.
  • intransitive v. To become separated into its component threads; unravel or fray.
  • intransitive v. To become tangled or confused.
  • n. A raveling.
  • n. A broken or discarded thread.
  • n. A tangle.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. a snarl, complication
  • v. to tangle; entangle; entwine confusedly, become snarled; thus to involve; perplex; confuse
  • v. To make a minute and careful examination in order to straighten what is confused, unfold what is hidden, or clear up, clarify what is obscure; investigate; search; explore
  • v. To pull apart (especially cloth or a seam); unravel
  • v. In the APL language, to reshape (a variable) into a vector.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • intransitive v. To become untwisted or unwoven; to be disentangled; to be relieved of intricacy.
  • intransitive v. To fall into perplexity and confusion.
  • intransitive v. To make investigation or search, as by picking out the threads of a woven pattern.
  • transitive v. To separate or undo the texture of; to unravel; to take apart; to untwist; to unweave or unknit; -- often followed by out
  • transitive v. To undo the intricacies of; to disentangle.
  • transitive v. To pull apart, as the threads of a texture, and let them fall into a tangled mass; hence, to entangle; to make intricate; to involve.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To tangle; entangle; entwine confusedly; involve in a tangled or knotted mass, as thread or hair mingled together loosely.
  • Hence To involve; perplex; confuse.
  • To treat confusedly; jumble; muddle.
  • To disentangle; disengage the threads or fibers of (a woven or knitted fabric, a rope, a mass of tangled hair, etc.); draw apart thread by thread; unravel: commonly with out: in this sense (the exact contrary of the first sense), originally with out, ravel out being equivalent to unravel.
  • To become entangled or snarled, as the ends of loose and dangling threads, or a mass of loose hair.
  • Hence To become involved or confused; fall into perplexity.
  • To curl up, as a hard-twisted thread.
  • To become untwisted or disjoined, as the outer threads of a loosely made fabric or the strands of a rope; become disjoined thread by thread; fray, as a garment at the edges: commonly with out.
  • Hence To suffer gradual disintegration or decay.
  • To make a minute and careful examination in order to straighten what is confused, unfold what is hidden, or clear up what is obscure; investigate; search; explore.
  • Same as rabble.
  • n. A raveled thread; a raveling.
  • n. plural The broken threads cast away by women at their needlework.
  • n. In weaving, a serrated instrument for guiding the separate yarns when being distributed and wound upon the yarn-beam of a loom, or for guiding the yarns wound on a balloon; an evener; a separator.
  • n. Also, in Scotch spelling, raivel.
  • n. A snarl; a complication.

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

  • v. disentangle
  • n. a row of unravelled stitches
  • n. French composer and exponent of Impressionism (1875-1937)
  • v. tangle or complicate


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

Obsolete Dutch ravelen, from ravel, loose thread.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Dutch ravelen ("to tangle, fray out, unweave"), from Dutch rafel ("frayed thread")


  • This attachment is also called a ravel or raivel; and folk-names for it (not in the dictionary) were wrathe and rake; the latter a very good descriptive title.

    Home Life in Colonial Days

  • Even if you are not a fan of big breasts wielded by tiny, multilingual women, my feeling about you is that you will appreciate their dusky fleshiness and call your ravel agent, as they say in Italy, pronto.


  • The partisans assured us that it was quite safe to ravel along the edge of the valley, although I did not like the idea as now our chances of getting through looked fairly sound and thought a little extra caution at this stage would pay.

    Walter (Bill) Gossner

  • The surgeon thrust in his hand and fumbled about for some time, while I wondered whether the feel of that one brown thread could be detected from the rest of the ravel.

    Chapter 19

  • In the ravel of one of these pieces was a bit of brown thread.

    Chapter 19

  • I came up with the idea of cutting those towels in half and hemming the raw edges so that they didn't ravel.

    Hints From Heloise

  • With teh prices of ravel, hunting, this will be my lst trip west unless a rich uncle leaves me a ton.

    A Sorrowful Tale of High Velocity

  • So Son and I will continue to plant feed plots and hunt here and save that $$ and worry to ravel.

    Predictions for the New Year

  • --- The spring issue of Outside's Go, a decidedly champagne and caviar spin-off from kayak-and-camembert Outside, has "I've Been Everywhere," procuring ravel suggestions from five folks who've racked up serious frequent flier points around the globe.

    James Warren: This Week in Magazines: A Jihad on Behalf of Usury Laws, An "Idiot's Guide to Pakistan," and The Agenda for K Street's Trout Lobbyists

  • My hands move across her skin, trying to ravel all the mysteries of the future back into a knot again.

    If Everything is Inevitable


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  • revel in ravel

    March 30, 2012

  • The savannah valley is shadeless, spotted only with the thorny ravel of mesquite bushes.

    - D.H. Lawrence, Walk to Huayapa, from Mornings in Mexico, 1927

    October 5, 2008

  • And time will close about me, and my soul stir to the rhythm of the daily round.

    Yet, having known, life will not press so close, and always I shall feel time

    ravel thin about me;

    For once I stood

    In the white windy presence of eternity.

    - Eunice Tietjens, 'The Most-Sacred Mountain'.

    October 4, 2008

  • Contronymic in the sense: unravel vs. tangle, complicate.

    January 31, 2007